Dr. John Duffy, author of Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety, has written a new blog post on how to keep your kids’ hopes up after the emotional election we have all been through.
It’s Sunday night, late. Election day is Tuesday. Julie just pointed out the degree to which I’ve been all over the map emotionally today. I’m on Twitter running numbers in swing states. I’m optimistic. I’m watching morning news. I’m crestfallen. I’m listening to Matthew McConaughey on a podcast. I’m allright allright allright, until I remember it’s Sunday, and Election Day is Tuesday.
I’ll bet you can relate somehow. I’m excited like Christmas morning, and pre-op terrified. I’m uplifted by a voter’s tale of courage in getting to the polls and waiting for hours. I’m dragged to the earth by talk of crowd sizes. I’m buoyed by a giant, heady balloon of victory. I’m broken by a certainty of defeat.
Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve tried to inform myself and handicap this thing until my head hurts. We voted with vigor, for one guy kinda, against another a lot.
I used to love politics and the theater of it all but, like a movie I’ve seen far too often, I’m over it. It’s too loud and angry and leaves me anxious, shaken and brittle. I’m fairly certain that this feeling is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned.
Politics corrodes hope.
I work with teenagers. And there are a few things I do in fact know with certainty. And I know we’re missing a very important point. Children are watching. And listening. Like us, the noise for them is constant.
They are affected. Deeply.
Lacking the scope of a lifetime’s experience, they internalize our frustration into their anxiety; our hatred of others into self-loathing; our fear into hopelessness.
When I was a teenager, we lacked either the empathy, or the context, or both to care about politics, or anything beyond the worldview of our crushes or next weekend. We could name candidates, but not many of us were engaged beyond that.
But trust me. Kids today, man. They care. They care not so much about the candidates, but about people. They rarely frame their views around their own well-being, but how to make the lives of others better. When a movement in the direction of progress begins, our teenagers are activated, alive. As the revolution dies down and falters, hopelessness sets in, a fear that nothing will get any better, ever.
I will be on TV Election Night discussing how to talk to our children about the election. But they already know how. We just need to engage them. They have ideas, fresh ideas. Our teenagers teeter on an emotional ledge between empathy and the gravitational pull of fear and sadness. When the waters of change are rushing, they are energized and engaged. If the waters are still, our children are as well – laconic and sedentary, doped up on weed or SnapChat.
To my thinking, we owe them better than they’ve gotten (and I’m omitting, thus far, a pandemic, missing friends, bizarre school schedules, too much time with us, boredom and bottomless anxiety).
Our kids are suffering. Therapy practices are bursting.
Regardless of the outcome Tuesday, we owe our kids hope. Devastation is not an option. So come up with your plan now, for either outcome, and share it with your kids.
I think I’m about to suggest the most difficult thing given our current circumstances: optimism. Our parents sold optimism to us in less-informed times. We need to be better, more creative, and more real with our kids. Model optimism and hope, but track it in them as well. It’s there. I see it, layered into the psyche of every teenager I know. Help her tap that hope.
And finally, listen to her, man. She has something to say, and it’s important. Find some light and listen.
A Complete Guide to Your Child’s Stressed, Depressed, Expanded, Amazing Adolescence
Learn about the “New Teen” and how to adjust your parenting approach. Kids are growing up with nearly unlimited access to social media and the internet, and unprecedented academic, social, and familial stressors. Starting as early as eight years old, children are exposed to information, thought, and emotion that they are developmentally unprepared to process. As a result, saving the typical “teen parenting” strategies for thirteen-year-olds is now years too late.