Are we ‘prepping’ our kids for too much stress?

A few thoughts on navigating today’s increased anxiety-filled world

By Kim Chiomento, Staff Writer, The Times

KimColLogoAs a teen in the 1980’s, the terms “prep, prepper, and preppy” evoke strong memories of a serious fashion statement: Tretorn tennis shoes, gravity-defying, up-turned collars, going sockless and the syrupy scent of Ralph Lauren’s Lauren perfume.  The above was often tied together with snappy madras plaid and a happy little alligator logo somewhere on your body.

30 years later, things have certainly changed.  A tumultuous geopolitical landscape, terrorism, terrifying and unimaginable communicable diseases, societal violence and devastating natural disasters have helped to seriously reshaped the term ‘prep’ for the generation we are raising.

The “Preppers” of today aren’t interested in a fashion trend; but rather, a lifestyle and outlook as featured on Nat Geo’s hit TV show, “Doomsday Preppers.”  As you may know or have seen, these individuals and families featured on this show invest a significant amount of time and resources into being prepared for whatever grave threat(s) they deem could threaten their existence.   

I think the part of the show’s popularity, and related cultural “prepping” phenomenon, is based on people trying to take control in what certainly feels like a pretty out of control period in time.  The reality is, the level of preparedness featured on “Doomsday Preppers” (and yes, I am a fascinated, closet fan), while admirable and interesting, is not a reality for most American families, like mine.

We don’t have secret bunkers, haven’t made the time, space, or available resources to stockpile and hide enormous caches of canned goods, water, TP, gas masks or own a “bug-out” vehicle. (I am just simply trying to keep the stink bugs O-U-T of my mini-van.)  My question is:  How can we instill a sense of security to our families, especially our kids, on a day to day basis while continuing to live our lives?

I’ve also been thinking about the combined effects of the above; and the very subtle, yet pervasive, sense of worry that is slowly sneaking into our homes, schools, conversations and routines as a result of external influences.  I have felt it, have you?  And, are we giving our kids a real chance and a venue to release these anxieties?

Talk of hospital isolation units, people being quarantined, pandemics, war, beheadings, parents required to scan photo I.D. prior to entering schools, students regularly practicing lock-down and evacuation drills, school resource (police) officers, repeated school bomb threats, –the list goes on and on.  This, combined with the ever-present rumor mill that regurgitates dramatized misinformation on our kids’ school buses, in lunchrooms and social media outlets I think is all seeping, rather sneakily, into their psyches.

What are the effects of all these little negative nuances adding to our kids’ stress levels who are already applying lots of academic, social and unknown personal pressures upon themselves?   I don’t know for sure, but have a sense it is not good; and believe it is brewing just below the surface for a lot of kids out there.

Of course, there is the obvious option to shelter you children as much as possible; turn off the news, access to internet, home-school, and protect the confines of your home from external issues.

However, my opinion is, much like the topics of drugs, sex, stranger safety and the responsibilities (and dangers) associated with the technology and easy access to social media that we possess today; our kids are going to hear about and experiment with it anyway.  And, information is often it is being presented to them via lots of often less-than-reliable or accurate sources.  I’d rather the information come from me and my husband, in a safe, controlled environment.

My kids need the truth (and boy can they “read” me when I serve-up nothing less!) So, I have decided for my family, knowledge and truth (tempered with a healthy dose of age appropriateness) will be their power, preparedness, and anchor for rational thinking and sense of security amidst the crazy times we are in.

How?  While I have no medical or psychological credentials, (have I just lost some readers?) and in no way implying that the following is the perfect answer; but simply what we are choosing to do for our kids and maybe you’ll join me or perhaps find this approach helpful.

I’d like to think, despite my tweens’ occasional grunting and under-their-breath mumbling “Mom is cray-cray” (translation = crazy), that I am relatively in touch and have a good pulse on their worlds.  Either I am really onto something here, OR NOT, and in that case; I guess I’ve given the kids some extra good material for their therapists someday; which was probably the case anyway, so whatever…

Teaching social graces, kindness, seeking the truth, doing the right thing, good decision making, spirituality, respect for self and others, –haven’t we been “prepping” our kids for years with these messages and lessons?  So here’s my take on how we are “prepping” them to navigate today’s societal challenges, increased anxieties and pressures.  I am trying to view it rationally as just the next step in a history of trying to help them be strong and prepared for what life hands them.

