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Parental pressures weighing on kids

Parents are facing more pressure than ever when it comes to both their finances and the busy schedules that eat into family time. The effect is that children are reacting to that stress  by becoming anxious and, at times, aggressive, according to recent studies. - Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times
Parents are facing more pressure than ever when it comes to both their finances and the busy schedules that eat into family time. The effect is that children are reacting to that stress by becoming anxious and, at times, aggressive, according to recent studies.
— image credit: Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times

The generation raising kids today is squeezed so thin, in terms  of both time and money, that the stresses parents face are impacting their children’s emotional development, according to recently-released research findings.

Families of yesteryear were much better off financially than families today and the simpler, slower-paced lifestyle was good for kids, says Langley’s Early Childhood Development Committee (ECD).

“There are a lot of middle class children who are considered vulnerable,” said Karen Abrahamson, a University of B.C. Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) community trainer who sits on the ECD committee.

“We are seeing a lot of stressed families,” she said.

The result is too many kids are arriving in Kindergarten emotionally not ready, according to findings from the Early Development Indicators (EDI) index.

The 2013 EDI data was gathered in March. It found that the number of vulnerable children in some parts of Langley was considerably higher than the B.C. average of 33. 1 per cent. The figure is 48 per cent in Aldergrove.

The ECD committee presented the findings to the Board of Education at a recent meeting. The information about Langley children is gathered by Kindergarten teachers who volunteer to answer around 100 questions about their students’ cognitive, social, physical well being and behaviour.

Conducted every few years in school districts across Canada, the results give  some idea of how kids are doing and where their vulnerabilities lie. This data helps to know where to increase support and services.

A then-and-now comparison by HELP shows that 30 years ago the median national income was $65,000. That was when only 54 per cent of women were in the labour force and the average house price (1976) was $192,390.

Fast forward to 2010, the median household income (two incomes factored in) and the earnings sat at $68,580 — only $3,500 more than families earned 30 years ago. When the cost of living is factored in, it has skyrocketed for everything, especially housing, which averages at more than $500,000 for a single-family house in Langley. That means an unsustainable future, say UBC HELP researchers.

A recent study by the Royal Bank said Metro Vancouver home owners are using up to 80 per cent of their income to pay for housing.

The Fraser Institute found that a family in B.C. earning $94,000 pays $40,000 to taxes. It’s becoming a financial strain that is filtering down onto children.

There is an explosion of Kindergarten-aged children with anxiety, others with behaviour and aggression issues and some who are unable to share or function socially with their peers.

The committee said that parents’ financial stresses, combined with the busyness of two working parents living in an achievement-based society, leads to some kids not being emotionally or socially developed by the time they enter Kindergarten. Both parents work full-time, having to pay for daycare, and cover a large mortgage and debt load.

The pressure spills over to the children, Abrahamson said.

An April 28 report indicates that the costs of raising a family in B.C. are rising fast and dangerously. Both parents have to make a minimum of $20 an hour in order to avoid poverty, based on having two kids, one in daycare and one in before/after school care. Childcare costs are the second biggest expense for a family, behind housing.

Many social groups are calling for $10/day daycare to help improve the living wage.

Families are also busier than ever. Many parents rush home from work and let their toddler or young children play on a tablet or video games while they make dinner. Parents then schedule numerous costly activities because they feel guilty, said Abrahamson.

“There is pressures on families to take children to things rather than spend quiet times at home,” she said.

Children are coming to Kindergarten showing aggression towards themselves and others. The prevalence of children with anxiety is concerning and mostly a direct result of bubble wrap parenting, said the ECD.

“These children aren’t able to cope, they break down with even little changes that happen during the school day,” said Abrahamson.

Cora Boecker, of Langley Child Development Centre, said too many parents are focusing on making sure their child can count and do the alphabet by the time they arrive for Kindergarten.

“What we really need is for preschool-aged children to know how to play with others. They need social and emotional learning,” said Boecker.

That means letting them play, explore, and be creative.

This is lacking for children of today, said Boecker, Abrahamson and Bernice Way, children and family program co-ordinator from Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services.

All of them sit on the Langley ECD.

“Parents are scheduling their children’s free time into every class and sport and it turns into very structured play, leaving little room for the imagination of the child,” said Abrahamson.

It also means risky play, like climbing a tree or playing in the front yard without supervision, is something many parents of this generation aren’t willing to allow, said research.

Helicopter and bubble wrap parenting is creating children who are highly anxious and unable to handle conflict and disappointment because they have been protected from that their whole lives, said the research findings.

HELP’s research team, headed by the work of Dr. Paul Kershaw, has created a proposal sent to the federal government called “A New Deal For Families” that is built on a foundation of scientific evidence about the importance of the early years.

HELP proposes that maternity leave should be more accessible to both parents and should be extended from one year to 18 months.

They are also in favour of $10 a day high quality, accessible child care services for all who need them; flexible working hours offered by employers to allow parents to balance the demands of work and home life.

The research done by the UBC team says the family structure as it stands today is in a form of crisis and needs to be remedied.

This is the first of a series of stories about the challenges of raising children today.

The second in the series will explore how the lack of unsupervised outdoor play has hurt children’s brain development.

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