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Social connections can ease 'toxic parenting' behaviors, experts say

Social support key to easing "toxic parenting" effects, experts say at ASU forum
March 20, 2020

Online forum at ASU explores causes, outcomes of neglect

Parents need strong social support because poor parenting not only damages children, but also leads to negative consequences for the larger community, according to a panel of experts who spoke at an Arizona State University event on Thursday.

Parents must be able to lean on relatives, neighbors and friends to help with the overwhelming task of raising children, the parenting experts said. Their message is especially relevant in these times of social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as children are home from school and families are isolated together.

The discussion, called “Toxic Parenting Behaviors,” was held online by Humanity 101 on the Homefront, an initiative of ASU Project Humanities.

The main definition of “toxic” parenting is behavior that’s repetitious, not occasional, according to Elisa Kawam, a lecturer in the School of Social Work at ASU and the moderator of the panel.

“If you have one or two or three moments where you’re not your best parent, that’s expected,” she said.

“Toxic parenting is any long-term or ongoing pattern of behavior that’s rooted in manipulation, unhealthy boundaries, guilt or fear.”

The Zoom format allowed audience members to continuously interact with the panelists, and everyone was asked to give examples of toxic parenting behavior. They included:

• Disrespecting boundaries, such as forcing physical contact (“kiss your uncle”); excessive phone and social media monitoring; oversharing; forcing children to finish food they dislike or forcing them into adult behaviors.

• Actions and words that cause a child to feel shamed, guilty, unsupported or fearful, such as public humiliation; being compared to siblings; being punished for bad grades; having feelings minimized; being told, “When I was your age …” or “You’re just like your mother/father.”

• Neglecting a child’s emotional needs by ignoring them, telling them to “suck it up” or “man up,” or withdrawing affection or attention as a form of punishment.

Many parenting behaviors from previous decades are unacceptable now, according to Chussette Oden, director of community resources and training at Beia’s Place, a Phoenix-based agency that works to keep families intact.

“It used to be, ‘be seen and not heard,’ but we really need to hear kids so they’re not going into their rooms and stuffing their feelings,” she said.

“We live in a day and age where not everyone is the same and we have to be open to children being expressive with their clothing, their sexuality and how they communicate their needs.”

Children deserve the same level of respect as friends or even strangers, said Harold Branch, an entrepreneur who works with at-risk youth and who is co-parenting two children.

“You have to look at what’s appropriate for a 7-year-old, and I shouldn’t lose my mind when I have to tell them something over and over again,” he said.

“We hold our kids to higher standards than we hold ourselves. We can be more understanding of our friends than of our kids.”

All the experts agreed on the importance of expressing love and affection to children.

“We just had a group about this and the verbiage we use,” said Oden, who works with foster parents and caregivers.

“One person said, ‘My child is an attention seeker.’ Well, everyone on Earth needs attention. We talked about how adults need attention, I can give my puppy attention and children need attention.”

The effects of ignoring a child can be lifelong, she said.

“It’s detrimental when we label children ‘attention seekers’ because they go into the adult world and feel like, ‘I don’t want to be seen.’ You want to be invisible because you don’t want to be known as an attention seeker.

“Let the kids see how you feel. Little kids need that so much. We want to feel wanted and appreciated and that someone is happy that we were born.”

All toxic parenting behaviors carry long-lasting and reverberating effects.

“The biggest one for children is the inability to practice boundaries as they get older,” Oden said.

“They lack empathy because of the harshness they faced. If you’ve had harsh words thrown at you on a regular basis or were not afforded the ability to have a voice or to be spoken to in a respectful manner, you won’t be able to do those things yourself, and can have a lack of respect for authority figures or yourself.”

Neal Lester, Foundation Professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities, said that toxic parenting becomes intergenerational.

“Whatever is not quite whole in us, we want to make whole in our children, which can lead to toxic behaviors,” he said. “‘I want you to be the athlete I wasn’t or the student I wasn’t.’ There are those who need to fill whatever was empty or missing.”

Kawam said that in her work with child abuse, one effect she’s seen is children who become oversexualized at a young age.

“They lack appropriate intimacy and an understanding of their own body,” she said.

Branch said that parents set the stage for future relationships.

“We learn how to be treated. It’s hard to accept someone yelling at you in a relationship if your parents never yelled at you, versus being conditioned to abusive behavior.”

The panelists also highlighted the importance of culture. Branch, who is black, has two children, including a 15-year-old son.

“I have to prepare them not just to be happy but to survive,” he said.

“We hear judgments outside the culture about how parenting is done. I need to have a level of sternness. This is not just my child throwing a tantrum in a store — it can turn into my child not knowing how to engage publicly and if I’m not around, he can get arrested.”

The sponsor of the event was the Come Rain or Shine Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to “conscious parenting,” co-founded by ASU alum Michelle Mace. She said that parents should recognize that everything they do is a teachable moment.

“It’s recognizing that 24/7, you have an observer with you,” she said.

“They are paying attention to your behavior as much or more than your words. Do you yell at their father? Do you drive with road rage? Even as adults, we carry pain from our own childhood and we have to recognize that we’re not perfect.”

Good parenting lasts forever, she said.

“When we’re successful, we get to do it for the rest of our lives. They’ll be asking for advice when they’re 20 or 30 or 40 and they’ll welcome us into their lives.”

