We know that our children are being raised with extraordinary levels of anxiety these days. You might argue that your anxiety as a child or teen was just as horrific. But hell, you made it: you grew up and now you are raising your own family. So what’s the big deal?
I beg of you – just as we hated when our parents compared their growing up to our childhood – can we just stop comparing our childhood anxieties to those of our children today? When has a comparison of fear, anxiety, trauma, or bullying, ever led to a legitimate scale of whose feelings/reactions are more real? More worthy of attention? More painful?
I, for one, never feared a person entering my school with a weapon of any kind, with an intention to kill as many as possible – for revenge, for notoriety, or just for the sheer hell of it. I didn’t think twice of who walked down my hallway.
A stranger my own age or a strange adult in my school was merely reason to gossip: who was the newbie? There was no fear; there was intrigue.
But that was then.
And this is now.
Still, even as my own children began to face school with increased security, hall passes, guest check-ins, and security cameras, I remained oblivious. Teaching was happening. Homework. Tests. All the extracurricular stuff that my gas tank needed constant refills for. My kids seemed unaffected by what was slowly infiltrating their school days.
I'm not even sure when we reached that moment when doors were locked and every guest was buzzed in from the only entrance enter-able. It was strange when I needed to present my official ID to receive an official school ID just to cross from the security desk (when did they put that in?) to the guidance counselor’s office not five steps away to discuss colleges and the “after” life.
Early on, reports of rare, horrible events were far, far away from my daughters' still-young ears; my ability to control what they saw and what they heard was remarkable by today's standards. By the time they reached their tweens, social media had the eyes and ears of their friends and peers. And there was an uptick in life-and-death moments in schools. Kids were talking. I needed to listen.
I am still listening.
It’s so much easier to see that their school day has a level of anxiety that mine never had. Not with a fire drill, tornado drill, or even a nuclear threat.
Today, practice lockdowns have become so common place that some schools don’t inform parents before, during, or after the fact. Some schools are having them at least once a week but on different days and at different times. Lockdowns are the new numb routine. And they are not fun.
But it's all in the name of safety: Kids need to “know what to do” no matter where they are trapped – library, gymnasium, classroom, cafeteria. They will learn that they can use anything as a weapon. Really?? Someone please ask our student, staff, and faculty survivors: Why didn’t they toss their milk carton harder? Why didn’t they try to fight back with their calculator? Why didn't they spear the person with the ruler or compass from Geometry class? Why didn’t someone pick up the fire extinguisher and run full speed at the assailant with the rifle that was spraying bullets in every direction?
So many opportunities missed? Well, let’s keep practicing. Surely, we can train our kids and our staff how to react. Don't huddle. Scatter. Don't be still. Run like hell. Don't be silent. Scream loudly to confuse the attacker. Don't sit in the dark. Keep the lights on. Or is it the opposite of all those?
The one piece of advice that experts do agree on: Turn OFF the tech. The pings, ring, dings, and vibrations become targets. Social media meant for parents and first responders becomes a goldmine of location information for the assailant. Kids become focused on tech instead of on what is happening so that instructions for what to do and where to go are unheeded. If chaos and panic could possibly get worse, tech ensures that.
No matter your stance on arming our teachers/staff/admin (and hoping that they don’t ever “go postal” themselves), the real opportunities missed are slipping away.
Our schools are harbors for all who are suffering the effects of PTSD. It's true: they may not have been shot at; they may not have directly witnessed or heard the spray of bullets or have been forced to run from anyone weidling a weapon; but they are nonetheless experiencing trauma reactions to what they have seen in their own social media world. They are now reacting to the very threat that schools are attempting to alleviate.
Too many of our schools are not providing equal and necessary attempts to engage our students, faculty, and staff in conversations. What if, for instance, schools offered just as much counseling as security? Do you know how much money your school or district is spending on security? How much on counseling? Who will tell you? AND, do you agree with those priorities?
What if all kids had access to mental health services during the school day, where the school psychologists would be included in ALL health insurance plans with a $0 copay and $0 deductible?
What if no one needed to juggle after-school and after-work schedules to get to a counselor?
What if counseling was normalized?
Instead, students (and staff, too) are fearful and hypervigilant both in crowded hallways and deserted ones. A slammed locker is the cause of a full-blown anxiety attack. Students stampeding down a hallway is cause for alarm until you realize that they are on the track team and late for practice.
Yet many of our kids (and staff, as well) don’t even know what is happening to them: why do they feel so jumpy or irritable; why can they sense their heart racing; why does their chest suddenly hurt and breathing feels strange and difficult; why does their stomach lurch – repeatedly, but without reason . . . How can we expect anyone to describe symptoms of fear and panic that have no easily identifiable trigger? And to whom do we expect our kids (or staff!) to describe these odd sensations?
