Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 3 of 3)

The trends are not looking good for the mental and emotional health of young people, across all demographics. For instance, most people think of college as one of the happier times in a person’s whole life. However, according to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 52 percent of college students reported feeling hopeless, while 39 percent suffered from severe depression during the previous year. Those are some staggering numbers. Apparently, the freedom and excitement of college life offers little relief for the inner troubles of young people. As we discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this series, the current culture is toxic for families and for young people.

What can we do about it? Clearly, we can’t change the culture right away, so what is a person to do?

Benjamin Franklin famously penned, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Does this apply to avoiding anxiety, depression, and addiction. Absolutely!

No young person intends to get addicted to anything. Generally, an addiction begins small and benign, then grows like a cancer undetected, until it’s a serious problem. For this blog post, we will focus on that intermediate stage of growth, when it is neither too soon to detect nor too late to treat effectively.

The most common concern of parents regarding dependency is related to electronics, and it goes something like this: “We struggle constantly with our kids over screen time” or “I know my kids use screens a lot, but the screens are literally everywhere. What can be done?” Yes, screens are the big deal now – for kids and for parents. Are screens as dangerous as heroin? No! Are they as addictive? Yes, they are! Just talk with some middle school boys about Fortnite (click here to learn more about it). They will tell you how addictive it is. It is basically electronic meth for most middle schoolers. Here is an article about the drug-like effects of screen-time on the teenage brain.

When we talk about substance abuse, we should include electronic substances, such as video games and social media, not just illicit drugs and alcohol. We should also include caffeine, tobacco, junk food, and any other unhealthy dependency on a thing to feel good quickly, mask feelings, and escape reality. An unhealthy dependence on any substance is what we are trying to avoid. 

Moderation is the goal, however there are some children and people who just can’t handle any amount of certain substances, so keep that in mind. People have different tolerances for different things. Don’t treat all your kids alike. Know them and be realistic about their abilities to handle addictive things. Most parents are too optimistic about this, partially because they do not want to know and partially because they are blinded by love. But keep in mind that whatever problem may come is treatable.

Now, Let’s get to the prevention tips. Remember, Rome was not built in a day. Don’t try to radically transform your family at once. But by all means, take a big step today.

#1 – Create Deep Connections at Home

Relationships matter most in the fight against the addictive culture. This is a countercultural fight, as the culture becomes increasingly obsessed with individuality. Don’t let your kids be self-consumed individuals. Young people need to know that they are loved and will not be left.

The most important relationships to a young person are always the parents (or the primary caregivers), and a close sense of attachment to them is the most important thing that will help a child grow up well. Secure attachment is the deep knowledge that they are protected by caregivers who care deeply about their wellbeing and will never betray them. Most adult addicts will tell tales of an insecure home life as a child, and that is no coincidence. A leader of an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter recently told me, “100% of the addicts I have met were lonely when they started abusing alcohol. Isolation and loneliness is behind most addictions.” A safe, loving home life is an insurance policy against addiction. It is not an absolute guarantee, but it is good insurance.

Talk openly. Do not hide the facts from your kids about why people abuse alcohol, drugs, sexuality, etc. Why they like it, what the consequences are, what addiction looks like, how hard it is to end an addiction…. More importantly, foster an environment at home in which children can talk openly about all sorts of things. Be a good listener, in other words. The best place to do this is at the dinner table. Yes, eat meals together. Not every meal will yield good conversation but some will, and that is gold.

Develop a Healthy Marriage. This might be the most difficult thing of all, but it is might be the most crucial of them all. Parents who embody secure attachment in marriage are far more likely to have children who feel secure. The whole family needs to know that nobody is leaving, everybody is committed to each other, and love is paramount in the home.

#2 – Encourage Face-to-Face Socialization

Encourage your child to have other kids over to the house. Be present without hovering, provide food, and make an entertainment plan. But minimize screen time and maximize physical activity and laughter. Or take friends to the movies or a sports game or anything just to be with others. Kids do not need lots of friends, but they need at least one good one, in order to feel connected to someone else. Think of the quality of friends as far more important than the quantity or coolness of friends.

