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.

 

 

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)

In the late 1990s, author J.K. Rowling invented the term “muggle” as a derogative term for the normal people of modern Britain. Muggles are all the ordinary human beings in Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter book series. Muggles do not have any magical powers or awareness of anything magical. They live for comfort, they conform to society, and they have petty concerns. They are boring and bland, at best – miserable and mean, at worst.

In the context of this very ordinary world of muggles, Rowling created a parallel universe of magic. At the center is Hogwarts, the school for youngsters who wish to pursue magic, a better way of life. Rowling knew that children wanted more than what the modern world was giving them and that they would identify with the struggle against muggles, scoundrels, monsters, and villains.

Young readers happily entered the Harry Potter universe in droves. Reading among adolescents exploded worldwide, as hundreds of millions of children read 600-page book after 600-page book. Even adults joined in. Rowling struck a chord. People want more magic, less muggle. And a whole generation, now known as the millennials, identifies with the Harry Potter, the boy who struggles to live with more magic and less muggle.

It is no different in America today. The typical American is a muggle. Isn’t it the norm to seek comfort and conformity? Isn’t it normal for us to be a little bit foolish, a little petty, and sometimes mean? Doesn’t social media illustrate these things pretty clearly? We are muggles, more often than not. However, if we are honest, none of us thinks of ourselves as muggles. Nobody wants to admit it. And yet, if we are honest and will peer around our blinds spots for a moment, we can see the muggle inside us and all around us.

Turn on the TV. Look at social media. Read the news. Just look around the very place you are sitting in at this very moment. Or go to a truly beautiful place, like a beach, and look all around. Don’t just look at the Instagram-worthy viewpoint, but look all around. It won’t take long to find something ugly, dangerous, or sad, like the kids glued to their smartphones for hours, rather than playing in the waves or building with sand. We live in a world that is both beautiful and broken, magical and messy, terrific and toxic. It is good to see things clearly within us and within the places and people around us.

The real world is not like Hogwarts where powerful forces of good win out over powerful forces of evil in fantastic displays of drama and special effects. The real world is not like Instagram, where everything is a happy highlight with stylish filter effects. Our children need to learn that life is imperfect, and that we are all imperfect. While some parents choose to protect their children from these truths, it is best for these truths to be explained very early in life. Our children can handle us walking them through the realities of life, with all the muggles and the magic, as long as we make sure they feel deeply loved and well protected within the family.

Facing the real world is what makes us healthy. It is when children face the world alone that they are vulnerable. And this is where society gets it all wrong. Children are taught to be individuals and to spend their energy on expressing themselves and seeking whatever makes them happy.

Western culture now values the self above all things: self-actualization, self-satisfaction, and self-justification. This sounds good and feels good, but unfortunately it does not deliver on its promises. Unchecked self-focus leads directly to loneliness, which can lead to very dark places, like depression and anxiety. It can lead to personality disorders, like narcissism.

Loneliness is a defining feature of America in 2018. Families are disconnected. Communities are disconnected. Sure, we are more connected than ever electronically, but we somehow feel less connected than ever to friends and family. It is normal for children to grow up without a sense of attachment to family or friends. They don’t know exactly where they belong or who they are. This is where things have gotten sideways with regard to mental and emotional health. This is why so many young people relate so strongly to Harry Potter, a lonely orphan who was neglected and mistreated by his adoptive aunt and uncle. Our kids feel lost and lonely in a world of muggles.

Psychologists know that a lack of deep emotional attachment to at least one caregiver, combined with a temporary sense of loneliness, creates emotional pain, most often in the form of depression and anxiety. In a formula: Lack of Attachment + Loneliness = Anxiety + Depression. For more information about the importance of attachment, click here.

America is sick with epidemic levels of anxiety and depression. 1 in 5 Americans has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, while many are undiagnosed and untreated. 1 in 6 will experience clinical depression in their lifetime. But the real story is the rise of anxiety and depression among young people now. An estimated 25% of teenagers have already experienced depression in their lifetime. Ask any counselor or school teacher if they think that anxiety or depression is increasing, and they will affirm the sad trend. A recent nationwide survey found something surprising about loneliness in the younger generation. “Our survey found that the younger generation was lonelier than the older generations,” says Dr. Douglas Nemecek, the chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna. Read this article for more information.

In order to relieve the sharp uneasiness of anxiety and the dull pain of depression, Americans cope by consuming substances that are highly effective at making a person feel better immediately. We have an insatiable appetite for what is easy and comforting to get more or what is easy and comforting to get more of what is easy and comforting… in order to avoid the difficulties within us and all around us.

