STORY OF THE EXPERIENCES OF FIELD SPECIALISTS IN THE PROTECTION OF RIGHTS FOR CHILDREN AS SUBJECTS OF PARENTAL HYPERVIGENCE.
MSc. Migena Kurushi
M.A. Enxhi Nasto
From previous episodes of violence covered in television, but also from the actuality of the black chronicles of informative editions for public opinion, women and children continue to be subjects of these stories with a dramatic character for today’s society. There is still the mentality of a parental authoritarianism which is exercised in the form of a verbal and non-verbal violence in the daily life of a child. Such stories have prompted civil society organizations to place women and children at the center of psycho-social services funded by international partners. Of course, this has been one side of the ongoing struggle to overthrow these old principles of “social paternalism” where parents use destructive methods of educating their children. But modern times have generated completely new situations, where children are subject to parental hypervigilance (the new phenomenon that refers to a maximum sensory sensitivity to the environment). From the violent extreme of the parental and authoritarian figure with conditional techniques of normal child development, we notice that time has presented us with an even more conditional phenomenon towards the child but not violent physical form. This goes to the other extreme, that of parental fears, insecurities and paranoia to anticipate any possible environmental threat to the child. The well-known Albanian sociologist Dr. Gëzim Tushi (2017) argues that: “It is a difficult situation in the Albanian family, in which educational relations develop that in appearance and in their essence seem a bit paradoxical. We all ask each other: “what is happening to our children?”, What should we do, how to build educational relationships, how can we influence the upbringing, education and positive communication with them in the family? Undoubtedly, today this problem has become very difficult to solve, because it is really a big social, educational and psychological concern… If we look at the educational commitment of parents in the family, in my opinion there are two “social cuts”, or more exactly two categories of parents. On the one hand it is the parents (luckily most of them) who really, with an educational spirit and sincerely try to work with the children, but who are very worried and scared about the low results of this work. On the other hand, it seems to me that there is a growing number of parents who not only do not know how to “parent”, but also do not want to take educational responsibility for the education of their children. Obliged by work, economic troubles, businesses and small pleasures of the day, many parents have given up this basic educational mission of the family, thinking that education is a free, spontaneous, natural process that can be realized by itself in time. Based on the question that proves the fear and insecurity of every parent, especially of that type of hypervigilant: “What is happening to our children?” The researcher defined as the main purpose of the research the transcription of stories, events and experiences told by specialists whose profession is closely related to the development of the child in terms of psychological, physical and emotional health. The specialists selected in this study to be part of the roundtable are girls and women who come with several years of experience in the field of development and protection of the rights of the child, who are active as part of the teaching staff at preschool institutions, of the National Advice Line for Children and not only. They testify to some special cases of hypervigilance where the mother feeds the 4 year old child with foods ground in the mixer by unconsciously denying the child the exercise of the speech apparatus; where the mother offers the iPhone to be used for a long time because she fears the child’s tears and thinks that crying will damage the nervous system, while that child gains limited instincts of virtual autism. These are episodes from the real life of these parents, who have shared their very pronounced emotions, feelings, fears and insecurities with these professionals. Hypervigilance parenting is an early method, which was also found in the then system where children were closer to nature and far away from electronic devices. Many phenomena of modern times have existed before, simply the population of that system is not presented with the right terminology. In many film sequences of the Albanian cinematography of socialist realism, hypervigilant behaviors of parents towards their children in the role have been shown. An excerpt from the Albanian film “Beni walks by himself” can be found as follows:
– Beni, how many times have I told you not to stay on the floor, or will you get cold again ?, – says the mother.
“Mom let me out a little because I’m bored,” says the son.
– No, because there is a lot of wind outside, – answers the mother.
– What about those who are outside?
– They do not find anything!
– Why me?
– You do not find anything, but the throat…
– Throat, throat, germs, you have told me a thousand times, – Beni answers furiously.
– Do not run, because you will sweat!
This film also shows a phenomenon that existed in that period, which now has a name, called bullying. The phrase “mommy boy” accompanies the main character throughout the film, because he grew up under the influence of a restriction on his freedom to sweat, get hurt a little, play in nature. When in fact it should be understood that socialization is the process by which the vulnerable child gradually becomes aware, knowledgeable, capable of the kind of culture in which he was born. Socialization is not some kind of ‘cultural programming’ from which the child gets in touch and is passively influenced. Even the newborn baby has needs or demands that influence the behavior of those who respond to care for him: the baby is from the beginning an active being. Socialization connects different generations with each other (Turnbull, 1984; cit. By Giddens, 1986). The birth of a child changes the lives of those responsible for its growth, and therefore they are subject to new learning experiences (Giddens, 1986, p. 69). And the researcher constructs three research questions that guide the whole research process of the topic in question:
1- Is parental hypervigilance an internal factor that promotes bullying of the child from the external environment?
