I’m thinking tonight that in the past week alone I’ve had thirteen conversations with thirteen different people about anxiety. Anxiety and all it encompasses, has affected all of us at certain points in our lives. Honestly, I think we simply ( we meaning my generation and older ) never talked about it, at least not until maybe 10 years ago. My parents certainly never discussed things like sharing feelings or admitting fear or just generalized anxiety. People with mental illness were ” nutso-cuckoo” and went to live in the asylum and God forbid you heard about anyone acting “strange”in the community. The motto was always ” pull yourself up by your bootstraps” whatever the hell that meant and get on with it. My late mother-in-law told a story about when she moved to England with her young children, some 50 years or so ago. She commented to the school master someone very British and very proper, that one of the children was “sick”. He immediately corrected her with “Madam, in England you are ill, or you are very, very ill but you are never ‘sick’.” That was in reference to the fact that ‘sick’ would be construed as “sick in the head, i.e. mentally unwell”and that would never do. My siblings and I simply did as we were told, watched our thirteen TV channels when our chores and homework were done and tried to understand the world from the point of view of the Special Gold Collectors Edition of the World Book Atlas Encyclopedias my Grandfather bought the family one Christmas and the National Geographic magazines he dropped off when he was done reading. I read voraciously as a kid but my selection of literary works was limited to the collection at the little Carnegie library in my small town. ( Side note, if I ever win the lottery or become a billionaire, I will save every library in every small town I can find).
Navigating through life with a healthy outlook and lack of fear seems an increasingly difficult task as the world becomes more globally connected, more digitally infested, more in our faces, more glaring in reality, steeped in media spin about “what is really going on.” The internet has made “turtling” and “la la’la’ing ” i.e.holding our hands over our eyes and ears ’cause we really don’t want to know, an impossible task. So too is parenting through this complex host of issues that sometimes make a full-frontal attack on our kids.
When I was a kid I lived with a pretty small frame of reference. My family, my town , my limited tv viewing network. We used to gather round the phone on Christmas morning to make a special long-distance call to my Aunt in Quebec. We had relatives further away but I’d never met them. I attended public school and I think I got a pretty decent education. I lived at the library in the summer because I loved the summer reading challenge and my world was bigger perhaps than some of my non-reading friends because of the worldly perspectives I became familiar with by reading those books.When I had questions there was always an adult equipped to answer them (at least I believed they were) and I took there answers at face value. We respected what adults told us, and we certainly had no wikipedia to reference things and prove them wrong.
Today our children are bombarded with information. It is everywhere, even when you are not actively seeking it out. On an airplane recently I noted that every child, every single one, including a two-year old, had a tablet. That two-year knew how to swipe and drag and interpret icons and play games it would have taken me half a day to figure out. My daughter tells me that’s because things , digital media things, are designed to be “intuitive” for their users. Apparently I fail in that aspect, as do most of my adult peers. People beside these children also held tablets and laptops and watched movies on seat backs and thumb-typed away on their cell phones. So much media, so much stimulation, so many things fighting for attention. I may not be “intuitive” in the modern sense of the word but I am observant and I see trouble brewing! We see images on television and on the web of children, being dragged from rubble, and drowned on beaches, and kidnapped by religious fundamentalists like Boko Haram. We hear about sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamic extremism, plagiarism, Sharia law, Christian zealotry, race riots, police brutality, homelessness, residential school atrocities, North Korean nuclear threats, the list goes on and on. Do we not realize what this must provoke in the developing minds our children? Should we not be terrified and just plain sad that they are taking some or most of this in. My goodness, I wonder sometimes that we are all not balancing between the edge of ok and unbalanced because we know and see and hear so much about what is wrong with this world.
So I am grateful each day that my kids are so far okay, they’re pretty outstandingly awesome in fact ( my blog, I can brag if I want to). I feel for my friends and my family with kids who are struggling to find their way and I know with certainty that every parent wants their child to be simply, okay. I wonder if all of this availability of information means we need to re-think our parenting? Not to teach them how to learn, because they’re teaching themselves but how to handle what they know. How to be empathetic and kind and compassionate human beings without being overwhelmed by all humanity. I am practically 50 years old and there are days when this world seems so heavy, so full of unhappiness that I find it hard to stay in touch and stay afloat. That comes even after a half a century of experience and vision and developing coping skills. So I understand that a child or a young adult may sometimes feel like they’re drowning in it all. So please, whether you have kids or not, given the opportunity to interact with someone young, give them a hug or a kind word or my go to favourite, tell them a story 🙂