Here is some background info for those of you that are still with me. Colorado has the highest teen suicide rate in the country. To those of us that live here that comes as a shock because we simply live in the most beautiful place in the country. People are healthier here because the altitude requires less body weight to function well, there are open spaces and trails everywhere you look, and so many people are out enjoying themselves there is the peer pressure to get outside yourself. And being outside is supposed to make people happier. But we have a huge teen suicide problem and I am definitely seeing an increase clinically. Also I am currently dealing with more sexual assaults, and girls that have been taken advantage of sexually because of being pressured or not listened to. I am seeing more kids that are having anger issues at an earlier age, and anxious children at an earlier age. And I am not alone, my friends in the field are seeing the same issues. So when I see an increase of specific populations in my office I start to research. And my favorite source is the clients themselves. I start asking questions and learning from the kids. Then I look around our culture and see if I am noticing cultural trends. Finally, I look at what the research gurus are saying. With all this info at hand I have come to a conclusion, which if you have followed me for any length of time, you may see a repetition of theme here….. We are disconnected and it is killing us!
Let me give you the experience that sent me into my recent blog rant. I was at a local park with my daughter and her kids. We are playing at the swings, pushing higher and higher, and laughing loudly. A girl about 5 years old approaches the nearby swing and stands next to it, waiting for her mom to catch up. Mom arrives a few seconds later but is busy talking on her cell phone and does not engage with the child to play for about five minutes. When Mom does hang up and play it lasts maybe three minutes until the phone occupies her again. She removes her daughter to talk on the phone and goes to sit on a nearby bench. The little girl follows and just hangs out by the bench. Mom hangs up and then starts to text. The little girl starts to throw a temper tantrum and fights with mom. Mom tries to discipline her and the child runs off. Mom follows trying to engage the girl but she just turns her back and ignores her mom. Now as I am watching this, not too obviously, it starts to feel familiar. Three days before I was at a training for Royal Family Kids Camp and they showed the “Still Face Experiment.” If you have ever taken a child development or a psychology class you probably saw the Still Face Experiment. In the research, they take a mom and a young child into a room and allow them to play naturally- you see mom and baby imitating each other, giggling, just having a good time with each other. And then they have the mom go still or flat faced, expressionless, unresponsive to the child. What the child does first is they try to engage with the mom, when that is unsuccessful they become reactive or louder, when that is unsuccessful they become distressed and then withdrawn. And I realized that was what I was seeing here at the park. Have you ever watched a person on their phone, texting or using as an electronic device? They become still/flat faced, emotionless. Our children are seeing this and it is effecting their brains. The still face experiment is research on attachment disorders. Research on how our children neurologically respond to unresponsive or unengaged adults. Engagement changes the brain in positive ways. Disengagement changes the brain in negative, life affecting ways.
So let me apply this to my original rant. At a basic cultural or societal level we have become more interested in our devices and less engaged with each other. (Yep I said it less-engaged) Through this shift we are becoming less respectful to others desires and more concerned with meeting our own needs; we have become unhappier with our lives and dissatisfied with ourselves and others; we have begun to expect gratification instantly; and we have started to purposely isolated ourselves from the physically present environment. (Actually kinda sounds like the traits of an average teenager) So now I am going to watch and see if we are actually creating more attachment disorders in our children.
If you want to be the solution instead of the problem start to engage. Put away the phone and pay attention to the moment. Make electronic free zones, time periods, and activities. Get creative and live in the moment. Lay on the grass and watch the clouds. Look for an actual four-leaf clover and talk about leprechauns. Take a day on the beach in your front room with swim suits, beach towels, and blue sheets. Have a tea party. Finger paint with pudding. Have a whip cream fight. Throw water balloons or run through the hose. PLAY IN THE MUD! There are a million ideas and the whole family will benefit from it. But as one wise teen client stated to me, get into your kids’ lives no matter how much they complain about it, and have some fun no matter how much they resist. (I guess they actually want their parents attention!) Simply put : Engage.