2- Is parental hypervigilance perceived as normal when it comes as a result of the first experience of being a parent?
3- What are the advantages and disadvantages of hypervigilance parental behavior?
I.1.Impact of parental hypervigilance on the cognitive development of the child.
Children’s developmental and learning goals are multidimensional. They are achieved when children survive and become physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally secure, fit in society and in the learning process, culturally and spiritually conscious and aesthetically creative. They grow up and become responsible and productive adults… The approach of holistic development in childhood contains: cognitive development, social, physical, emotional, linguistic, spiritual, moral, etc. from the prenatal stage to the age of 8 years. To have a holistic development requires: health, nutrition, early stimulation, positive social and emotional interactions with caregivers, play, learning opportunities, and protection from violence… Socio-emotional development means the relationships that children develop while they are small with adults and children of their environment. Important issues in this area are: what is the experience they acquire while exchanging something with the environment, how do they react to acquaintances and strangers, how easy or difficult are they to establish good relationships with others, how much do they manage to control their feelings etc. In this period children learn how to know and understand what they feel themselves or what others feel, learn how to make friends with the people and children around them, how to express what they feel, how to control their behavior, how to be more easily understood with the environment that surrounds them. Developing these experiences and skills helps children find themselves more easily in larger groups, participate in group activities, and enjoy the support their environment provides. Young children are particularly sensitive to how they are perceived by their environment and what are the attitudes of the people in the environment that surrounds them and to the ideas they express (Tahsini & Duci & Voko, 2014). Based on this guidebook on parenting issues, we note that the emphasis is more on the child’s learning process to be emotionally, psychologically and creatively independent. Encouraging critical thinking in children when they begin to better understand events in their daily lives both in the family environment and beyond is the greatest victory for a parent. But how can this be achieved when a child conditioned by parental paranoia cannot know the world to learn how to distinguish good from evil, selfishness from humanism, or chances from the threats that life itself brings him in the growing stages of his. Parenting is a process where the individual learns to know himself in the role of guide and of course this carries a great responsibility, but the ability of self-control not to infringe on the freedom of the child is a great victory.
I.2. Strategy for reducing hypervigilance in parents.
Parent-teacher cooperation is a necessary condition during the process of raising and educating children. We are sharing some of them in this scientific study material. First, parents need to feel the support of teachers; they should be informed about everything related to the child; Second, teachers need to respond to the needs of parents to be informed about everything that has to do with their child; Third, the presence and participation of parents in learning activities should be encouraged and encouraged; Fourth, parents, on certain days, can come to the kindergarten earlier to see how their children get involved in activities, how they enforce the rules, how they play and get involved in activities; Fifth, parents should not be too corrective towards children (Tahsini & Duci & Voko, 2014). Based on these points, we come to understand that close contact with the staff of preschool institutions can be a very good way to anticipate parental hypervigilance. The information they can get about their child’s daily routine can help them to be more relaxed, more secure in their child’s daily environment.
- Selection of research method in conducting this study.
The research method chosen for conducting this scientific research is qualitative, with the focus group instrument to process with data collection. The literature explains that focus groups are composed of participants who are similar to each other in terms of the purpose of the focus group. This is the characteristic on the basis of which the recruitment is done and the participants are informed about this from the beginning of the discussion (Tahiri & Rama & Sota, 2013). Participants in this focus group have two characteristics in common, firstly is the daily work related to issues of development and protection of children’s rights and secondly, is the gender aspect as they are all professional girls and women with several years of experience. In this discussion focused on the topic of the researcher, they have had a very good interaction in communication and have resulted in many research findings that directly answer the three research questions. The focus group was conducted on the online platform (Zoom), in respect of anti-Covid measures. This way of organizing the group in real time has advantages in the sense that it allows an even larger group of people to participate in the group. This allows communication between people living in different countries where the time is not the same. In online focus groups, both real-time and unreal-time, the issue of confidentiality or the privacy of what is said during the discussion should always be considered. The applicant should prevent the exposure outside the group of personal information of group members (Tahiri & Rama & Sota, 2013). In the context of ethical considerations, the researcher has taken care to take the demographic characteristics of the participant in a confidential manner. During the first minutes of the focus group, the researcher made only a presentation of himself and the organization in front of the participants without dwelling on their personal data in front of each other. Focus groups may include public figures who may be familiar to the rest of the participants, but even in this case, the researcher has tried to avoid the personal details of each of them, but to focus only on the issue of taken into consideration. Specialists come from the field of clinical psychology, sociology, speech therapy, developmental therapy for children. They also come as executive directors of preschool centers and institutions. All have expressed a common interest in addressing this topic, which they considered important and felt appreciated to have been invited to the focus group. The participants were also introduced to the dialogue taken from the movie “Beni ecën vet” and they interpreted the role of the mother, describing it as hypervigilant in nature.
