by Oliver DeMille

First: The Bad News

Family-hearth-geoffroyOur children today are growing up in a very different world than we did, and this will have a major impact on their education, careers, and family lives. Just consider a few of the most pressing trends in our current world:

  • News Stress. The news is constantly at our fingertips, and bad world news is a daily dose for nearly everyone. Even the areas that have historically been an escape from bad news, like sports or movies or music, now have their own media coverage with hourly breaking stories about the bad behavior of society’s entertainment heroes. This is not lost on our children or youth.
  • This is nothing new, but it is now affecting a lot more people than it used to (America’s New Lethal Addiction: Welcome to Workaholic Nation). Indeed, the majority of salaried people now suffer from this challenge—where work never seems to end for the evening or even the weekend, where employers expect 24/7 availability, and where homework from the office is the daily norm. Most minors are pushed to a similar school-oriented workaholism by the adults in their lives.
  • Bread and Circus. As one report put it: America is evolving “from an industrial society to one based on entertainment and technology.” (Two Decades of Innovation and Disruption) This is very interesting. Where one word (industrial) was adequate to describe the factory age, it takes two words to correctly label the information age, and the words are “entertainment” and “technology.” This is deep, because where does one end and the other begin? Are the Internet, social media, and all our modern SmartScreens technology or entertainment? In fact, they’re both. This dominates modern life, and for most young people it is the only lifestyle they’ve ever known.
  • Constant Connectivity. (Op cit) We’re always plugged in. Screens follow us everywhere. We’re seldom alone, even when we’re alone. And we’re seldom together, even when we’re “connected.” As a result, we talk less while washing the dishes together or walking in the park. Mass connectivity, ironically, competes with and hurts many of our closest relationships. Families are under attack.
  • New Economy. The old mantra was to attend a prestigious college and then get a long-term, secure job. In the half century from 1948 to 1998 this became so engrained in the American worldview that people today are refusing to act like it has changed—even though everyone knows it has. The new focus is “westward, youth-ward, and flip-flop-ward….” (Op Cit) This means entrepreneurship is the new Ivy League and mentoring is the new college, but only a few have figured this out. Our young people will compete in a very different economy, but many of their parents are pushing them in ways that remain stuck in the old.
  • Career Insecurity. (Op Cit) Who will be laid off next? Or replaced, downsized, outsourced, watch their firm relocate departments to China or India, or see their hours cut back to stay under Obamacare caps? As companies struggle to deal with massive uncertainty caused by ever-changing government regulations, international competition, and the lightning pace of a global economy and fast-paced technology, even the most secure incomes aren’t very secure. Young people are increasingly aware of the chaos.

Cynicism, financial insecurity, fear of world events, mistrust of leaders, bureaucratic legalities, health struggles, daily work and personal surprises—and just constant electronic distraction—the list of challenges is long. The one thing most adults are sure of today is that Washington will get something wrong before nightfall.

In all this, it used to be that childhood was a protected period of life where the hustle and bustle of adult work and challenges were far from each child’s mind. This is decreasingly the case, as more children are feeling workaholic and inseparably mired in daily news stress and constant connectivity. Even career insecurity now pervades the modern psyche at younger and younger ages.

In short, for most people the pace of current life is…to put it concisely…increasingly negative. The majority of adults—and more alarmingly most youth and even children—now struggle to catch their breath in the frantic pace.

Now: For the Good News!

Still, parents have the final say on which side wins—modern pace, or family grounding. Consider four incredibly powerful antidotes to the frenetic modern rat race:

  • Family Reading Time. With just 10-15 minutes a few times a week, this activity brings smiles, deep breaths, and (wonder of wonder) a sense of genuine relaxation. Not to mention real connection of the kind only found in face-to-face bonding with people you really love. Talking, listening, feeling together, sitting on laps, holding hands. This is real power.
  • A Blank Page Brainstorm. When you turn off all the screens and use an old-fashioned pen and paper to write down creative ideas on how you could help your child or youth in the next week, something happens to you—something amazing. You get caught up in what is authentically the most important thing in your life. This brings enthusiasm and focus. It also brings joy, which is an emotion all-to-often missing in modernity.
  • Read a Classic. Just 5 minutes will bring grounding. You’ll breathe differently, and laugh more. You’ll even chew more slowly. Try watching the sunset with the book on your lap. Today.
  • Turn Off the Screens. Do like Steve Jobs did with his family, and limit the amount of time your kids are allowed to use social media, cell phones, ipods, tablets, etc. (Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent) When the screens are off, the kids will read books and have more discussions. Obvious, but incredibly powerful.

All of these bring grounding, and, interestingly, they are powerful training for leadership thinking. Young people who live in homes with these habits are more grounded, more relaxed, less anxious. This kind of grounding helps parents and their kids tap into the best of the past and also modern trends, and it brings children and youth feelings of excitement and opportunity rather than noise and overwhelm.

Sometimes little things make a huge difference in every aspect of our lives. Actually, when little things don’t make such a big difference, we’re in serious trouble—and our kids aren’t only watching, they’re feeling as well.

Example is power. If we’re not grounded as parents, the kids probably won’t be either. In our day, genuine grounding—for youth and also for their parents—is desperately needed.

(For more on this theme, and to go deeper on getting grounded and helping your family members get grounded, see the ebook The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Homeschoolers by Oliver and Rachel DeMille.