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 

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)

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. 

Good luck.

Sincerely,

Your Culture


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.

 

 

Parenting Digital Kids

Life Beyond the Screens

If you ask most teens what item is their most prized, important possession, they will say it’s their smartphone. In fact, I’ve heard teens say that if they could only take one thing on a deserted island it would be their smartphone, in spite of the fact that it would be useless once the battery dies. A lot of kids use their phones constantly and are addicted to the internet. They sleep with them and answer text messages in the middle of the night. They absolutely panic when they can’t find it or when someone takes it from them for even a second. They are quite open about it too; they admit that it’s a vital part of their existence.

 

The concern about technology’s impact upon the social, emotional, and spiritual development of our boys and girls is growing. “The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a “screen” (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (tweenparent.com)

Continue reading “Parenting Digital Kids”