Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)
In the previous post, we looked at how young people today are growing up in a culture which encourages extreme individuality. This individualistic lifestyle discourages healthy family life and social life, and it ultimately generates deep-down detachment and loneliness. This eventually creates chronic anxiety and / or depression. In response, the culture encourages the use of coping behaviors that help the individual feel better immediately but ultimately just yields more anxiety and depression. The cycle fulfills itself. The lonely get lonelier, in spite of all the attempts to cope. Because this cycle is self-consumptive, we neglect each other, which weakens our communities further. Eventually, the social norms devolve into creating a generation of young narcissists who can only demand instant gratification. In time, the whole culture, including the elders, becomes self-absorbed, addicted, and sick. It is a sad story. But it is not hopeless.
While the culture is toxic, our young people are not slaves. They can rise up against their oppressors and live a free life. But they will need some help. In the next post in this series, we will get into exactly how adults can help kids live free. But first, we need to know the problem that we are dealing with. We need to know the enemy in order to fight it well.
WHO is the “the culture” anyway? Who makes all these expectations. It used to be comprised of our family, school, religious community, and neighborhood. But then along came mass media, the internet, and the smartphone. Now, the cultural norms are made by marketers representing companies with products and services for sale, but it also includes all the producers of all audio, video, apps, and games. For young people there is the added element of social media which includes what kids say and do to each other publicly online. For most young people, the culture is now run by kids and those who are selling things to them. In a sense, the inmates are running the asylum.
The culture is the water that we swim in. It is everywhere. We are soaked in it, whether we like it or not.
But what if we pulled back the curtain and looked more clearly at exactly how the messaging sounds to the average teen today? What if we personify culture and have her write a brief letter to kids to tell them exactly how to live according to the latest standards? It might go something like this:
An Open Letter from the Culture to Teens Who Want to Fit In:
Hey guys, Listen up. Here’s the deal. Growing up is tough, and it’s best to get as much of the good life you can as a kid, before it’s too late. So, here are five basic tips to get the most out of life before you have to grow up and be all responsible and boring.
The first tip is the easiest of all. Eat up! Treat yourself with your favorite food and drink now. Eat well because you worked really hard the last few hours and have earned the reward. Your young body can handle whatever your throw at it. This means a steady diet of feel-good foods at an affordable price. Some people call it junk, but you can always eat better later if you want to. This diet is especially made for the young brain built for speed. The ingredients should include large doses of sugar, salt, fat, and / or bread, preferably fried to golden perfection. Donuts. French fries. Candy bars. Cherry Pepsi. Pizza. Doritos. Mountain Dew. Fried chicken strips. Cheeseburgers. Frappacinnos. Cookies. This is what fuels young people. Some adults will scare you with tales of obesity and diabetes, but that is only for those losers who are addicts. When it comes to food and drinks, treat yourself.
The second tip is easy too. Enjoy your media your way. When you get tired, be sure to grab the nearest electronic device and hide out quietly for as long as possible. You need these breaks, and if you are quiet, your parents won’t care. Fortunately, there are so many great options: Cable TV. Netflix. Fortnite. Instagram. YouTube. Snapchat. Twitch. Pinterest. Porn. Whatever is most entertaining. Push-button escapism is all free all the time. The only problem is that it is so hard to stay focused. Even your interruptions will get interrupted, but what are you going to do? If you just improve your multitasking, you can have your entertainment almost all day and night.
The third tip may take a little more work because you will need your parents’ money, but it can pay off big. Shop online to create a personal style. Even “window shopping” online is fun, since the whole internet is setup to sell you what you are interested in. Click around. Figure out what you want. Eventually, you can have it, maybe sooner than you think, if you play your parents right. Even if you don’t need anything, you can always make upgrades. Owning the right things and creating a style all your own is what makes successful people.
The fourth tip is something that a lot of kids don’t take advantage of – chemistry. If you get tired from staying up too late, grab a caffeine & sugar drink. Starbucks has some amazing drinks now. If you need some more energy in the afternoon, grab an energy drink. Try Monster or Red Bull if you dare. If you are sore, take some Advil. If you are grumpy, grab some donuts. If you are getting worried, take a Xanax. There is a chemical for every emotional and physical need. There are plenty of options out there. Like they say: better life through chemistry. Just remember that the world frowns on heavy drug use. You need to stay out of jail and don’t drive under the influence. That is important. But when you get a little older you will get to drink what you want to unwind at home at night. And you can party responsibly on the weekends, of course. If you want to do a little pot-smoking in college, just keep that on the down low. It is part of the privilege of youth.
The fifth tip is simple: being sexy and sexually active is amazing. As you probably know already, sexuality is a tricky issue. But it’s really important. Explore your sexuality in college. Good luck with that. You should find your way eventually. But again, no pressure. Just you be you. You are on your own to figure all those things out.
Always remember this central idea: Be good to yourself in every way because nobody else is going to care for you.
Perhaps the above is too simplistic, but it gets at some of the root issues that create so many problems for parents and kids. Conforming to these cultural values will wreak havoc on families and young people.
Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
One the most important things that a parent can do these days is to show their children the ways that society is sick. And in the same conversation, parents should discuss how things should be.
We all tend to get out of balance. We eat too much dessert. We can’t give up Diet Coke. We lean too much on a companion to meet our needs. We buy more shoes and clothes than we need. We scroll through Instagram constantly. We go into debt to buy a new car that our budget cannot afford. We drink too much wine after a really hard day at work. We watch five hours of Netflix in one night. All of these things make us feel better immediately. We are coping with a difficult life. We are escaping, distracting, and self-medicating with legal substances. So, we shouldn’t be harsh in judging those who slide into addiction. After all, there but for the grace of God go I.
“How can I judge addicts? I am one. We are all addicted to not being in this moment. We don’t like the completeness of who we are, what we feel, and what we think in this moment. We cope to get by.” Jon Frederickson, author of Co-Creating Change (2013)
The real challenge for us all is not just to avoid a nasty addiction, but it is in choosing to face our present problems, rather than constantly distracting ourselves and medicating ourselves.
The beauty and the power of Alcoholics Anonymous is that its members are constantly working to face their problems head-on. They humbly lock arms with each other and vow to face their sins, addictions, inner struggles, doubts, and difficult circumstances – whatever makes them feel weak and in need of a drink. It is a beautiful thing to see twenty men and women circled up, humbly admitting their weaknesses, affirming truthful life-giving statements, and encouraging each other without pretense. The members of AA humble themselves and empower each other. Our society has a lot to learn from the folks at AA. We all do.
So how do we help children and teenagers to resist society’s influences in order to live a healthier, happier, more empowered life? How exactly do we raise countercultural kids who learn to thrive, not just survive? That is the topic of the next post.