Chasing the Fly
I’ve been wondering why there is a rise in stress and anxiety among younger adults. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t learn to play and create as my generation had done. That is one part of the problem. Then I noticed the influence of marketing on these kids. Maybe, and maybe not. As I dug deeper, there was a realization that in competition everyone had to get a trophy, and be special. The topper was the safety issue. When we can’t hear opposing views, something is terribly wrong. Yes, this is going to be a wild post.
The last few weeks, parents have been posting on Facebook about their kid graduating from kindergarten. KINDERGARTEN!!!!! Get real, people. When, and how, did this become a thing? Personally, I think it’s a retail scam, kind of like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Let’s promote buying something, and don’t forget “Black Friday,” which has now left the U.S. and is doing a migration to Europe. But I digress. Back to what is going on here: adults with anxiety, teens, tweens, and kids with anxiety and depression. Oh, I won’t go down that rabbit hole.
My thoughts wandered to a question that couldn’t stay buried in the rubble of the mind: Have people become so set on getting ahead and providing all good things that all good things are becoming lost on the way to the getting of them? (I need Bill Bryson to do the research on this and put it in a book so that I can synthesize it and digest how we got to this topsy-turvy place on this hot rock of ours.)
Then my editor told me about Jonathan Haidt. His research is brilliant. I spent the weekend devouring two of his books. They provided some grounded answers along with some thought-provoking questions.
I think of parents over-scheduling children and not allowing time for relaxation, creativity, and free play. Sorry, people, “play dates” are not free play. There you have it!!!! Play dates!!!! OK, so I’m from a different generation when kids did really crazy things, like when we went to our friends’ homes on the spur of the moment because we could walk or ride our bikes there. When my mother called my friend’s mother, telling her that my friend’s brother had fallen out of the tree at my home, her mother yelled at us to “stay in the house, don’t go outside until I get back!!!!” Yes, George had a broken arm; Jenny and I remained at her place, and our mothers remained calm but concerned. We understood that play had its risks, and falling out of a tree or falling off a bike were some of the risks we took. About a year later, I was the injured person. While at a friend’s home, I broke my collar bone. Life happens. We didn’t stop doing creative things. We explored and discovered things about life. When riding down a steep slope, you must slow the bike and not fly over the handlebars. I rode the bike to my friend’s home, where her mother took a look at things. Yup, I needed a doctor for this one. It hurt. I was OK, and I’d be out of play for a bit.
This brings me to the thought that we’re sending the wrong message to children now. Life isn’t safe. There should be healthy conflict and exploration in our upbringing. We should be teaching children to explore new things and new places. They need to discuss all sides of an argument and search out opposing points of view. Are we learning to think? Are our children and grandchildren learning to think?
In 1999 my husband and I accepted a job assignment in Germany. We risked and stayed here in Europe. I didn’t know what I’d be facing as a disabled person here in Europe. What I found was a freedom I’d never had before. In 2016 I made the choice to remain here as a widow. It’s been a challenge, and I’m glad I’ve done it. It was a risk that has been stressful at times but worth the life balance I have because I chose to remain here. My childhood of roaming free, playing freely, and learning from it all provided some useful building blocks.
During the last thirty years, some of those freedoms have come and gone for many children. In 2018, Utah, followed by Oklahoma and Texas, passed “free range” laws that restore the rights of parents and children to be on their own, just as I was when I was younger. It will be interesting to follow children in these states as they mature. Will these kids display lower levels of anxiety and depression? Will they be capable of riding a bus on their own? Will they know more of their neighborhoods? Will these laws get kids outdoors? Will they exercise more, and will obesity in children decline?
Will children begin to have less homework and more free time to create?
When I think about why I began to write this over a week ago, I realize that I want children to experience the fun and delight to be had in life. Remember the Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go? If children can go to wonderful places, will things become better for them? Will depression and anxiety levels lower both in schools and homes? This would be great for children, and yes—bad for all the pill pushers hoping to get parents thinking that their kids need drugs when they may not need them. Before you scream, I’m pro wise use of medication if it’s needed. To quote one of my favorite books from childhood, and a book that takes the reader on an adventure with a boy and a fly:
“I sat at the lake.
I looked at the sky,
And as I looked,
A fly went by.”
(From Mike McClintock’s A Fly Went By.)
My hope and wish is that children will once again have life adventures where they will learn, explore, question, and connect with life in real ways. Let them sit by the lake and chase a fly.