II.1. Reflecting the perceptions and attitudes of specialists about hypervigilant parenting style.
“I am very glad to be part of your focus group and I wish that such topics are elaborated as much as possible, as it is very necessary to raise awareness in many areas, especially hypervigilance as a topic you have chosen. This topic is not that often discussed. There are many mothers who want to keep them under their umbrella. On a daily basis we see this phenomenon in parents, but not only, but also in grandparents. Always with the idea that adults know more than children, compromising the expression of their emotions about what these children feel. This as a discussion must be institutionalized in some way, because it is something we see constantly” (Focus group member no. 3).
“First of all, I want to congratulate you on the topic, because I did not even think that a parent’s hypervigilance can be a problem for the child’s development, because in general we do not see it with this eye, we look at it with the eye of good always caring for the child. I was thinking a little about myself because I too am the first child and generally we first children suffer this parental hypervigilance. I was reflecting on myself in many aspects that I have seen hypervigilance especially in mom. To protect the child, the parent puts the child in a bubble, they are afraid that you will be killed outside, that you will not be killed by the ball, that someone may harass you, etc., while the parent does not realize that he has made the child to some extent pazotin” (Focus group member no.4).
“Often times for specialists having that clinical vigilance, it is very important for us to understand that a child is suffering, a child is being bullied, a child is being abused, and we are always being vigilant in how we address questions, how they manage to make eye contact, how they communicate with professionals or with adults or even with each other, we understand how these children are treated and can help a lot in this part. Also, one of the most popular parenting trainers in the world who is Elein Peiler Clau, she deals with parenting training related to hypervigilance. And she says: “I have had many parents who came with an increased anxiety, terrified, of what was happening to their children, who wanted their children to have them behind them because they felt safe and me “I had to explain to you that the hardest part of parenting is letting go of children and letting them learn from their mistakes”. Parents find this very difficult because they do not allow them to make mistakes, because if they make mistakes misfortune will happen and who knows what… on the contrary to make mistakes is human, of course staying close to the child explaining everything that happens. And that does not make the parent good or bad, because we can not separate them. So, often in our work we are used to seeing parents who have hypervigilance, then there are also those who are first time parents, they have even more vigilance because they are followed by greater fears. This has to do with the age of the parents, i.e. when they become parents for the first time, because of course that is a different approach then. When you become a parent at the age of 22, for example, you are certainly not able to cope with parenting, and so the difficulties increase (Focus group member no. 1).
“Hypervigilance is greatly affected by the environment in which we live and work. It is influenced by the way of education and culture we represent. From the professional practice I have done abroad, there is an approach that for 90 minutes the child should go outside and get fresh air, which you can not actually do in Kosovo, because in our country, if it rains it is a danger, if it snows it is a danger, we do not have the same approach to let the children face the environment. So there are many factors that influence, it is not just age. Now if we talk about Kosovo and Albania, normally age also affects. Early parenting has both positive and negative sides. There is a will, desire and approach that new parents get from others, maybe even technology that helps them read even more, because nowadays it is not information that you can not find. However, on the other hand early parenting not everyone is prepared to take on the responsibilities and obligations that a child requires, but also a parenting at a later, older age differs from young people by enthusiasm and form of treatment (Member of focus group No. 4).
“From my experience in kindergarten I met a target group of older parents who were really hypervigilant and it was clear from the way they left her in kindergarten, from the reactions… It was a parent that I had not met since I was on vacation actually and the baby had a week that had continued kindergarten. When I came back the educator tells me that he is very scared, he gets into a corner and it was not interact. It is more than normal that when a child starts kindergarten in the first days he does not socialize, because he does not even know the environment and we allow the parent to stay with him for a while to create a security in the environment where he is. The mother in question, had asked to stay there with him all the time. When she had to leave she cried and the child did the same when she looked at his mother and she thus transmitted to him that part of the anxiety she was experiencing in her child and this thing continued for more than a month. And it was the parent who got on the phone after every 5 minutes: “tell me now!”; “What is he doing, is he crying? Is he scared? ” And I needed a job with the mother, to make her realize that the child feels this way about you as a result of the way you express your emotions. She said she did this everywhere, did not even leave it in the park, and when she went to the amusement park she did not leave it for a single minute alone. She was very aware of this problem she had and asked for help not to worry so much about it. I referred her to seek help from a professional and she chose the specialist herself. I followed the fluency of this case, it after a year had noticeable improvement. It was the father who brought the child more often, did not call more often (Focus group member no. 3).
