The urge to nurture and protect our children is as old as fatherhood itself. Fatherhood means helping our children reach their potential. We scrupulously observe our kids and monitor their health and happiness. Sometimes, we can’t help but define our own self-worth in terms of our kids’ well-being.
But some childhood health problems don’t present themselves as simply as a runny nose or rash. Mental health issues are more complex—but research shows every bit as common in children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years (17.4%) is diagnosed with a mental disorder. Other studies show that between 14% and 20% under 18 will be diagnosed. Boys are at higher risk for mental illness and children living below the federal poverty line fare worse still.
Among the most commonly diagnosed childhood mental illnesses:
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Tourette’s Syndrome
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
What’s more, having one disorder predisposes children to others. For example, anxiety and depression frequently present together, and AHHD can lead to conduct disorder.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise cause of any mental illness, children struggle when facing certain life stressors. A loved one’s death, parental separation, poverty, physical or sexual abuse, and moving to a new home are some of the stressors shared by children and parents. Children also face the challenges of adjusting to new siblings, bullying, and peer pressure. Heredity and brain chemistry also play a causal role.
Because the diagnosis of mental illness in kids is linked to reaching developmental milestones and because they spend so much time in school, academic professionals are often the first to recognize mental illness.
Still, it helps to get a basic understanding of child development yourself. While comparing your kids to their friends or siblings might not be well advised, noticing changes in one child’s behavior can be crucial. You’re the best judge of what’s “normal” for your child, so be alert to sudden behavioral shifts.
Once you are confident that your child needs help, there are many treatment options available. Notably, online treatment has recently gained favor among clinicians, parents and patients.
Online therapy is conducted through media today’s youth have embraced wholeheartedly. Video chat, email, text-messaging and phone calls are each employed, depending on the service you engage and clients’ preference. Online therapy can happen in real-time throughout the day, which makes it more immediate than traditional therapy
Online therapy also offers the advantage of being convenient. Trips to the therapist’s office can be difficult to fit in between gymnastics class, football practice and feeding an infant. Online therapy lets you simultaneously manage your kids’ activities more simply.
Online therapy tends to be less expensive. Sessions cost less. Your fuel costs are reduced. Missed work hours are less likely because sessions can be scheduled outside of regular business hours.
Estimates suggest that 75% to 80% of struggling children do not get the services they need. For those living in areas where resources are scarce, online treatment offers greater accessibility.
Your child’s sense of privacy may be enhanced in online therapy. The stigma of being seen at a counselor’s office is absent. In a recent study, 72% of kids surveyed said they would work with an online mental health counselor. Nearly 32% said they would prefer it—which makes sense given how many rely on chat and text messages to communicate daily.
Not everyone is ready to endorse online therapy. Traditional therapists cite the lack of face-to-face contact as a barrier to effective treatment. Online therapy might not be the best choice children who would benefit from medication. Since online therapists are typically not psychiatrists or nurse practitioners, they can’t prescribe. Referrals to other local resources are challenging when a therapist practices remotely. Not all health insurance companies cover online therapy. Check with your provider if you are considering online therapy for your child.
Choosing an online therapist for your child is an important decision. Therapists’ credentials can vary. Find a service that employs only licensed therapists who are specifically trained in child psychology. Understand the cost structure of therapy; compare those services that offer limited versus unlimited plans. Listen carefully to your child’s feelings about entering therapy, and give yourself credit for being well-attuned to your child’s struggles and for being proactive in seeking treatment.