Be Aware and Care: When I first met my husband, and his family whom I adore; I always admired their lively, yet respectful, political discussions at family dinners, in car rides and family gatherings.  The energized discussions resulted from an interesting mix of life-long Democratic, A-Political military, and Reagan-era Republican perspectives all thrown together.  Wow, lively indeed.

Regardless of positions and opinions, they were aware and in-tune with the world around them.   Put simply, they cared. This was sort of new for me, and initially a bit overwhelming, but I came to love it and insist that this be a part of how we raise our kids.

I want our kids to be engaged and not coast blindly through life, see how history really does repeat itself, (and what can we learn from it,) and also be informed before stepping out into the world on their own someday.

We may or may not agree with each other, but kids, please make an effort to CARE and get informed about what is happening around you.  And someday, when you exercise your right to vote; please take that responsibility seriously and not elect leaders based on slick ad campaigns and “coolness” factor, but rather on substance and issues that are important to you and your loved ones.

Naïve and idealistic? Perhaps.  But, I see these qualities as a direct correlation to future generations being prepared for good decision making, and developing strong leaders who achieve a vision for a bright future with lessons learned from the past.

We take a little time at our Sunday dinners (often the only time we are all gathered together), with family and close friends, to go around the table and talk about what we are thankful for this week.  These thoughts usually parlay into discussing current events in a safe environment with caring adults and often involve several generations of different perspectives.  These discussions sometimes are brief, sometimes are more in depth, but they are happening; which for me, is the most important step toward caring and being aware.

Faith:  We go to church as often as possible; and encourage the kids to talk to God about their worries, fears and ask for guidance all while being sure to give thanks and not just ask for things.  For us, it is the most important tool in finding strength and centering our perspectives.

What’s up?  Thanks to my husband, our older children usually start their day out with a dose of current affairs and politics.  He enjoys watching a morning show that we both agree (usually) provides a civil, thought-provoking discussion of the topics du jour; with less of a slant, sensationalized reporting, and abrasive banter than most other morning talk shows offer.

While we may not always agree with the hosts’ perspectives; it provides a great prompt and opportunity to talk about what is going on.  I think the older ones also enjoy that we include them in an “adult” activity and that we trust that they are mature enough to do so.  And, without knowing it, the kids are often sharing their opinions and asking good questions about what is happening on national and international levels.  We see it as just another venue to release their concerns, develop opinions and care about events in world around them.

Our youngest?  Well, she still is marching around requesting breakfast and wants to watch “Paw Patrol” and not our morning show. But of course, that is okay, we make that happen for her too, –she’s nowhere near being ready these discussions, hence my earlier age-appropriate reference.

Life Skills: Can your kids wash dishes, use a can opener, light a match and “tune-in” a non touch-screen device?  Do they understand how to read medicine labels, dosing measurements and are aware of managing and communicating their own medical needs?  Do they know where your home’s emergency shut-off valves are and where to shelter in case of an emergency event?

We are working on these simple life skills so that in an event of an emergency, they’ve got some basics covered and have some sense of control over their situation.  To my earlier point, knowledge is power.

Resources:  A few years ago I signed-up at Ready Notify PA (you can Google this easily) to receive emergency texts, on my cell phone, from Chester County Emergency Management Services.

This week, I plan on signing up my tweens’ phones for the same.  I think receiving accurate and timely alerts, in the event of any emergency, may help them feel safe and provide a level of comfort  for me should the unlikely situation arise that I am not able to be with them.  With a forecast of another harsh winter, recent county-wide health alerts, and the possibility, albeit remote, of a national event -or- act of terrorism it is just one more resource for them to turn to.

I wish we could “fix” our kids’ worlds so that they had no worries; but that is simply not reality.  I hope that facing concerns and fears head-on, in an informed and rational fashion, can help prepare them to navigate the increasingly complex issues and emotions that are certain to continue to present themselves.

Kim Chiomento is a Staff Writer for The Times, mother of children in the Kennett Consolidated School District and active Kennett area community volunteer.

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