Social support is key for raising children, Kawam said.

“Social scientists have looked at the evolution of families over time and it wasn’t a long time ago that we lived in groups of extended families,” she said. “And most people now don’t have more than five or six close contacts at any given time if they need help. The No. 1 thing you can do is help people get connected to social supports.”

Lester said the lessons apply to everyone.

“We’re not just talking about parents, but also extended families and also those who nurture and care give,” he said.

“Parenting doesn’t have to be legal or biological. It’s anyone for whom we’re caring.”

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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Access Zone training raises awareness of students with 'invisible' disabilities

Training helps faculty, staff support students with "invisible" disabilities.
March 20, 2020

ASU community becoming attuned to challenges of autism, anxiety, depression

Many of Arizona State University’s students face learning challenges that no one can see. These “invisible” disabilities can include anxiety, autism, processing disorders or diabetes.

A new training program called Access Zone is designed to increase awareness among ASU faculty and staff about different kinds of disabilities and how to create support for all students.

Developed last year, Access Zone is based on the same principles as the campuswide programs SafeZONE, for awareness of LGBTQ students’ issues, and Proving Grounds, which helps faculty and staff address concerns faced by military veterans, according to Chad Price, director of the Disability Resource Center at ASU.

“A lot of people are familiar with disabilities that are more visible, such as people who use wheelchairs or white canes,” he said.

“With the invisible disabilities, we would hear feedback from our students that, ‘They just don’t understand,’ and we’re trying to raise that awareness,” he said.

Students register with the Disability Resource Center to get services and request accommodations in class. The disability access consultants work with professors on supports such as notetakers, extended deadlines, access to oral testing, video captioning services, alternative formats such as text-to-audio, and many more options. The center is now working with faculty to make sure all course content is accessible on Zoom as learning takes place remotely this semester.

“The largest number of students who come to our office have hidden disabilities, such as learning disabilities or psychiatric disabilities such as depression or anxiety, or a medical condition, and when you first look at them you have no idea and even when you interact with them, it seems all is well,” Price said.

The number of students with autism has been increasing at ASU.

“A couple of years ago, it was 30 or 40 students and now we’re seeing a couple hundred students on the (autism) spectrum,” Price said. “That’s another question that we get from faculty: ‘How can we do our best work with students on the spectrum?’”

Overall, the number of students registering with the Disability Resource Center has more than doubled in the last five years, with more than 5,600 students registered in 2019.

“I don’t know if we have an answer why it’s grown other than that students are becoming more familiar as well as more comfortable with registering,” Price said.

“We believe that we’re low in our registrations, because when you look at the statistics in the United States of individuals who identify as someone who has a disability, it’s from about 12% to 19%. We’re at about 4% to 5% of total population of students.

“So I think we’ll continue to see an increase.”

Access Zone workshops are intended to increase faculty and staff awareness of all disabilities, including invisible conditions. The sessions are three hours, but can be modified to be shorter. An online version also is in the works.

The seminar covers history, law, the scope of the resource center and the complexities of supporting students with an invisible disability.

“Access is a right, a moral good and it’s federal law. We’re leveling the playing field, which is part of ASU’s charter of inclusion.”

— Jason Garcia, disability access consultant

Jason Garcia and Teddy Moya, disability access consultants with the center, recently held an Access Zone session for several faculty members. Moya helped develop the program along with Shanna Delaney, a project coordinator in the College of Health Solutions, and Elsbeth Pollack, formerly a disability access consultant at ASU.

“Disclosure can be a pain point,” Garcia told the group.

“Students must disclose their disability to the DRC to register for services, but they don’t have to tell their teachers. Then, when there’s an issue, the professor receives a vague letter from the DRC,” but without revealing the student. The center is prevented by law from disclosing a student’s disability.

“We encourage the student to have those deeper conversations with faculty and sometimes the notification letter can be the beginning of that,” Garcia said.

Access Zone also includes interactive exercises to give participants an idea of what it’s like to be challenged. For example, everyone is asked to quickly read a page of text that’s upside down and backwards, as a person with dyslexia might see it. Another exercise simulates how anxiety in a class full of peers can affect performance.

“It’s too nuanced to capture what a disability really feels like,” Moya said, “But these activities raise awareness about how a student with a disability might perceive a classroom task. Students with traumatic brain injury or learning disabilities process differently.”

All accommodations are case specific, according to the needs of the student as well as the requirements of the course, Garcia said. And support goes beyond the classroom, including events and activities on campus.

“Access is a right, a moral good and it’s federal law,” Garcia said. “We’re leveling the playing field, which is part of ASU’s charter of inclusion.”

Troy McDaniel, an assistant professor in the Polytechnic School, attended the Access Zone training session last month. He researches haptic technology for people with disabilities, and so found the session especially relevant.

“I found Access Zone training very insightful and valuable,” he said.

“Most helpful was gaining a better historical perspective of disabilities, both in terms of how protection for individuals with disabilities has progressed as well as how disability has been approached, such as the various models from moral, to medical, to social, and so on.

“The activities were engaging and thought-provoking.”

Contact the Disability Resource Center for information on scheduling an Access Zone training session.

Top image: Jason Garcia, a disability access consultant with ASU's Disability Resource Center, leads an Access Zone training session at the Decision Theater on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503