We know stress is bad for creativity.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of the top “toys” of 2017 are actual stress relievers for kids.
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.
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.
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?