#3 – Create Community Ties

Young people need to connect with others in a variety of ways, so that they can feel connected and important with others their age. Make sure your child has some working relationships with other kids and adults who are not addicts. Get your kids involved in small communities, such as youth groups, sports teams, scouts, robotics club, or anything that is both social and constructive. And don’t forget about church, synagogue, temple, or mosque. A community of faith can be deeply meaningful for kids and adults alike.

#4 – Create a Healthy Lifestyle

Sleep is a huge factor. Studies have shown that kids who have a healthy sleep routine are far less likely to use drugs. Exercise is another big factor, since stress is a huge cause and substance abuse, and exercise is one of the very best ways to reduce stress. And, of course, a healthy diet helps kids not just with their physical health but with their mental health. Sleep, diet, and exercise are the holy trinity of health.

#5 – Delay Gratification & Reward Work

Make sure your child has some helpful responsibilities around the house and is paid in appreciation as well as money. Children who feel helpful and are reimbursed fairly for their labor will not only feel connected to the family but will also learn the value of money. Encourage kids to save their money and then spend it on something meaningful to them – a guitar, a bike, or whatever will reward work, savings, and patience. A child who appreciated delayed gratification is less likely to rely on instant gratification all the time.

#6 – Stress Management / Relaxation Activities

Nearly every counselor who helps people with anxiety or depression will teach their clients some relaxation techniques related to some form of deep breathing, meditation, prayer, walking in nature, and taking time to rest daily and weekly (sabbath). Learning to unwind is crucial.

#7 – Fasting / Learn to Live Without

The concepts of fasting and sabbath are essential to good mental health. We all need to practice rest a little bit each day and at least once a week. We can rest in many ways, but it is most important to rest from the activities and substances which tend to be addictive. The electronic sabbaths might be the most important thing to do in this era. Social media, if used at all, needs to be limited, so fasting from social media is a must regularly. Kids need days off of video games. Many kids will learn that “life is better without ___________,” or at least without so much of it. Whether or not they recognize it, kids need a break from the things they love the most.

All of these things are countercultural, so they may seem old-fashioned or outdated, but they will lead to health and happiness. The culture may promise that, but it does not deliver it. In the long run, countercultural kids will be far more healthy, happy, and successful. 

In conclusion, if you suspect substance abuse of any kind, do not shrug off the use of these “lesser drugs” as just “kids being kids.” The goal is to develop children who do not demand instant gratification all the time and who see the value in moderation. That is not always possible, but it is never appropriate to give up on a kid. Never embrace an addiction to something that keeps kids from dealing with their real-world problems. Always seek the healthy way, not the cultural way.


 

** For those who are struggling with some sort of addiction, it can be very complicated, since it is often a set of physical, emotional, and mental addictions. The tips above will still be helpful for the addicted child or teenager, but it is more important to get professional help and seek further information. Never ignore an addiction.

** As a resource, this is an excellent website outlining more ways to mitigate the risks of addiction in children: Keep Kids Drug Free 

Taking Control of Your Digital Life

Part 3 in the series on becoming “tech-wise”

The first two posts in this series laid down a philosophical framework for why we need to take control of our digital devices. Now, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty details. The following is a list of strategies, tools, and thoughts to consider as you use your electronic devices. Try some of these things this week and see what works for you. Then try some more.

Physical Environment

  1. Reduce the number of devices that you use daily and have a philosophy of use for each one. Put certain apps on each device, and intentionally delete (or at least hide) all the extras.
  2. Don’t keep your phone on your body all day long. Give yourself some physical space for extended periods of time.
  3. Reduce the number of TVs and computers in your places, and don’t make them the focal point of any room where you spend a lot of time. Hide the screens as much as you can.
  4. Use paper and pen more. A paperless life is not an ideal life.
  5. Make sure you have tech-free zones and times in your home, in your office, and in your car.
  6. Put your tech to bed early. Put your phone, tablet, laptop in the kitchen every night for charging. Don’t bring it into the bedroom. Parents may need to keep children’s devices in their bedroom, since some kids will sneak their phone at night.
  7. Practice sabbaths from technology use: weekly, daily, hourly. Give your brain a break from the screens regularly. There should be a rhythm to our interaction with technology. There should be a rhythm of work, rest, and play to each day, week, and year.