The director of a well-known private college counseling center told me recently that “kids should know (that) our center is open to anyone with problems”. Of course. Except that, like many other mental health conditions, PTSD comes with a sudden onset of symptoms – and these very symptoms can often occur long after an “obvious” event. And most of the time, those afflicted with symptoms cannot begin to express what they are feeling. Without notices around our university campuses and in our high school and middle school hallways that give kids clues as to what to look for in themselves or a friend, there is no conversation to be had. There is only more fear and confusion. More silence. More shame. More: "What's wrong with me??"
And let's be clear: PTSD does not differentiate by age, economic status, academic success or stress, race, gender, . . . PTSD grabs anyone and everyone without bias and holds on tight.
Consider what school might be like if discussions regarding our mental health were not surrounded by stigma but treated with the same curiosity and respect as conversations regarding physical conditions? What if we talked at least as much about mental health as we do drugs, smoking, alcohol, or nutrition? In some schools, STD’s and birth control get more airtime if a student is not exempt and doesn't miss the one day of the only year when it is covered in class versus hallway conversations loaded with misinformation by questionable teen experts.
We cannot trust the unreliable chaos of social media to educate and help our kids feel safe in school.
The (unintended?) silence of our schools may be seen as administrators trying to hold controversy at bay while they are seen as being vigilant with security and instruction. They are doing the best they can. Undoubtedly. But not enough. Clearly.
I argue that the voices of our students must also be heard. These voices demand our attention and our respect. Not just after the fact, but long before a crisis happens." How else can we best protect the very people we are meant to teach? Sadly, there's more to our curriculum today that must be included.
One thing is very apparent: We need more voices than lockdowns.
It is time for schools to take charge. To create conversations. And to open up the doors to the offices of trained counselors and school psychologists. Academic success is short-lived when mental health conditions go unchecked. Lockdowns alone are not the answer. Arming people physically and not mentally is never the answer.
It begins by talking with (not “to”) our school communities, with encouraging dialogues that involve parents, staff, faculty, and students (of most ages).
It begins with recognizing what everyone is experiencing within so that we can create a safer environment for all.
In a world that seems to fear voices, we need to strive harder to come together to raise our children to live fearlessly with endless conversations at home, at school, in our communities, and globally.
Talk is not just free; it's freedom.
Kat Rowan, CEO and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, recommends talk. TiffinTalk’s different cards lines inspire face-to-face communications. TiffinTalk’s FindingYourVoice line for mental health professionals and students can help break through silences and shame. Themed sets include Self-Confidence; Anxiety, Fears, & Phobias; PTSD; Trauma; Self-Identity; and many others. Students are not immune to the struggles that silenced most of us at their age. TiffinTalk believes we can do better by today's kids. They also offer a Child & Teen line designed to engage parents as well as educators and specialists in meaningful, creative, and thought-provoking conversations. Talk should not be typed. Voices need to be heard.
TiffinTalk: Tech Off. Talk On.
It’s that time of year.
We are in urgent need of PACCAPs (Public Announcements from College Children for Addlebrained Parents).
We can save the breath of anxious college-bound children and the going-deaf ears of their anxious parents. Hundreds of thousands of parents will no longer feel the compulsion to shoot the human messenger (aka: their children).
Let’s just save on anxiety levels (on both sides), overuse of sighs, whiny toddlerlike tones, and unspoken “duhs”. Believe me – I’ve paid my “duhs”.
This system delivers the same, reliable message at regular intervals – automatically. Painlessly. Aloud. Over secret wireless technology that has already been installed in every house with a college-bound child who cannot afford college (much less the list of required “must haves”). Oh wait. That’s a huge percentage known only to those organizations that manage student loans and sales of anything stating “I am the proud parent of a <insert college> student”.
What is the message? It is the message from child to parent reminding them of the necessity and urgency of purchases and paperwork.
But wait! That’s not all, for an additional fee, the PACCAP can be customized for the specific college to be attended and thus will include the exact dates due and accountable hours to complete all tasks.
And that’s not all! For even more money, the announcement can be personalized with names and recognizable voices – sans whiny tones.
(Note: No Ginsu knife infomercials were even considered in the making of this blog.)
How much would you pay? Well there’s more:
The message will repeat several times to include:
- A reminder to get to a certain store to be unnamed but generally abbreviated with the same consonant that is the second letter of the alphabet used 3 times. That store or another superstore or local five & dime will do. But necessities are necessities. Please purchase the follow:
Twin XL sheets – because these mattresses only exist in dorm rooms. (There is a theory – some say a conspiracy theory – that links XL mattress sheet set sales to the world economy but it has not been confirmed by the conspiracists. Yet.)