We consume loads of junk food, alcohol, drugs, video games, social media, streaming video, pornography, and material goods – anything to help us feel better immediately. We feed the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, and imagination in order to distract the mind, avoid family problems, avoid existential questions, avoid difficult friends, distract from negative emotions, and gain a little sense of control and comfort. Neil Postman wrote famously in 1985 that we are amusing ourselves to death with television. That was long before the internet and smartphones. Where are we now?

Unfortunately, our coping mechanisms are not powerful enough to overcome our mental health problems. Instead, we are caught up in self-destructive cycles, and we are addicted to our coping mechanisms. Some addictions are more harmful than others, of course, but none of them are good if they are helping a person avoid their problems day after day, year after year. If we do not face our fears and problems, then we are not growing. If we deny, distract, and desensitize too much, then we lose our mental health and are prone to addiction. And addiction is a slow form of death.

The good news is that we do not have to live as a muggle in the United States of Addiction. We can choose a better way of life. But that better way must be countercultural because the culture is toxic to mental health. The culture is toxic to the soul.

It is good news is that our children and teens do not have to settle for the so-called “good life” of being momentarily happy all the time. There are better ways of living. Coping is not the answer. There are ways to thrive, not just survive. Our kids can learn to be more magician than muggle!

 

* Part 2 in this series will examine how to think about addictive behaviors in light of what society tells young people. Part 3 will focus on the practical aspects of teaching young people to live free from addictions.

 

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”

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use (Part 2 in series)

Technology continues to improve, but is our use of technology improving? Not if we use all our high-tech devices and apps with their default settings. Not if we use them in whatever way feels right at the moment. Not if we go along with what everyone else is doing. Nothing will improve unless we personally change the ways we use technology during our days.

As parents, teachers, and coaches of young people, we see the current struggles that they are having with technology, and we would like to do something about it. But we have little idea about what to do to be helpful.

The answer begins with us. We need to attempt to gain control of our own digital lives, as we also try to help young people gain control of their digital lives. We should put high-tech tools to use in their proper places, and that includes putting them away at times. We need to become tech-wise, not just tech-savvy. We need to lead by example, and teach from our experiences.

Continue reading “Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use”

Why Technology Worries Us So Much

Since 2010, human behavior has changed. In these last 7 years, we have experienced the complete integration of smartphones, the holy grail of gadgetry, into our everyday lifestyle. In that same time frame, we have experienced the proliferation of tablets among children at play, students at school, and even in the daily life of older adults who quickly took over Facebook. The teenagers quickly fled to other forms of social media, namely Instagram and Snapchat, both of which have become youth culture phenomena. So much has changed in just 7 years, as we have all come to realize that for almost everything “there is an app for that.

We use our devices so much because they work so well at so many things, and they make life more fun, more efficient, and more… everything. Both the allure and the utility are undeniable. Just look around at all the people in any public space. At any given time, most of them are on their phones, which is a truly remarkable fact. What else garners that much attention?

There is no question about our reliance on our glowing rectangles: small, medium, and large. In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that many of us are now, at least to some extent, cyborgs. Continue reading “Why Technology Worries Us So Much”

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”

Your Family. Your Culture.

The most common theme among parents of young teens lately is that they want to live differently than the culture. Most parents do not want their kids to ingest the current culture of materialism, comparison, busyness, and anxiety. They don’t like what the culture is teaching and demanding.

Most parents want to be connected with their community, but they don’t want to live just like everyone else (too busy and too anxious). And they certainly don’t want the values of the pop culture to become the values of their children. On the other hand, they don’t want their kids to be social freaks, always on the outside looking in. It’s an everyday dilemma.

Without a doubt, it is difficult to grow up well when immersed in today’s youth culture, which is filled with empty entertainment, rampant consumerism, unhealthy body imagery, and every type of narcissism. It consumes them and then uses them as consumers.

It is so rare to get wisdom from youth pop culture today that it actually makes the news. Recently, Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Ironman in the Avenger movie series, said at the MTV Movie Awards“I advise you to dream big, work hard, keep your noses clean, be of service, and because you can, define your generation.” This was a shocking statement because it is so countercultural in the Hollywood / MTV world. The cultural norm is the opposite: have fun, be sexy, and take everything you can from this life.

But it’s not just youth pop culture that is toxic; it’s everywhere. It’s in the cafeteria, on Instagram, in the classroom, and in other families’ homes. The culture is teaching our kids to always look good, have all the right gadgets, and be the best at everything, in order to keep up with everybody else. It’s a culture of discontentment, comparison, and competition that is making our kids more anxious and less happy than ever. It’s never enough. It’s an insatiable more.

As a concerned parent, the question is, “How do you create a family life that is what you want?”  Continue reading “Your Family. Your Culture.”