Stress Toys for Kids?

We know stress is bad for creativity.

Turns out, stress is really bad for a lot of things, most especially your heart. Let’s remember that heart disease is the number one killer in the US for both men and women.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of the top “toys” of 2017 are actual stress relievers for kids.

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On the top toys list…

I want you to think about that for a moment. Kids are so stressed, that top toys for Christmas are basically colorful versions of adult stress aides. In the top 20 toys, there are four different items that are designed to help reduce stress.

WTF?!? I mean seriously, when did it get to this?

Sure, yeah, I get it. Kids have never had an idealistic existence. Once upon a time, less than a hundred years ago (1938, to be exact. My skeptic wonders how much of that was to keep kids from taking adult jobs in the Great Depression rather than to protect kids, but I digress), poor kids worked to help support their families. Okay, poor kids worked so there was food on the table.

But in 2017 middle-class America, which is what these advertisers are marketing to, I was blindsided by seeing anti-stress balls marketed alongside “twins” for your child to play make-believe with.

I’m not entirely sure when this happened, but I shouldn’t be shocked. The most stressful years of my life were high school and college. I had to make excellent grades in high school to get into a good college.

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Being smart wasn’t enough. I was a poor kid and needed scholarships. And I wasn’t getting special treatment because my parents were alums anywhere. So, I had to be in sports, volunteer, find ways to make myself stand out.

I don’t remember there ever being a weekend where I had nothing to do. I’d try to get homework done on Friday night and Saturday morning so I could at least have Saturday night. It seldom worked. All this while making it through the coursework and trying to find my way through teenage hormones and a far less than ideal home situation.

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But I did it, and then came college. Now everything was on the line. I wasn’t going to be working for the rich family I didn’t have (unlike some of my classmates), so every future employer was going to be looking at that GPA for the rest of my life. It didn’t matter that my grandmother died or I had a massive allergic reaction to something that almost closed my windpipe. I had classes to attend, projects to finish, and tests to take. All so I could get a job at the end to pay back the loans I still had to take.

Yeah, I remember those days. And not fondly.

Apparently, the stress on kids is starting earlier and earlier. I’m not entirely sure why.

Perhaps because 44% of American children are living at or near the poverty line.

No, I didn’t mistype that number. I actually looked it up several places to verify it. It shocks me. And it saddens me. To climb out of poverty, to try to focus on school and work when you’re hungry, maybe that’s why people are buying a stress ball for Christmas.

For the other 56%, some are saying it’s because kids are too busy. Parents are so focused on trying to give them what they’ll need to succeed, that kids aren’t getting any time for relaxation and play.

This feels a lot closer to what I’m seeing. Now that I have kids, I see how much of my life is taken up just getting them to where they need to be. Once at dance class, soccer, or swimming, the kids are now in organized activities with a whole new level of stress on them. How good am I at this sport or activity? Am I good enough to compete? What do I have to do outside of class to get good enough?

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford such things. Frankly, only the rich kids in my schools ever did such activities. Now, it’s expected of parents to provide these enriching experiences.

All of this is before you add in the stress of trying to figure out things like how to put your dress on the right way each morning. How to make new friends on your first day of school. How to handle peer pressure. And everything else kids have always faced.

I know how I feel about this, but I’m not really sure what to do about it. Children aren’t mini-adults. They do so much learning through play. I worked my tail off and waited until later in lie to have them because I wanted to give my children a good life. Not a life that includes stress balls for 5-year-olds and high blood pressure medication when you graduate high school.

 

How about you? Have you seen this phenomena? If so, how have you addressed it?

 

Practicing Empathy

I recently wrote about empathy, about giving people the benefit of the doubt, and how we really need more of it.

I thought of this as I read an article recently that talked about Trump’s travel ban, and it’s impact on three people. Sadly, this article was taken down shortly after I read it, but I’m assuming it was done to protect the man in Alabama I will discuss shortly.

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Mobile, Alabama

You don’t have to look very far to hear the stories of people affected by it in a negative light, up to and including a US-born NASA scientist. As with many of the news stories about the ban, this article began with the heart-breaking tale of a woman who had aided the US in the Iraqi war, was targeted by terrorists because of it, and trying to get to the US for her own safety. It talked of an American man who’d married an Iranian woman and couldn’t get her and his daughter into the US even though they had green cards.

Remember, if it bleeds, it leads.

Empathizing with these people is easy. The news makes it easy. But none of those events are unique to this story.

What was different, however, was the article spoke of an Alabama man who was happy about the ban. After hearing all the stories of terrorism, he was relieved that something was being done to protect him.

This man hadn’t felt safe at baseball games or even the store. He feared any area where large groups of people congregated because that’s where terrorists struck. He didn’t give up going to his favorite sports events because he thought that would be caving into the terrorists, but he felt truly afraid.

Let’s remember that in fiction, no one usually sees themselves as the “bad guy”. The books on craft drill that into our heads.

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I doubt this gentleman from Alabama saw himself as a “bad guy” either. He truly felt afraid. He wanted to be safe, and he cited the events in France and Belgium as reasons for his fear.

What he didn’t know, what the news hadn’t informed him of, was that the total number of American citizens that died due to terrorism from 1995 to 2014 – that’s twenty years – was 3,503.  That includes the 2,910 people that died on September 11th.

In 2014, 42,773 people died by committing suicide. The really scary stuff?  According to the CDC, in 2013 approximately 610,000 Americans died of heart disease. Yeah. One in four American deaths was due to heart disease.

Had the news given as much weight to things that posed the most threat to this man, terrorism wouldn’t be his top concern. He’d be demanding roasted kale and orange slices (two foods known to help in the battle against heart disease) as he watched his sports games while jogging on a treadmill.

Was this man genuinely afraid?  I think he was. It’s possible this man has never met a man or woman from any of the nations impacted by the travel ban. He may not have ever met a Muslim. Only 0.2% of Alabama’s population is Muslim. It may be difficult for him to separate out “bleeding” new bites from reality.

While each person is accountable for their emotions and how they respond to them, I think the news media also needs to accept some accountability. How many images of terrorist attacks have filled our screens? How many times did we watch the planes hit the towers? See the aftermath of bombings?

And it happens every time there’s an attack. We’re bombarded by images. This becomes our reality, what we fear, rather than heart disease.

I’ve seen some accuse the media of being accomplices to the attackers by helping them spread the fear that their attacks were intended to generate.

I doubt this is intentional.

You see, fear sells. If it bleeds, it leads. And what is more terrifying to us than terrorism? Thinking you’re going to punch the clock like any other day, but instead, a plane is flown into your workplace.

Fear sells.

Not only does it sell, but we’ve become addicted to fear, and for-profit news companies know it. They know how to get us to tune in and keep us coming back.

If you think about Maslow’s Hiererchy of needs, safety ranks as more important than sex. So if sex sells, you better believe fear does. Our ancestors knew this. Go back and look at those original fairy tales if you don’t believe me or the research.

News capitalizes on this, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m avoiding the news.

Was this Alabama man practicing empathy for the people this ban affected that weren’t terrorists? Doubtful. But, I’m betting he was afraid, and if he votes, I’m betting that fear influences his vote.

I know fear can influence me and make me do things I regret or keeping me from doing things that I regret not doing.

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What about you? Do you let fear influence your decisions? Do you watch the news? If so, do you find it be full of fear-mongering?