The “Problem” and Anger of Children
Another week, another school massacre. There is no lack of head shaking, hand wringing, and distress; but, there is a fundamental lack of change.
We need change.
Our children are telling us, we need to change.
As a psychologist who specializes in early childhood and early parenthood, I often speak to parents and reassure them that bad behavior doesn’t mean bad kids. Behavior is always communication. It’s true for a one year old and it’s true for a 99 year old. How we behave communicates how we feel, what we’re thinking about, our fantasies, our distress, our wishes for connection. We as adults have become increasingly bad at listening to our children’s communication. We medicate it, we try to “break” it, we laugh about it on social media, but as a society we’ve forgotten how to listen to it.
Children are challenging. They need a lot of attention. It is their prerogative to have lots of attention paid to them. But, that is challenging. It’s challenging when things are going well and stress is low, but add some work, home, or life stress to the mix and that attention can feel like a huge burden. Parents often reasonably become distracted by the busy-ness of their own lives and sometimes fall into a rhythm of attending to needs and missing or ignoring emotional cues. It happens. Often it can be ameliorated quickly and balance can be restored, but sometimes that becomes the modus operandi for a family.
Let’s imagine our country is a family. Our “parents” are out-of-their-mind crazy. There are no adults in our country, and that leaves our literal children without any of the care and attention that they need. Our children are not bad. Our children are not sociopaths. Our children are neglected. WE are the problem and we need to change.
A recent Washington Post article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/05/19/texas-official-says-that-fewer-doors-could-mean-fewer-school-shootings-we-had-experts-weigh-in/?utm_term=.0bd0664e86f3) explored the argument made by the Lt. Governor of the state that had the school in Santa Fe had fewer doors, the shooter might have been stopped. Our current ethos surrounding school shootings—and I would argue, childhood at large—is reactive. This argument to limit doors is a fantastic example. What we need to be doing is exploring the “why” more. As security expert Ed Hinman points out in the same article,
I think the biggest thing missing in active shooting training or physical security is it’s too reactive. There’s not a lot of focus on the early identification of someone. If it’s in a workplace, someone who’s disgruntled, talking about firearms, making threats. And so much of the evidence shows that with these school shooters, there’s a lot of warning signs… So many of these students are isolated. They’re suffering, and they’re going to act out on it.
That suffering is a disease of disconnection. Our kids feel disconnected. Many of them are resilient and able to compensate by becoming involved with friends and social groups and academics. But, for a child who feels insecure, not confident, lonely, and who doesn’t have good internal or external resources, life becomes pretty hopeless.
There is, unquestionably, a great distance we need to go with gun reform. But, that’s not all. And, can we, as a cultural family, do two things at once? Can we push for much needed sanity and thoughtfulness around weapons, and also spend more time doing the vital work of reconnecting with our children? I think we can. I hope we can. Because, we must.
We need to know our children, to help them to know themselves. We need to spend time asking questions and then asking them again and in different ways, so they can feel wondered about and thought about and cared for. We need to work with them to create a better space where childhood can once again be. Right now, we are failing our children. There is a long way to go, but we can get there through deeper, more meaningful and authentic connections.