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Understanding how the modern child seeks to feel loved

Dr. Brenda Burnett, Psychiatric Nurse Practitoner trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, offers insights for the modern parent about helping youth who suffer from mental health and addiction issues.
Joanna Jullien

The modern parent is faced with the blessing and challenge of relating to digital natives, (born after 1990 and cannot imagine the world without the internet), who don’t want to be heard as much as they desire to be felt. This authentic connection is also described as “you get me,” validation, or feeling loved. It is being in a state of grace which is characterized by unconditional love and acceptance. It is the authenticity that digital natives seek in a cyber-powered world where things that do not matter are hyped and untruth can be convincingly presented as gospel. There is much confusion between trust and faith, love and sex, brave and risky, and forgive and excuse that leads to anxiety and unrest.

Related: Two mental traps that make cyber connectivity more dangerous

Traditionally the parenting paradigm of previous generations focuses on prevention, which assumes that parents have control over the child’s life and internet connectivity creates a power crisis that features the futility of the “prevention only” model because parental control is an illusion. The child truly is in charge of their own thoughts and actions, and the digital landscapes are ripe for the wrong thinking and the right circumstances to conceal risky behavior. So in this regard, mobile connectivity is a game changer for the modern parent who must also be prepared with confidence to help children recover from exposure to and experiences with adult issues, such as bullying, exploitation and addiction, at earlier ages.

Dr. Brenda Burnett is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) who practices in the Sacramento region. She offers insight for the modern parent about helping youth who suffer from mental health and addiction issues. Dr. Burnett believes that through the use of validation as taught in DBT, parents can help their youth travel down a path of hope in the face of suffering and trial. According to Burnett, DBT introduces the concept that promotes helping a person suffering from mental health illness through a process of authentic validation. Some of the skills taught in this therapy include: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. DBT also offers insights about how parents may establish open communication with children to encourage conversations about what is happening in their life, rather than seek validation on-line (such as anonymous sites like

“Kids may be living in their own personal hell,” Burnett said. “DBT can help us be present with them and be purposeful.” Burnett encourages non-judgmental evaluation of behavior so that it is possible to help the youth feel understood and talk about the suffering in a productive way. “Many parents may not realize that when kids act out, their behavior is the expression of suffering,” she said. “If the display of emotion from a child is so intense or hostile that it has shut down the parent because of its high intensity, the parent needs to see their disengagement as a cue to themselves that their child may indeed be in the thralls of suffering. The parent needs to override their tendency to ignore, downplay, scorn, or shame the display of emotion, and instead engage with the child in a sincere attempt to understand what lay beneath the emotional dysregulation.”

So the mind-shift for the modern parent is to meet children where they are, no matter how hostile or angry, speak truth with mercy and show them a better way, without judging. Children need parents to validate how their current situation is causing pain, and then encourage them to think about how they want to respond to it. When our motivation as parents is to help children create a life worth living without falling prey to cyber-stalkers, it is possible to harness your own personal power and model for your child the life skills essential for safely navigating pain. Together, validation and role modeling can facilitate a critical turning point in your child’s personal journey. (Editorial note: On August 6, 2014 this article was updated with contributions from Dr. Burnett.)


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