Is that too harsh for the little ones?
"Those with anxiety disorder tended to have higher IQ scores than healthy people, as well as higher levels of activity in regions of the brain that aid in communication between parts of the brain. These regions are thought to have contributed to the evolutionary success of humans. . . . High levels of anxiety can be disabling, and patients' worries are often irrational. But every so often there's a wild-card danger. Then, that excessive worry becomes highly adaptive. People who act on the signals of that wild-card danger are likely to preserve their lives and the lives of their offspring."
They found that people working in creative fields, including dancers, photographers and authors, were 8% more likely to live with bipolar disorder. Writers were a staggering 121% more likely to suffer from the condition, and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. . . . Earlier studies on families have suggested that there could be an inherited trait that gives rise to both creativity and mental illness.*
I suggested to this friend that acknowledging death is the best course over pretending we can guarantee a long life or ignoring the heart of the concerns. He responded, "I'm not going to tell my 8-year-old that we're all going to die." And coming from that angle, my suggestion sounds crazy. And yet, after some time to consider the situation, I maintain my position because doesn't she already know that to be the case?
I asked my 11-year-old what she thinks about the idea of talking to kids about death and what she thinks about kids having lots of anxiety these days. She said,
"I think kids should know the truth instead of thinking that the whole world is a perfect place. Because it's not. We've got a lot of places that have a lot of problems right now. I worry about stuff that's going to happen, but I worry about it too soon."
My concern here with an avoidance of existentialist thinking is that our culture's drive to protect children from anything remotely painful might be creating a society of people with lowered resilience who struggle to cope with the most minor setbacks, like students weeping over an essay because they can't think of a topic. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, or, at least, it's only recently that it is being openly displayed to teachers.
But I wonder if it's the case that, previously, our anxiety over having enough food or money or supports in the face of plenty and a general fear of losing everything we've worked for was met with "Yup you might. Get over it!" comments that convinced us to cut-off those thought instead of dwelling on them and talking about them and bringing our concerns to person after person who would share their deepest fears, thereby giving credence to our worry and further embedding the pathways in our brain that allow worry to flourish! Flippant reactions might have a similar effect as current CBT methods in which people might be told to stop negative thoughts by imagining a big red "X" over the negative idea, then replace them with alternative thoughts, and then those troubling ideas will eventually decrease in frequency and intensity. Flippant reactions to worry can have the same effect of "You're fine!" in response to a tumble on the playground instead of rushing in with peroxide and bandaids. We rush in an awful lot these days.
We've gone down a different road of listening to everyone's feelings to the point that now we have a generation of second-order anxiety: personal anxiety plus anxiety over our children's anxiety. Have we fostered discussions of our concerns to a point that they've become normalized and entrenched in our brains? We feel like we worry for good reason about our anxious children because sometimes anxiety can turn into something worse like self-mutilation or suicide ideation. And then then we worry that worrying about our children's anxiety might actually make it worse! I think it was easier for my parents to acknowledge the worst case scenarios because they were born in the '20s and lived through the depression and then WWII. They experienced the worst and survived. We've been too sheltered from real trauma in our generation's past to be able to acknowledge that it could be a very real part of our future and to just get on with things. We're here today, and we have food and shelter, and we haven't been hit by a meteorite, so do your homework already!
Worrying about what might happen (like a child's anxiety turning into something worse) helps us feel like we're doing something productive about something we might have little effect over. But it could just an illusion of productivity. The tricky business is figuring out when we can have an effect and when we can't. We might stand back as parents and watch our kids fight through various stages of depression and anxiety, trying one therapist or medication after another wondering if doing nothing would have been as effective. It's complicated. But when they're beginning to express some fears over things clearly outside our control, a brush-off might be the trick.
Recognizing the randomness of our lives, and how little control we have over it all, and the reality that death is inevitable, can actually help us live a more satisfying existence. I didn't wait for a magical age to share this with my children, but aimed to answer questions and concerns as authentically as possible throughout their lives. It's not all bad news. The worst might happen tomorrow, but if you're alive and well today, then let's celebrate that fact.
|from this cite of awesomeness|
*I'm not sure the difference between being an author and being a writer, but for the sake of my mental health, I hope I'm in the former group.