We spoke with Neal Solomon, a Registered Social Worker. Neal is dedicated to working with youth, adults and families, and empowering them to live with confidence, honesty and connection.
We found out the red flags parents should watch out for, how much screen time is too much, and whether all of our advancements have made things easier for kids today.
What can a social worker provide that parents + teachers + guidance counsellors can’t or aren’t?
Social workers offer “10,000 cups of tea.” That is, they offer the ability to create a safe space in order for engagement, trust and connection to develop over a longer and consistent period of time. First, parents don’t know everything that is going on with their child, and they may struggle to get their child to listen and take their advice. Second, while most teachers care and are very good at their vocation, they simply do not have the requisite one-on-one time to collect the necessary information. Third, guidance counsellors typically guide students regarding course selection and decisions about career-related issues. Yes, they do facilitate help and are sensitive to it; however, again, time constraints are at play, not to mention that students do not want to have to explain where they are going during school hours.
A therapeutic setting provides ongoing help and support, which allows for relationship building. It also fosters an environment in which the disclosure of personal information helps to form the appropriate treatment plan and next steps.
In today’s climate, school personnel and teachers often have a tendency to resort to recommending pharmaceutical medications (when a student’s behaviour is concerning) followed by establishing the best course of action for the student upon his/her return.
When should a family seek help from a social worker?
Families should consider seeking help as soon as trouble presents itself. Early intervention is always strongly recommended. When a presenting problem surfaces, is noted by concerned parties (self, spouse, partner, educators, friends, family members, etc.), and is stirring in one’s gut, this is the time to act and to seek professional help.
Signs or “red flags” include distress, withdrawal, uncharacteristic anger and aggression, extreme negative thoughts, unexplained mood swings, school concerns (decline in academics, skipping class, drugs), etc. Waiting and hoping for an issue to disappear, or that the child will out grow it, seldom works and usually represents living in some form of denial.
“Sitting on the problem” generally creates greater long-term problems and pain. In my view, the best way to proceed is to seek immediate help and “rule out,” as opposed to inviting further issues. Listening to your internal compass is key to addressing the potential problem at hand.
With all of our technological advances, do you think it’s easier or more difficult to be a kid today than when you were growing up?
In my view, present technological advances have made it more difficult to be a kid. I will offer the argument that as a society, we are witnessing a social decay of unprecedented proportions. We live in times where instant gratification and entitlement have become the “norm.” When kids are spending a disproportionate amount of time “gaming” or being active on social media rather than concentrating on their schoolwork, there is a serious problem. The emphasis and priority seems to side with the widespread exposure to screens with seemingly few limits placed on its usage. Although technological advances have their place, kids today present as very anxious, agitated, stressed and angry. Kids appear overloaded and riddled with pressures which, in their opinion, seem unbearable. The inability of kids to self-regulate and establish a balance (equally an issue with the presiding parents) represents a significant challenge and failing for many.
Kids routinely enter my practice upset, confused and emotionally tormented. Their story: Adults do not understand the expectations placed upon them.
Today’s child largely feels that everything is “owed” to them. Technological changes and a sense of entitlement spell disaster. It worsens when kids consider themselves in equal standing to their parents. They have memberships to the most exclusive clubs without having to work for the privilege of being able to afford the membership and its benefits.
When I grew up, we played outside and in front of the house and we socialized. Today, children play and have virtual friends and they tend to barricade themselves in their caves without a hint of sunlight.
Is there such thing as too much screen time?
Undoubtedly. When a child is “logging” thirty to forty hours per week of screen time versus one to three hours per week of homework or school-related work, we have a real concern. Hours recorded do not translate into a degree, diploma or certificate of achievement. These are hours that will not be seen again or in many cases applied to anything tangible. Can you imagine thirty or forty hours of paid employment or 20% more effort at school? This represents a significant amount of money left on the table or marks not earned because the correct mindset and motivation has been absent.
Too much screen time disables motivation, purpose and discipline in children. Intellectually they understand and acknowledge what needs to happen; however, an admission of poor study skills, planning and execution, for example, keeps them grounded and on the same destructive loop of more screen time. Hiding becomes easier than confrontation.
As adults we spend so much time on social media. How does social media affect our children?
One of my former clients (aged 18) had the following thoughts on social media:
- Get rid of it.
- None of its real.
- A new kind of anxiety.
- A social media anxiety.
- Use it to cure boredom.
Social media is like a drug; it can be addictive in nature. Children have difficulty managing their time, and it often becomes a substitute and priority over schoolwork. Children generally make excuses that they can stop and re-focus; however, the excuses continue to grow and the schoolwork and other activities continue to be neglected. I have heard everything and anything from, “they don’t write good books anymore” to “I don’t like it (in reference to a specific course)” and, “the teacher is bad.”
Living in the moment and experiencing fun interpersonal interactions has proven to be a challenge. So, when a parent, for example, threatens to limit or remove social media from the routine, mood swings and threats of suicide can occur. This creature, known as social media has fast become a child’s best friend (in some cases their only friend) and has prevented some children from leaving their home to participate and enjoy social moments. When such a child finally re-engages with the wider community, eye contact or lack-there-of becomes noticeable. Somehow, society must undertake an effort to educate and implement strategies in order to minimize further social and functioning damage.
What have you learned as a parent that has helped in your practice?
Being a parent has helped me in my practice in the following ways:
Empathy; Reliability; Credibility; Understanding (walking in their shoes); and getting that we are human and not all knowing.
What’s with the sports analogies?
Sports, and baseball, in particular, have always been my passion outside of the work arena. Baseball represents a way for me to connect with the game I love and with players who share the same level of interest. I thought that connecting both passions would not only be a good fit, but would resonate in a real and natural way with prospective and current clients.
Can you do your work virtually or do you need to be physically present with the child?
Virtual work is and can be done by social work practitioners. My preference is to have face-to-face contact and be physically present with the client. That being said, when inquired, I tell people that I can facilitate such therapy and I am open to doing so based on the situation and need.