I’ve been back three weeks now and the question from my last blog, how did we become so mean spirited? Is still with me.
The first news bulletin I saw on my return was about silencing the medical teams in refugee camps. So I hadn’t been blinded by holiday haze. Something awful is going on here.
Mix these wonderings with what seemed like a plague of clients dealing with variations of teenage angst, computer addiction, school-refusing and/or self-harming. All the parents of these adolescents were feeling frightened and out of their depth.
There’s nothing new about parental anxiety as our precious babies transition to adults via the emotional vehicle we call adolescence. But the level of fear is out of step with the statistics, apparently, in Australia, we are living in the safest times ever.
What’s going on?
I’m going to propose a hypothesis that this phenomenon is built on an erosion of cultural trust. Firstly, let’s look at the influence of the media as primary conveyers of fear, which in turn undermines the ability to trust. Did both the Packer and Murdoch families ‘have fear and don’t trust anyone’ embedded as core family values? If so, is the Packer/ Murdoch media content just a forum for exporting their core family values? Secondly, lets look at our political leaders who relentlessly use fear, promoting an absence of trust to win the vote of the day. These two important influences on our culture are marketing fear and paranoia.
How does this flow onto families and everyday life?
If my hypothesis is correct, what’s the solution?
I’m coming to believe we have reached, hopefully, the extreme end of this distortion in raising our young. We are being indoctrinated in fear, where in the main, daily fears are trivial. When there is actually nothing to fear, but nonetheless you feel fearful, you can’t leave in peace and trust. This I believe is undermining the resilience and self-esteem of our youth. The culture of fear means they do not get enough experience in overcoming adversity and so are not developing survival struggle skills.
Most adolescents don’t even have to grapple with simple things like: how to stay dry on a wet day, or how to cook a meal from scratch, or how to comfort themselves if they’ve had a bad day. These are trivial examples, a more serious situation for our culture could be bullying. Many of the conversations are around bullying are about permanent harm, not as potential resouce and resilience building opportunities.
Getting what we want all the time and having problems solved for us does not feed our sense of resilience and self-esteem. I’m not talking about ignoring things, I’m talking about conveying belief in our youth; they do often have the resources to manage many adverse situations. But parental/cultural fear often stops this important developmental experience in growing trust in self , because our fear makes us intervene too quickly rather than ask, “What would you like me to do?”
Trust in own abilities and realistic understanding of limitations gives us courage – this is the antidote to fear. We can only gain this through building a history of overcoming struggle. In order to do this we need to have confidence in our ability to comfort ourselves – it’s like having an insurance policy – just in case things don’t go as well as we would like.
More and more I think the place to start is very small. It’s about how to feed the soul and the spirit of our children. I’m not talking about religion here, although sometimes, that is one way. I’m talking about teaching our children about the practice of personal rituals for the soul and the observation of beauty for the spirit.
When a parent if fearful and has lost trust in the world it’s very hard to be in the moment and let children explore, struggle and achieve without interference.
It’s in relationships of trust that we can let our children play or help them identify something of beauty. This could be as simple as noticing a flower or a cloud formation, just taking time to share the wonder of it. These examples are, of course, for smaller children, but for the teenager think about a holiday or outing that takes them out of their comfort zone and brings them intouch with beauty – this could be music, or food – it doesn’t have to be visual. The aim is for them to experience something that stirs wonder, which inturn feeds a sense of comfort and trust. This is the antidote to fear. It will give them courage to face some of life’s struggles.
Unfortunately as parents we need to lead by example if we don’t have a sense that we can survive adversity, especially something that might endanger our most precious relationships, how are our children going to learn. Not that we wouldn’t be devasted if something happened to them, and guitly plus if in someway we had contributed to them getting hurt. Nonetheless we need to trust in our ability to survive. Because to function in life and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way, we have trust our ability to navigate living, okay enough. How else will our adolescents develop a belief that it’s safe to progress onto adulthood?
In the presence of fear and an absence of trust, do they – albeit covertly – think why bother? In that light it seems logical to retire to their bedrooms and play computer games, or go on a drug binge, or carve themselves up because if one is fearful and distrusting of life, it’s hard to get a realistic view on a future.