An Upside to Downturn
A few years ago I thought about starting an organization called PAGE – Parents Against Global Extinction. I was really worried! Global warming wasn’t being talked about much, war was more in vogue than usual, SUVs were the rage, and my OB GYN was driving a Hummer. I started researching MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving, thinking I could model PAGE after MADD. Public awareness is a powerful force, and I was tired of waiting around. I admit, I was more than worried and tired. I was embarrassed. I started dreading the day in the not so distant climate changed future when my daughter would say, “Jeez Mom, it’s really hot around here, and parts of the planet are under water. What were you doing back then??” And, of course, my lame answer would be “Um, paying the mortgage.”
Well, before I gathered enough courage to close my private practice and start PAGE, Al Gore saved me. Perhaps he saved all of us. His movie hit just the right chord in just enough people to make talk of global warming cool. My worry and embarrassment morphed into hope and excitement.
At this point you might be thinking, “What does this have to do with children, adolescents, and the Oaklander Model?” A lot! Global warming is pretty scary stuff! And turning down the heat is going to mean a complete re-tooling of the entire global economic system. How will we, the adults, help children transition to a sustainable, green economy?
This is not just a little exercise in recycling, or going to Earth Day every April, or buying local produce. This is about massive global anxiety (or excitement) as we walk through an enormous, mega paradigm shift – perhaps many of us will be taking that walk without our jobs, houses, retirement accounts, or oil-burning cars. This isn’t just about being Green, or living simply, or going organic. This energy stuff that Obama is talking about is big, big, big. I don’t know if we’ll get very far down the road in a term or two, but at least we’re on the road.
Meanwhile, the current system of consumerism isn’t working; every piece of the American economic pie is rotting. So, as we wean off consumerism we’re in the throes of financial existential angst. Who am I without my stuff, my money, my plan? What’s the meaning of my life, and what’s my purpose?
Well, my purpose with this column is to help children, their parents, and their therapists. So, step one is to acknowledge the anxiety that most of us are feeling and try to make that oh-so-important shift to being excited about the change that is hopefully coming, even with all the unknowns and all the potential hardships. Perhaps the most important first step we can take to usher our children into the 21st Century is accepting and transforming our anxiety. Staying informed and involved, reaching out to those in need, becoming part of a community with the common goal of being part of the solution. If we’re anxious, we’re not able to make good contact with the children in our lives; they in turn will not get their needs met, and they will quickly show us the repercussions of that – acting out, acting in, behavior problems, somatic symptoms, a myriad of avoidable diagnoses.
So how do we garner the support and information we need to shift from fear to excitement? I have not found a handy guide called something like “How to Help Children Transition to a Sustainable Economy,” but my first round of Internet research on this topic did lead to some interesting places.
For the big picture check out the 20-minute YouTube clip called “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard athttp://www.storyofstuff.com. This is a must-see. It’s a kind of a “Zeitgeist, The Movie” for kids. Leonard’s content is really interesting and a good starting place for children age 10 and older. She’s a fast talker, and the concepts are a tad complex, so I suggest that children and adults watch this clip together, stopping every few minutes to discuss and clarify.
If you Google “Children and Sustainable Living” you’ll find a variety of web sites about healthy food, environmentally friendly products, green building, and living off the Grid. One of the more helpful and heartening web sites for younger children is Tiki the Penguin says, “Let’s make a kinder world for everyone.”
If you Google “Children and Sustainable Economy” you won’t find much (yet). So far the word “children” seems to come up mostly in the context of how we’re in the midst of leaving a giant, deadly mess for the next generation. This search did lead to a rather radical (and very interesting) site calledhttp://endofcapitalism.com. There was a story there about young people and elders working together on transformative gardening projects in urban Detroit.
I interviewed a colleague who writes a monthly column about Ecotherapy in a newsletter for MFTs to get her take on all this. She sees parents blaming each other for money problems, along with a chronic difficulty saying “no” to their children’s requests for more toys, video games, clothes, everything. She had some great ideas to reduce the vast amount of “stuff” in households, like making a family game around the theme of cutting expenses, where the thriftiest and most frugal players win. Another idea was to have children rate their belongings on a scale of one to ten, and gradually recycle or give away items that weren’t 9’s or 10’s. This would seep into new purchase decisions and beg the question, “Do I really need something that’s not a 10?”
We talked a lot about needs versus wants, home schooling, growing food in family gardens, the ridiculousness of today’s extravagant birthday parties for California kids, Wall Street, real estate, and American banking. We talked about the importance of oral histories, so children could hear the stories of the Great Depression from their elders and find the value of sacrifice and the satisfaction of working together. We talked about how the majority elite in our community may have a great deal to learn from the minority poor who have been living with very little money, space, or belongings. We talked about the need for self-care, connection to community, and the constant pressure from advertisements to consume more goods than we need or want.
But, even with all that talk, I still haven’t found quite what I’m looking for – a plan, a strategy to prepare children for something the magnitude of The Great Depression, or a World War, or moving to a different planet. Yeah, that’s it! Earth needs to become a very different kind of planet, and maybe that’s just what is going to happen. What an exciting time to be alive! My private practice consent form warns new clients, “ . . . psychotherapy can elicit strong and sometimes uncomfortable feelings, which are usually part of the healing process.” The paradigm shift to a green economy may indeed be analogous to a therapeutic process, driven by crisis, dysfunction, pain, and an absolute need for changes to the core – this time, Earth’s core.
Instead of starting PAGE, maybe I’ll write that handy guide “Helping Children Transition to a Sustainable Economy.” My spare time is scant, so someone will probably beat me to it. Fine by me, as long it does the job, and soon.
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Lynn Stadler is a Marriage Family Therapist in private practice. She is a Founding Member of VSOF, and offers trainings on Gestalt Therapy with Children, Adolescents & Adults.