Is all that comfort we provide to our kids actually hurting them?
“We are living progressively sheltered, sterile, temperature-controlled, overfed, underchallenged, safety-netted lives.” ― Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self
When my kids were little (all four are teenagers now), we had a Friday movie night tradition, complete with chocolate milk and popcorn. They loved it. I loved it. And if there were ever a Friday when we'd take off for Grandma and Grandpa's, I'd make sure that the 2.5 hour drive included a movie in the Suburban with blankies, popcorn and chocolate milk in sippy cups. They would never be bored or uncomfortable on the drive, only cozy and happy! And to be honest, I felt like I was slaying this mom thing.
Now, however, I've been reading a lot lately about the "comfort crisis" we are all in today and the notion that we are creating an even more acute crisis for our children. What really caught my attention was the fact that while our life span may be up from our ancestors, our health span (the number of years we are healthy and living quality lives free of self-inflicted or age-related disease) is declining...and it will likely be worse for our children. Okay, so maybe I wasn't exactly slaying it as much as I thought.
Being bored — they hate being it, we hate hearing about it. I packed that Suburban like a mobile slumber party in order to make sure my kids weren't feeling it. But according to "The Comfort Crisis" author Michael Easter, being bored is an incredibly valuable gateway to a focused, better-rested brain capable of creative ideas. It's an uncomfortable feeling, even for us adults.
I don't know about you, but I find myself grabbing my phone the second I have to wait around for anything. My kids do, too. We strive to fill the silence and to never waste a minute.
But as Easter describes it, those "wasted" minutes when our minds wander and we are left with nothing but our own thoughts are critical as they rest and restore our brains and provide us the opportunity to think of new, creative ideas. So as we've all been so busy trying to immerse our children into every stimulating activity under the sun, maybe what they really need is more I'm-just-going-to-sit-here-with-my-thoughts kind of time.
Most of us pretty much live in our comfort zones. (I "have" to sleep with a fan. That's non-negotiable.) And because life is "better" and more comfortable than it was generations before us, our expectation of comfort is higher and our tolerance for anything uncomfortable is much lower. And every time we get an upgrade on anything, the thing we had prior to that upgrade quickly becomes unacceptable and outside of our new, smaller comfort zone.
Most children today have it "better" (those quotes are important), than we did as kids. We had it "better" than our parents, who also had it "better" than theirs. And so on. But then why do our children today have so much depression and anxiety?
"We are moving about 14 times less than our ancestors," Easter writes in his book "The Comfort Crisis". "We spend 95%of our time indoors, and spend 11 hours and 6 minutes a day engaging with digital media. So we went from never having these digital media in our lives to now it’s essentially become our lives."
Living inside this safe and shrinking little comfort zone is weakening us and our children because through our extreme comfort, we've deemed so much of normal life outside our comfy boxes. Real life becomes tougher to deal with. Little problems seem so big when you're busy trying to get the proverbial sherpa blanket over your toes.
'Can you bring me my charger?'
So how do I even begin to apply some of these ideas? I'm thinking with baby steps as to not completely shock the fam and cause an all-out rebellion.
My daughter sent me a text the other day asking me to bring her computer charger to school because she'd forgotten it at home. My first thought was of annoyance at having to drive the six miles to do this. My second thought was, "Wait. What? I'm not bringing anything to her except a lesson in life." (I'm very theatrical with one-liners in my own thoughts.)
Instead, I explained to her that if I brought that charger to her, she'd never experience the inconvenience needed to both figure out a problem she'd created and to remember the charger next time. And although I could almost feel her eye roll from the other end of that text, it felt right. In fact, it felt like something I could get into more. (Insert mischievous mom smile.)
My teenagers are going to HATE this, but I think it's time the Quam family all started getting a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I don't know why I feel like this should end with an evil laugh, but....