Stress and traumas, large and small, are a part of daily life in our new digital age. Online, we and our children witness regular devastation from crime and weather, wars and refugees, terrorism, teen suicide, cyber humiliation, addiction, abuse of all kinds, and mass shootings, sometimes in schools. In light of this constant media exposure to the dark side of humanity, we owe it to our children to make concerted efforts to connect to each other, nurture and acknowledge our light, goodness, love, and heroism, and most importantly, to teach and practice emotional resilience. Having emotional resilience is essential to long-term health. It means that we can process the impact of hurtful, harmful, and even traumatic events and, in doing so, grow the power of our hearts. It means that we know how to use what we don’t want as compost for cultivating what we do want. It means developing the ability to self-care such that we can benefit from our own experience and shine more brightly, compassionately, and authentically. Self-regulation and emotional resilience lay the foundation for being empowered and wanting to be of service
How equipped are our children are to deal with stress or the traumas they see if not experience personally? Anonymous media commentators spout off about everything from gun laws to bad parenting, to mental illness and bullying. But if you stop and really listen to what our kids are saying, you’d know that arguing about the above topics is not part of the solution. Instead, look at teen social media accounts. You will hear the voices of a children who are confused, overwhelmed, and often in despair. Their ability to cope with the normal downturns that life presents is obviously compromised. Their school environments are toxic with competition, boredom, and dis-empowerment. They post 12 selfies a day and rate their own self- worth based on the number of “likes” their precocious pose lands them. They rate each other with a sense of arrogance and shallowness that dismisses and invalidates virtues such as kindness, compassion, and acceptance.
A recent article in The Atlantic about sexting tells the story of a Virginia county that was shocked after an investigation revealed that it is THE NORM for our teens to send nude or inappropriate photos to their boyfriends/girlfriends. Authority’s had to come to terms with the fact that if they enforced the law, hundreds of teens would have been facing felony charges of child pornography.
The digital age has desensitized our children. Exposure to sex and violence through media and video games has made fantasy and reality difficult for the developing teen brain to differentiate. The convenience of instant communication behind the veil of a screen allows them to verbally accost each other with no inhibition. Monitoring their digital interactions can be a full time job for any parent, already pushed to the edge by their own stress. We are drowning.
Our educational system uses catch phrases like, “No child left behind”, and focuses on Common Core Standards to grasp on to any last hopes that America remain a super power and produce “educated go-getters” and “tomorrow’s leaders”. Meanwhile, Suzie is posting her selfie sporting a precocious pose waiting for Tommy to give her the thumbs up so she can feel a modicum of self- worth for the next 5 minutes, but Tommy is too busy playing a game of Call of Duty to notice.
We cannot go back. We have entered the digital age. The media and video game developers are not going to develop a conscience overnight. Parents are not going to always be able to be at home engaging kids in other activities. Our children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week in school. It is time to use a few of those hours to teach our children how to both engage safely and respectfully with each other and to cope with the lives WE have created for them. It is time to give them the tools they need to navigate the landscape of the digital age without losing connection to their innate humanity and greater communities. It is time to make emotional resilience and self-regulation the main topic when deciding how we will teach, support, guide, and resource our children for the future.