Recently I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Jean Clinton, infant, child and adolescent psychiatrist at McMaster University speak. She says there is a new kind of poverty emerging in our country that has nothing to do with financial hardship. She calls it a “poverty of relationships” and she says we have an epidemic on our hands.
Kids today are being raised by their peer group and not by the adults around them. As a result, kids are having fewer and fewer interactions with the adults in their lives and we are now beginning to see the effects of this impoverishment in our schools. Recent studies show that 41% of our children have overwhelming anxiety and 30% lose sleep because of their anxiety. Clinton says we don’t need new programs to address the issue. We need a new way of thinking about the kind of relationships that kids have.
When we were young, we had lots of caring adults in our lives. These adults weren’t glued to their technological gadgets like many adults are today. They didn’t have any technological gadgets and they didn’t have online selves that they needed to maintain. Instead, adults in our lives extended themselves mentally by interacting with us.
According to Clinton, adolescence today begins at 8 to 10 years of age. Massive changes occur in the adolescent brain and these changes continue until adolescents reach the age of 24 to 26 years old (and sometimes later in males). The adolescent brain is a brain “under construction.” Clinton says it’s a “magnificent” period for making connections with kids.
We are a social species and our brains are wired to connect with others. We need to feel a sense of belonging with others in order to be healthy. When we feel connected to others, our stress levels go down. With fewer adult connections in their lives today, kids are increasingly stressed and it’s hard for them to easily experience new learning or to remember things. Many kids don’t do well in school as result.
The solution to the poverty of relationships doesn’t involve money. Surprisingly enough, it involves the eyes. Clinton says every child needs five adults whose eyes light up when they walk in a room.
So the next time you think about buying a gift for a child in your life, consider giving them the gift of your eyes instead. If every adult were to think about their relationships with kids in this way, we’d eliminate the poverty of relationships very quickly and we’d transform the lives of our kids.
To feel the effect of this new way of thinking, all you have to do is think about how you would feel if the eyes of the people you love lit up every time you walked in the room. It’s a really wonderful feeling, isn’t it?
Debbie L. Kasman
Author Lotus of the Heart: Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul