No doubt you’ve heard the old African proverb – “It takes a village to raise a child.” Indeed, it does. So let’s ask ourselves – what kind of society are we raising our children in these days?
We are surrounded by constant demands for our time and attention. The digital age has speeded up our expectations for what needs to get done and how quickly. Simply put, we expect instant results and immediate gratification. Ever notice how tense you get if your computer screen takes longer than 3 seconds to refresh? Three seconds! “Hurry up,” we shout or silently fume, “Don’t you know I’ve got too much to do and can’t sit around all day…”
We feel the pressures to go, go, go and do, do, do coming from our bosses, our email, our families, our text messages, our… You get the idea. Many of us resort to mindlessly multitasking. We’re quickly losing the capacity to focus on just one thing at a time for any length of time. We can’t comfortably be still, be quiet, be alone, or be bored. And neither can our children.
When was the last time you or your child (or grandchild) sat and watched a TV show without also do something else? How long can your kids focus on homework without checking for messages (texts, tweets, snaps) or without wandering off into “just quickly checking” something else of interest – (facebook, youtube, itunes)? How long can you go without such distractions?
With these never-ending demands coming at us from all directions, we begin to feel one telltale sign of toxic stress: exhausted! When was the last time you got to the end of your day with extra energy left over? Yeah, not so much. And the number one answer that kids tell me, every day, when I ask them how they’re feeling? “Tired.”
Another toxic side effect of chronic stress is that we’re frequently operating from the most primitive part of our brain – the one designed to protect us from life-threatening dangers. Every time we feel overwhelmed, for example, like when there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it, the emotional alarm center in our lower brain, the amygdala, takes over and automatically sends us into survival mode.
Nowadays, this “Fight or Flight” stress reaction most often looks like “Argue or Avoid.” We emotionally react to the demands of the day by angrily arguing or anxiously avoiding. We snap and have a short fuse. We accuse and attack. Or we ignore and deny. We retreat and withdraw. And sometimes, along with our children, we begin to feel hopeless or even worthless.
Look around you – at home, work, and school. Listen carefully – on TV, talk radio, and social media. Is this the kind of village we want raising our children?
Too often, despite our best intentions, we can get pulled down into the daily grind and wind up raising our children on a constant diet of toxic stress. Yet, I believe there is a better way, and that it’s completely possible for us to live as Gandhi inspired us to – to be the change we want to see in the world.
I believe it’s possible, indeed imperative, that we fulfill Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream of living in a loving and just village that values children for who they are on the inside, not what they look like on the outside.
I believe that we can all come together to create a more mindful village for our children.
What would such a Mindful Village look like? I still believe…
As we begin anew with our lives this Spring, I look forward to finding new ways of guiding our children along the healing path of our Flowing Heart of Mindfulness:
I look forward to exploring with you the many ways we can indeed raise our children more mindfully – with both wisdom and compassion – in a village that our children deserve.
And finally, I hope that you’ll lend your caring voice and kind actions to our Mindful Village community, as well – including joining in the conversations at my new Facebook Page – check it out here!
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a child psychologist, mindfulness teacher, and father of four. Learn more about his educational programs and private consultations at www.AMindfulVillage.com.