Continue reading “Taking Control of Your Digital Life”

The Social Combat of Being 13

A New World Order for Young Teens

tired stressed girl7th and 8th grade is when the social life of a child amps up in three ways: importance, intensity, and consequences.

At 13, a child’s social standing becomes extremely important to them, as it has become more important to all the other 13 year olds. For some, it is the most important aspect of life itself. Most teens would rather go without food and shelter than suffer any sort of social trouble.

At 13, a child’s feelings of insecurity, awkwardness, and fear are at an all-time high. The hormones are raging, the insecurities are constant, and the emotional swings are intense. The biggest concern of every day is how to get through that whole day without any public embarrassment. Their fears are fueled by the intense anxieties of their peers. It’s a sea of fears as far as the adolescent eye can see. Continue reading “The Social Combat of Being 13”

Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.06.39 AM
7 year-old has been using tools since 3.

A friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of her three young children helping their dad build a deck. The seven year-old boy was using a power drill to sink a deck screw.

Another woman posts a picture of her two kids 6 feet high up in the branches of an old oak tree. One is climbing with a garden hose in her hand, while another is hanging upside down.

You’ve all seen pics on social media that make you think, “Isn’t that dangerous for a little kid? Is he old enough for that? Is that safe?”

Those are excellent questions for every parent to ask about every activity. We should always be concerned about the safety of our children, but the real question is in how you respond to those questions.

Do you always choose the safest option?

In my opinion, always erring on the side of safety is a mistake. It seems like the safest way to raise kids, but it’s not. Failing to give young kids experiences with dangerous things will only increase their chances of being hurt later in life.

Continue reading “Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things”

Fear Less, Parents

With the tragic news of the abduction and murder of ten-year-old Hailey Owens this week, many parents are afraid that the same thing may happen to their children. And many are wondering if they should be doing more to protect their children. Those are legitimate concerns and questions, and there is not a simple sound-bite response. Instead, I will offer two articles that I hope will help.

1. I highly recommend this article about Patti Fitzgerald‘s advice for parents of young children. It is an excellent explanation of why children should not fear all strangers, only certain types of strangers. Click Here

2. In addition, I wrote a chapter about parental fear in my book, Critical Connection. Here is an excerpt from that chapter. I hope it helps clarify that often we are most afraid of the wrong things. We tend to be afraid of the most emotionally terrifying things, but we should rather focus our attention on less scary but far more dangerous things.

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Family protectionFamily Fears

In their best-selling book, Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the fears that control parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, and so on):

No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fear-mongering than a parent. A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. The problem is that they are often scared of the wrong things. Separating facts from rumors is always hard work, especially for a busy parent. The facts they do manage to glean (from experts and other parents) have been varnished or exaggerated or otherwise taken out of context to serve an agenda that isn’t their own.1

Rumors and sensational stories rule the day, making us afraid of letting our kids near everything from tap water to corn syrup. New parents fear that their infants will die in their sleep. Parents of toddlers fear sharp edges on furniture. Parents of preschoolers fear that their children won’t know how to read before kindergarten. In fact, there seems to be a new set of fears for every stage of development, many of them introduced by marketers of child-safety products and fueled by the media’s fascinating and often terrifying stories.

Reasonable Fears

Some fear is healthy; only adolescents think “NO FEAR!” is a great motto for life. That may make sense in the video-game world where you can hit the reset button at any moment, but it’s a ridiculous notion in the real world. A little fear is a very good thing. Reasonable fears motivate us to wear seatbelts, drive within the speed limits, and avoid texting while driving. Continue reading “Fear Less, Parents”