As Covid begins ACT II of its Shakespearean shakeup, perhaps, like me, you are finding that positive mantras are becoming anorexic. How many “stay safes” or “we’re in this togethers” can one possibly endure?
I figure it’s okay to get dour once in a while. Let’s go Darth Vader and dwell in the dark side, looking under the hood of our kids’ anxiety, and of our own. It’s a mood disorder far more prolific than Covid.
This plague is now in its ninth year, according to Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in their brilliant book The Coddling of the American Mind. They contend that anxiety’s crippling impact on teens and young adults can be traced to the introduction of the smartphone in 2007.
They argued that, because of the smartphone, kids started to spend their formative years of high school and undergrad needing to be liked, validated, distracted and always pining for a gaming fix. Voila. A raging epidemic firmly took root in young people’s limbic systems by 2012. It’s been that way ever since.
But anxiety is not new, of course. And perhaps not so simple.
After a round of tackle football in the backyard, my mom used to warn me at the top of her Covid-free lungs, “Don’t get overheated!” My older brother would intervene,
“Ma, he’s not a combustion engine.”
She kept at it, “All that stinky sweat, he’s going to get pneumonia.”
She also warned me that picking scabs caused cancer. Worry and parenting have always gone together.
I agree with Lukianoff and Haidt; something changed dramatically with anxiety a decade ago. There’s been a massive increase in diagnoses. This demon can sometimes manifest in shockingly subtle ways.
Earlier this week, I got an email from a mom,
“… (my daughter) has identified outdoor ed/experiential learning as a career path of interest. I know she found the experience at Boundless positive but also eye-opening as a possible career. Could one of her outdoor ed instructors talk to her about what they did to find themselves at a school like Boundless?”
10 points for Gryffindor if you can smell what the trouble is.
This mother wants only the best for her girl. Perhaps she is blazing a trail through a noisy forest of opportunities that she fears would overwhelm her daughter. Maybe she feels a strong sense of partnership, and they are going at this research together.
But maybe her daughter is too nervous to call on her own. The idea of talking to a teacher makes her queasy. It’s also possible that mom is keener on the career than her child, or just worried her girl will be directionless.
Wouldn’t it have been nice for the student to reach out on her own? Who’s more anxious, mom or daughter?
I get calls like this all the time. “Hi, my son is interested in working for Boundless. What are the steps?” I always feel like answering, “You have just proven he has no initiative and I would never hire him.”
In my last article, I told the story of recruiting teachers at McGill. Almost one hundred resumes landed on my recruiting table.
Guess how many of those people actually applied?
Which is three more than I expected.
Why have I become so cynical?
I poked at the audience during the presentation,
“Most of you won’t apply to Boundless. You’ll want that school board gig right away, because if you don’t get security away, you won’t get that house, that partner, or that fancy stroller for your 2.3 kids. Money matters. You think you need to start playing the game right away. You cannot afford the time to find out where your heart lies. Follow the prescribed path and you’ll be okay.”
This played out in a most fascinating way with a gregarious young woman who was the first student to run up to the podium and try to land an interview. Brimming with confidence and a sparkling demeanour, she boasted,
“You are going to want to hire me.”
I do declare! This is so rare. Usually students approach me as if they are auditioning for the role of Eeyore. I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to interview her the next day.
Her experience was decent. She was articulate. But mostly, I thought high school students would adore her. She could think on her feet and appeared unafraid to adapt on a dime. She was adamant that Boundless is a great opportunity for her.
“On a scale of one-to-ten, zero is you’d rather be dead than work at Boundless, and ten is where you wish the job started tomorrow, where are you at?” She fidgeted for a millisecond and solemnly declared,
I knew right then she would never sign up. Eight is like saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
“Why an eight?” I inquired with my best poker face, but she sensed something had gone south.
And then she spilled it out in a torrent,
“It’s probably best I tell you that I am an anxious person and will need to speak with my therapist twice a week. How could I ever do this at Boundless? I also want a pension. Does Boundless offer this?”
I remember when applicants would line up around the block to work for $160/month in the 80’s and 90’s. Kids these days.
“You just said how much you think you’re a fit. Surely we can work something out about therapy?”
“Well”, she paused as if disarming an IED in Iraq, “It’s just that Boundless is so different.”
And then the cruelest cut of all,
“I think I should speak with my dad”.
I never heard from her again.
Well-meaning parents taking initiative for their kids often results in kids not taking initiative for themselves. The younglings evolve into FOMO fanatics, or simply refuse to walk into the unknown.
To shift this dynamic, parents have to pull back at critical points, and let kids deal with things on their own.
More on this next time.
Until then, best wishes,