The Age Of Anxiety: Adult And Child Edition

I am a news junkie.  I have been as long as I can remember.  I was limited to three news networks and the periodical reading room of my local library when I was young, but now my habit is fed by the click and read ease of the Internet, where news from every corner of the planet is mine to savor and enjoy.

However, I must admit that I am sometimes overwhelmed by both the incredible volume and sheer negativity of what I can read today.  It seems as if every inch of the earth is under siege, and humans seem increasingly prone to run amuck for reasons both perfectly understandable and acutely obscure.  Governments are unsteady, war (or the threat thereof) seems everywhere to be found, misery seems to have reached pandemic levels, patience and compassion are apparently in short supply, and the cacophonous clatter of conflicting solutions to all that ails us is sometimes exhausting beyond belief.

The question naturally arises whether we are living through a uniquely challenging time in civilized history or the technological wizardry that now allows us to shareand overshare, at timesour every difficulty is amplifying our woes and putting us all in a state of panic that is, many times, completely out of proportion to the problems we are actually experiencing.

There is no doubt that the tsunami of bad news—and hyperventilating anger that often seems to accompany it—is facilitated by the wonders of the worldwide web.  It used to be the case that we were shielded from the unhappiness of most of the planet by distance and difficulty with communications.  If someone was protesting, hungry, lashed by a storm, or killed in a local conflict, there was a very good chance that we would either be blissfully ignorant or insulated from the harshest realities by the limitations inherent in words on a printed page.  The charm of distance is now, however, an artifact of a time gone by.

Many of us have, for example, seen examples of blaring newspaper headlines from the sinking of The Titanic in 1912 in a history book or documentary and perhaps even read heartbreaking first-person accounts from survivors.  Books about this famous disaster have added more detail.  Over the years the movie versions of the famous sinking have grown more vivid as Hollywood special effects have grown more and more spectacular and realistic.

However, imagine how our senses, sympathy, and fright would be activated to the extreme if this same disaster were to occur todaylikely live streamed by those on the ship as it was actually happening.  The collective experience, and our ability to watch death and doom unfold before our very eyes would be a crushing emotional burden that would haunt us for the rest of our lives.  Even a more recent tragedy like the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., which occurred before anyone had ever heard of an iPhone or Instagram, was still defined by text messages and phone calls more akin to a bygone analog era.  Now we able to watch, share, and comment on a 24/7 cycle that keeps our adrenaline continually pumpingand our fears at the forefront.

Our lust for sleaze and scandal, which speaks to our basest instincts and finds ready purchase in celebrity-obsessed websites and blog, also tends to increase our anxiety about our world and the people with whom we share it.  Given that those who devote themselves to the pursuit of fame and fortune are often masters of moral compromise and are hence exceedingly poor role models, the fact that these individuals dominate much of what we read and hear tends to pervert our perceptions and skew our standards.  Consequently, many no longer believe in high purpose or honest intent and instead presume the very worst of everyone around them, which only adds to their paranoia and anxiety because this forces those who embrace the resulting worms eye view of humanity to live their lives in a defensive crouch.

In addition, the ever accelerating pace of our liveswhich often leaves us little or no time to rest, reflect, and rechargejangles our nerves and depletes our emotional and psychological reserves.  Overloaded lives spent in relentless pursuit of elusive leisure and security grind down our ability to filter and evaluate the flood of information that now fills our lives, so it is unsurprising that so many lash out at what they perceive to be the perpetrators responsible for their frazzled and frustrating existences.  Logic and reason is replaced by fury and fear as the boundaries and goalposts are shifted with lightning speed by elite opinion makers, which leaves many asking whether truthis merely what is fashionable at a particular situation or moment in time.

It has often been observed that, if you are looking for the worst in the world and its people, you are certain to find it.  The cornucopia of hate, hostility, and horror now only a click away allows for a self-reinforcing loop of bad news to be endlessly ladled atop yet more bad news.  Although, as has been the case throughout history, life can be both difficult and challenging, the embrace of all the pain the world has to offerand every downbeat theory about our fellow humansvia our phones and other devices has battered a great many individuals into a shivering fetal position that robs them of any opportunity for happiness.

All of this has an unsurprisingly destructive effect on the emotional wellbeing of children and adolescents, whose immature minds and lack of life experience leaves them uniquely susceptible to the doomsday thinking that afflicts so many adults.  Anyone who has ever raised a child or taught in K-12 is well aware that children absorb their cues from the adults around them.  If the adults are calm, children and adolescents feel safe and reassured; if the adults are agitated and fearful, it is the signal for the young to panic.

Even worse, where once parenting and teaching was all about protecting the children in your care from undue stress or adult concerns so that they could develop with a feeling of personal safety, now many adults seem to have abandoned this mission altogether.  For reasons that range from the political to the foolish to the personal to the selfish, the unwillingnessor inabilityof many adults to provide a safe and stable home or learning environment offloads their own fears onto vulnerable young minds.  This is a crushing abdication of responsibility that is helping to drive skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety in our youth.  Given their natural curiosity about what is perturbing the adultsplus their immature attraction to the morbid and bizarretheir own access to the Internet provides young people with the unfortunate opportunity to mimic their elders and easily locate fear-mongering material that only serves to further inflame and confuse their minds and emotions.  Growing up to be a happy and resilient adult is difficult under the best of circumstances; the combination of overwrought adults and overstimulating technology makes it nearly impossible today.

We are obviously not able to fully shield children and adolescents from the worst the world and its people have to offer, and the existence of technology that allows a cascade of the salacious and scary to find young eyeballs makes it much more difficult to help our young to find the safety and security necessary for their healthful emotional and psychological development.  Given their inability to properly evaluate and contextualize what they read and see, young people today are, in terms of the impact upon their developing minds, watching The Titanic sink or an airliner crash into a building every day of their livesand too often they do not have reliable and thoughtful adults available to help them navigate their understandable terrors.

We cannot wrap young people in bubble wrap, but we can do better at exerting appropriate parental controls and projecting adult calm in order to help our children and students navigate the big, bad world around them.  Moreover, if adults focus upon healing themselvesperhaps by doing something as simple as resisting the temptations of alarmist click bait that corrodes their own inner peaceit will surely go a long way towards reassuring our children and students and helping them to find their own happy and productive futures.

We must change now.  The only alternative is to continue to drive ourselves and others to utter despairwhile dragging our vulnerable and innocent young down with us.

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