Stressed out kids

I had a friendly conversation with some neighbourhood kids this morning. It started out pretty basic but as 7 o’clock rolled round, you could see them rapidly becoming more and more anxious.

With my inquisitive instincts kicking in, I asked them why they were so tense. I got the usual evasive answers of “Nothing”; “The usual” and my all time favourite: “Just stuff, you know…” I had to bite my tongue in an effort not to laugh, because I know those lines why too well. I can’t even count how many times I’ve used them before. I have to admit, it’s been a while since someone felt the need to use those shielded phrases against me but I guess it’s just how we have been trained to react.

We’ve been trained to be perfect and pretty much capable of handling anything the world throws at us… alone! The conversation continued for a few blocks but since they were running late for school, I invited them over for hot chocolate and computer games this afternoon (after they finish their homework of course). Honestly I have no idea what’s bothering them. Maybe it’s just a test or some oral they are intimidated by; maybe it’s just something small that they have paid way too much attention too. Whatever it is, it’s robbing these 10 year olds of the pleasure that comes from learning and discovery.

These young dreamers are being forced (for whatever reason) to be over worked stress balls! It’s only 7am! How can we expect them to be the future of our world and be creative enough to solve problems we’ve learned to live with? How dare we place pressure on these kids to the extent where it is slowly chewing away at their zest for…well anything?! Children are growing up a lot faster than I had to and maybe it’s part of evolution and survival of the fittest bull shit but has anyone ever considered that maybe we’re evolving in the wrong direction?

This backwards evolution has a way of snow balling: ten years from now these kids will be starting their careers and thinking about starting a family and if they are already this stressed at age 10, I’m just wondering how healthy [never mind happy] they will be when they finally reach their early twenties? One of my new friends works at a normal 08:00-16:30 job and every second day he has some activity like Bible study or Youth classes and his weekends are full of little commitments and in the short time I’ve known him, I’ve seen these obligations eat at him.

These are small things that stay on his mind when he’s trying to relax. He’s so focused on all the things he’ll still have to do the rest of the week, he’s having trouble enjoying the moment right now. I’m not suggesting that he blows off everything and stay locked up in his room, I’m just hoping he’ll take my advice and learn to say no. Simply just saying no to one little thing over the weekend will give him a shot at regaining control.

It may sound ridiculous but out of experience I can tell you that saying no doesn’t come that easily to everyone and if you don’t learn how to say no every once in a while, life will build a brick wall and watch you run straight into it so you will be forced to say no…

It takes practice to find balance. I use to think that my life was pretty balanced when I was 16~ this was also around the time I thought my day was busy when I had an hour long activity besides school that day. In two years my confidence in my balancing ability *incorrectly* grew to the point where I was school everyday till about 6pm and usually went home to do home work for my 9 subjects [I only needed 6 to graduate] and this was on days I didn’t have to host parent evenings or talent shows or show a rounds or teach drama or debating or go on excursions. As silly as most of those things sound to me now, I loved every moment of it and spending my weekends on the sport field was just part of what I felt was a balanced life. I had perfect balance between my academics, cultural events, community projects, athletics and social events. However, I had to schedule time to play with my dogs! The only time I had to actually speak to my parents was the 5min when they were driving me across town from one activity to the next. I couldn’t speak to my cousins about anything, because all I knew, all my mind had time to focus on was school related things. One of the most pathetic things I did back then was buying the TV-guide so that I can read previews of my friends’ favourite TV shows in order to know enough about the episodes to pretend that I had watched it too!

It was truly a low point for me, mostly because I had to admit that I wasn’t as perfect as I thought I was. I didn’t have everything under control. Most people said I had too much on my plate but when I think about the circumstances, I disagree: it was more like I had additional plates in each hand. With all things considered I got off lightly, I managed to get through it even though I was a regular energizer bunny for about 2 months after I graduated for no particular reason. My friends on the other hand, had it a bit worse.

You know how there are those kids in High School who actually have keys to the school, well that was pretty much us. Out of my 6 closest friends 3 ended up in hospital due to depression and stress. We all had heavy loads and mostly it was our own doing, we chose to pile on the responsibilities and liked the achievement factor. But those of us who actually managed to stay out of hospital remembered the value of saying no. It took us a while and it was extremely hard to say no to each other so we learned to phrase it better. We loved using the phrase: “I’ll HELP” Not completely taking responsibility for the entire project but at the same time sharing the burden so that your friend won’t feel too alone. Even though we graduated 5 years ago, we still have a tendency to revert back to those roles. Mostly it’s beneficial because when it was all said and done, we managed to achieve some near impossible feats. However, my friends who had to cave under the pressure the people in their lives and mainly themselves placed on them, they are still haunted by it.

Every once in a while when something truly competitive or near overwhelming comes across their path, they still remember what they see as their ‘failure’ and you can actually see the fear sweep over them as they doubt their own capabilities… They still have trouble saying no when or asking for help because even though they remember it as one of their defining moments, they still like to pretend that it never happened, that it was just a bad dream. I love my friends and if I could, I would hold their hands throughout every tough decision they will ever have to make but I can’t. Because they built this image in their heads of asking for help or saying no equalling failure, they miss out on true moments of happiness and spend more time fighting their own daemons than actually getting things done.

It’s amazing how powerful that one little word: ‘No’ can be and how empowering it is to regain control of your snowballing-stress-filled-life. Remember that you are not the only person in the universe and you don’t have to do everything all by yourself…

Please,

AM

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