Stress Relief for all AgesJuly 6th, 2009 at 14:38
I think many of us adults these days spend a fair amount of time playing computer and other video games as an escape and a stress reliever, yet a number of us complain about youth spending time playing their video and computer games instead of doing homework or “going outside to play”. I wonder if this disconnect exists because while freely acknowledging that our adult lives are very stressful, we aren’t willing to acknowledge that we have created a highly stressful environment for our kids at school, after school and with all those logistically complicated structured activities (sports, classes, etc.) on the weekends.
Our kids who go off to school each morning often arise with not enough sleep, spend the day in formal classroom environments with little physical activity, have mandated activities that they have little or no control over and have no say in the governance of this school institution in which they spend so much time. When I mention this to some adults, they counter perhaps defensively by saying that this sort of school experience is preparing kids to have a similar experience when they grow up and have stressful work environments of which they have little or no control. Whether or not you buy their justification, we are talking stress all round.
Many kids come home from six or seven hours of school to parents (I was one of them for a while) who start pestering them to get their homework done before they can have fun, watch TV or play with the computer. This homework ordeal can go on for hours each night. By the time all the day’s “work” is done, you have a highly stressed person, whether they be an adult or youth, who craves just to stare at something perhaps visually interesting and maybe fun in some simple way and just play for a while.
From my own experience with stress-induced play as an adult, I would sometimes spend four or five hours playing some computer game (that I found intoxicating and deliciously escapist) well past midnight, robbing myself of the full nights sleep I might otherwise get towards making my next day less stressful as a result. But when kids start falling into this same pattern we tend to try and manage them by managing the symptoms (hours of mindless play) rather than helping them find a real cure (reworking their lives to be less stressful).
Some of us adults even brag about how little sleep we need or get. I went through a period where I was consistently staying up past midnight playing around on the computer and getting an average of maybe four hours sleep. I stumbled out of bed each morning and made it into work, but particularly by afternoon the clock would crawl and the rest of my work day was not particularly pleasant. And now past 50 I struggle with weight, blood-pressure, blood sugar, and high cholesterol, even though by most standards I had a pretty healthy lifestyle (other that all that stress of course).
What kind of example was I setting for my kids? Is this what life is all about… constantly running on empty? As a parent I would try and set bedtimes for my kids, but they like me (surprise surprise) would also not be ready by an appropriate hour in the evening to settle down into bed.
In my own life I had to get off this treadmill and it took years of hit and miss to make it happen. I maneuvered my way into jobs that were as much as possible off the radar and lower stress, while trying to find and cultivate bosses who were okay with me working my forty hours and going home. I routinely road my bike or walk/train/bussed it to work, a great stress reliever at just the right points in the day. I avoided management jobs all together, since they always seemed to come with the prerequisite of extra worries.
Having committed myself to exercising control over my own workday life to significantly lower my stress level, including not taking new positions that seemed to particularly feature anxiety producing elements, how could I not encourage my kids to exercise more control over their own lives. For my kids, who were blessed to have this option, de-stressing meant getting them off the school and homework treadmill and letting them homeschool instead. For other families with kids it might mean changing schools, changing cities, or lowering the expectation for academic excellence in the name of mental health.
We all of course have different options, different resources, and different contexts in which we live. I was blessed with aptitude and the opportunity to develop and employ fairly high-paying skills in information technology. I continue to be blessed with a wonderful life-partner and our ongoing and easy relationship based on mutual respect and friendship. We have both learned not to sweat the little things and not to even try to “keep up with the Joneses”.
And I hope and believe that we are setting an ongoing example for our kids to do the same. So far, both our son Eric (23) and daughter Emma (soon to be 20) are demonstrating a penchant for living balanced and healthy lives, despite the very difficult economic times that are part of the context we are all journeying through.