One thing I am called upon to do often is decode kids. A great thing about being a life coach who does home visits is I get to meet the entire family and see how they relate to each other. Not surprisingly, many parents struggle to communicate with their teenagers and 20-somethings, and I get called in to decode. Often the parents are surprised, or even shocked, to hear how their kids are really feeling.
Although many kids may seem OK or even to be doing well to their parents, they really aren’t OK. They’re digitized, anxious, addicted to gizmos, aren’t resilient, and don’t know how to push themselves outside of school and sports. They are supremely focused on goals and ambitions to the exclusion of their dreams and simple joy. They achieve, yet they often feel completely powerless. They appear to be successful, yet so many are sad.
I am not the only person who is reporting this: most of the professionals with whom I talk—pediatricians, teachers, coaches, school administrators, and some worried parents—are all seeing the same things.
Why is this happening? Part of this is cultural. We, the Analog Generation, knew that if we worked reasonably hard in school and stayed out of major trouble, we’d be fine. The messages we received, both consciously and unconsciously, from the adults in our lives went along these lines:
“The world’s a good, fun safe place.”
“You can trust most adults.”
“The people in Washington probably know what they’re doing.”
“The earth will last forever.”
“Your parents have some issues, but basically they’re there for you.”
“You can and should respect your teachers and coaches, and they’re really looking out for you.”
The Digital Kids don’t enjoy that kind of reassurance. We all know the messages that are swirling around them at all times: ISIS, global warming. A “media” that reports the news sensationally in great detail 24/7 and promulgates fear. There’s a fractured political system that has forgotten about respect and compromise and seems oblivious to the people it’s supposed to serve. It’s everyone being on their smartphones all of the time (making Einstein, who said, “I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” very prescient, indeed), trying to use communication devices as connection devices, which doesn’t work.
A noted psychiatrist, D.W. Winnicott, coined the term holding environment for that positive, safe, predictable environment parents create in their home for a baby. Well, the cultural holding environment, in a scant generation, has begun to radically tear.
And because of all of this, many parents are afraid—so afraid—in their efforts to protect their children from all of these awful things, they have neglected to prepare them for adulthood. They haven’t allowed their kids to be kids. Many of these children might have every material gadget possible, but they rarely get to play outside. They are hardly, if ever, allowed to go out on their own, get into trouble, get out of trouble, find out who they are as individuals. They have not been allowed to fail or face consequences. To take risks. To have fun with their friends in unstructured, unsupervised play. And the result is stressed-out, anxious, sad kids.
These kids hold a secret kept even from themselves: They do not feel in control of their lives, do not enjoy contentment, and do not experience excitement about the whole of living.
Most of their parents aren’t in on this secret and, in fact, don’t have a clue how their children really feel. We’re raising a generation of kids who are using devices, Snapchat, sex, work, working out, stress, drugs, alcohol, and achievement to feel alive. Kids who don’t know how to truly connect.
There are a lot of things parents can do to improve this situation, and that is a big part of my work with kids and families. But it isn’t easy, as it means bucking some trends. It means making a conscious decision to NOT keep up with the Joneses. It means changing things up with your kids, and, as you know, change is not easy or immediate, and you will be met with resistance. But when you see that big grin on your child’s face when she or he realizes that life is about the journey as much, if not more, than the destination, and you are sharing their joy, maybe for the first time in ages, it will feel great.
In addition to my direct work with families, I have a program on this subject for both large and small groups of parents. It’s appropriate for PTAs, libraries, religious organizations, businesses (I do a lunchtime program), or even just a group of friends who are interested in these issues. Please contact me for details.