A generation ago, there was more free time for kids to hang out with our parents, siblings, and even kids down the block. Divorce was less common, and more mothers were able to stay home with their children. Because of that, there was more oppurtunities for children and parents to talk both about the serious and--just as importantly--the not-so-serious stuff.
Today when a child feels sad or distressed, many parents are unsure about how to address her feelings in a meaningful way. Some parents avoid talking to their children about feelings because they feel ill-equipped to deal with such issues. But ignoring the problem will not help it go away. Behavioral experts, including pediatricians, psychologists, and doctors who have written on the health of families, say that open communication is more important than ever due, particularly in today's high-stress lifestyle.
Dr. Debra Mandel, licensed psychologist, radio talk show host, and author of Healing the Sensitive Heart, notes, "If we deprive our kids of learning how to express their feelings, they end up living a less-than-full life, often suffering from conditions like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and problems with intimacy."
Dr. Paul Pearsall, author of The Power of the Family: Strength, Comfort, and Healing, comments, "As hard as we have tried to give our children everything, the reality of today's fast-paced lifestyle has resulted in a kind of emotional homelessness. Families seldom eat or play together, and much of the joy of growing and learning has been replaced with trying to provide material things for our children to give them a competitive advantage."
"Our children spend more time on the Internet than on our laps," laments Pearsall. "Daycare centers, computers, and shopping malls are the home that we offer our young people."
Many childhood experts point to the rise of two-income households, leaving working parents with less time to spend with their kids. According to a 1998 study by the University of Michigan looking at how family life changed for children from 1981 to 1997, free, unstructured time for children between ages three and eleven dropped from 63 hours per week to 51 hours per week. Family experts say that free time for children has continued to drop since 1997.