- Other items for shared bathrooms. Imagination and lists are both helpful, though there is a strong probability that one or both of you will forget the one most important item, regardless of what you buy. This will necessitate joint therapy. Start budgeting now. And yes, the conversation will begin with “<Insert guilty parent> forgot to buy <insert toiletry of utter importance>” as your parenting degree is scrutinized as it has now prevented your child from achieving their college degree in a meaningful way.
- A reminder to get to a certain store to be unnamed but possibly with the same letter used in the previous store but only 2 times. Or you can just go to that “fruit store”. Again, other substitute stores are acceptable and often preferred because you are on the hunt for the latest in all things tech. Laptops will be purchased that won’t be supported, regardless of what you buy and whatever you’ve told been told by the IT Department which was then translated by your child. Printers will be purchased that will not be necessary. And so forth. And so on and on and on. Look on the bright side: you’re supporting the global economy – just not YOUR economy. But this time it’s tech, not bedding.
- A reminder to get to the store featuring ways in which one can talk or text or chat or play games or write symphonies. Using such equipment for actual phone calls is optional and almost unheard of. Outdated, in fact. These stores will have astronomical fees for contracts and data (which, by the way, is not private so why do we pay for others to have it? In fact why don’t these data “plans” pay us since we are giving them all of our information one way or another?). Don’t forget that you will also be signed up to pay all sorts of taxes that change from device to device and vary month to month. No one can explain the why or ‘whatfor’. Don’t bother asking. (I did. Once. And I can say that quite honestly that it’s not worth even wondering. I was transferred to every sales rep and manager and made it just short of the CEO before the VP and I were both in tears and suffering from PTTD: Post Traumatic Tax Delusions.)
- A reminder to get to the store that prevents starvation. Your child will need ways to cook (or, more likely, reheat) something and survive without risk of salmonella or someone else eating their food from the common fridge in the common and often disgusting kitchen no matter how many locks they put on their ice cream or cookies sent from home nor how well-labeled the container is with names and illegal (except when protecting college food) death threats. Then be prepared to return the fridge (the roommate will have one) and the microwave (the dorm won’t allow it) and the hotplate (also illegal) and the AGA stove – it won’t fit and can't cook better than the illegal hotplate anyway.
- A reminder to get to the store featuring all things stationery (and stationary – please note the difference) for supplies ranging from pencils to paper to staplers to glue sticks and glitter and crayons because one must always remember one’s inner child within their college young adult. (And besides the kid with the most arts and crafts stuff is really the most popular kid when everyone is homesick and wants to color and paste stuff… even if the theme is more adult than you’d like to know about.)
- A reminder to get to the clothing and shoe stores (probably not of your choice) because college may require seasonal clothes or stylish clothes or quirky clothes or just an updated wardrobe that doesn’t include worn underwear that the roommate will likely notice while trying not to notice. It’s a necessary trip even for oblivious (sorry to gender type) boys. This may be the only time that parents of “commando-style” kids have a distinct financial advantage. Enjoy the savings, but woe to the roommate.
- And finally, a reminder to keep filling out and/or signing off on paperwork: Financial aid acceptance letters. Promissory notes. Health forms. Insurance forms. The semester payment. The fees that were not included at first. (You did, at this point, remember just to keep your checkbook out and pen ready?) You will sign everything. And in return, you will have access to nothing. Your child’s progress reports (aka report cards), etc. are now accessible only to … your child. You pay for their independence. Don’t worry. Be happy. (Or so the song goes … thanks to Bobby McFerrin!)
In these last weeks, we parents live in a constant state of announcements. We have a list to do and no time to do it all. But we will. And all the while, whether our college kid will be a freshman or a senior, we live in a constant state of mixed emotions as we watch them gain their independence … just as they continue to rely on us … just as we get ready to let them fly (again and maybe for good).
And finally, here’s the PACCAP we actually need to hear repeated on the system:
Hey, Mom? Dad? It’s me. Hug me often and don’t let go. Forget it if I squirm or get silly or protest. Hug me anyway. Get a reasonable amount of sloppy sad. I need to know you aren’t made of concrete and that you care but only just enough so that the leaving is my emotional time first and foremost. (You can have the second slot.) I need to I know I can still turn to you in the best moments and the worst no matter where I am, no matter the time, no matter the place. No matter how far away my dorm room is from our front door. So, yeah, hug me every time the usual PACCAP comes over our system. Hugs are the least I can offer in return after this many years of giving me the best that you’ve got.
(Well, a parent can dream if she is designing the damn system!)
Good luck getting your kids out and then (settled) in. You will both breathe easier soon enough – and hopefully get the rest you need before you are searching for a cheap hotel for Parents’ Weekend and you’re shopping again. (Pay better attention to the toiletry list this time around!)