“I see the problems related to the child’s developmental disorders in the parents. When we do psychological assessments to see how far their developmental situation is, in what areas they have problems, I see that parents leave them all day by phone, in front of the TV screen and do not talk to them at all. When I finish this part of the assessment I always tell you that you have to consider yourself as actors with the kids, you just have to talk, even when they do not pay attention to you, because something in their ear will remain. Every action you do is related to the word, e.g., I am cooking or I am ironing and the iron is hot. My parents often tell me: “Yes, we do not talk to them because they do not hear us, they only deal with the phone”. Parents are thus comfortable and not getting tired (Focus group member no. 1).
“Even in the movie “Do it yourself” in the dialogue we are reviewing there it is said that: “How many times have I told you not to stay on the floor”. So, a child needs to be told the same thing several times, especially a child with a disability like autism” (Focus group member no. 4).
“Parenting styles are different, but since we are talking about parents who are hypervigilant we can say that this harms children growing and developing, because it deforms them, makes them extremely alert to everything around them, so they do not reach to have childhood and enjoy it, because they will always be attracted to the parent’s attention. This prevents them from growing and forming” (Focus group member no. 1).
“I wanted to share a personal experience since I am a mother myself and now that I deal with children I can make that difference and the way I really handled things. In fact, I started using the internet very early in ’99 when I was part of the United Nations, but in fact I am the only mother who survived that challenge of not allowing children to use technology. My son has been using a smart phone since the age of 15 and I was actually the most criticized person in the whole country. I have been ignored and persecuted in various ways, saying: “How is it possible that I did not allow the use of technology?”. Maybe I was too vigilant too, but as an adult I knew that anything used sparingly is normally okay, but when it gets too much and then when you lose control, you work long hours and do not know what happens… And I always tell my kids, it’s my job to distinguish between what we say and do, because in fact kids do what we do, they imitate us, they don’t do what we say. This is what the parent’s approach lacks, to be as productive as possible to be the ones to guide them. I keep telling my children, it is okay to make mistakes, but do not repeat mistakes and do not make mistakes to the extent that you deviate from the right ”(Focus group member no. 2).
“The advantage of hypervigilance, in my opinion, is that we can get information about the child, if he is being bullied in the outside environment, so if we have an increased vigilance towards our children, we can understand that. Normality and abnormality are separated by a thread so invisible that you can not understand that you are normal or abnormal. And this is exactly the part we need to think about as much as the mass is to be vigilant and understanding the golden mean is like Achilles heel, so it is a miracle that the parent manages to understand the mass. While in the other perspective, hypervigilance makes children unrealized, not themselves, they have their own problems in accessing other children. While for parents hypervigilance goes up to anxiety, depression and ends in paranoia then. And that gets into the mental health problems that need to be addressed. They lose sleep, are anxious all the time, have a kind of arrhythmia, have shortness of breath being constantly anxious and panic. In the quarantine period we had that Green Line, where we had many parents who asked for psychological help for this very reason, because they asked what would happen to our children, they would get sick, they would die, how would we cope with this whole situation” (Focus group member no. 1).
III. Ranking of study findings.
- Age is a biological factor that influences the increase of the parental hypervigilance curve. Younger parents have an increased vigilance towards child care.
- Parental hypervigilance affects the increase of bullying of these children from the external environment. They are subject to external psychological pressures because they are dependent on excessive parental attention and care.
- Hypervigilance is just one step away from paranoia where the parent manifests symptoms of anxiety, post-traumatic stress and multiple insecurities during the stages of the child’s growth.
- Hypervigilance has an advantage that refers to generating accurate information on the current condition of the child.
- Hypervigilance has a disadvantage that creates the inability of the child to be free, independent in socialization.
- Study recommendations.
- Through this study report, the Hiperactivity Albania Foundation calls on other civil society organizations to mobilize and partner in the creation of parenting classes, instruction manuals, which serve everyone for the parenting process. Classes can be organized on online platforms in compliance with Anti-Covid measures.
- The media should devote more television space to conflicting and problematic events and situations related to the parent figure. The development of counseling sessions increases the communication skills of how they should approach their children.
- Parents are recommended to be more active in reading and listening to the experiences of others. Be a participant in parent training sessions.