Social Anxiety Disorder

In my previous post I discussed a form of intense anxiety that leads to a form of depression. In this case, the effects of anxiety are less acute and extreme, but the overall impact to someone’s life is still very serious.

 

1388 Relax and Succeed - Many people are now reaching adulthood without having

There is a new type of person that has inadvertently emerged in large part due to the advent of personal computing and video game culture. That personality type has only expanded thanks to the internet, cell phones and texting, food delivery services and, to some degree, ‘social’ media (it’s almost ironic to call it ‘social’).

Prior to those inventions there were shy people –even extremely shy people– but there was no effective way for anyone to hide from others without it being obvious, and often financially impossible. The closest thing to modern social anxiety were people who read an enormous amount, but even they were forced to mix more with other people just due to the in-person nature of society at the time.

Today it is possible for an adolescent to shy away from uncomfortable social contact almost completely. They can make friends through their computer or phone where most or all of their ‘friends’ are in other cities, and where they require some form of electronic connection to make contact.

This means a shy or awkward person can now literally ‘shut off’ anyone they find annoying or threatening, or even just those that make them feel even a bit uncomfortable. This is problematic because those are formative years when people would normally be making the sorts of embarrassing in-person social mistakes that ultimately lead to the development of healthy social skills.

The issue for these future adults is that they can now prevent themselves from having almost all of the experiences that would actually teach them how to relate to the rest of society. To a young person’s mind, being able to hide like that can feel like a comforting level of power. But it also has serious downsides.

In the adult world everyone’s jobs, relationships, and lives will demand that they spend time with people that they find difficult, or with people that don’t particularly like them. Avoiding the skill development we all need for those situations can soon evolve into what gets called ‘social anxiety disorder.’

The upside is that this is a very fixable situation. Just as a lack of exposure to others creates social awkwardness and fear, more exposure demonstrates that the downsides of social interactions are no where near as meaningful to us as the upsides. Humans were built to work in groups, so it is our nature to ultimately succeed at this process. But what stops most people today is fear.

For a previous generation that fear was largely overcome by parents that were viewed much differently. Next to no kids had input on dinner or holidays, there was no real ability to escape chores, and they were put into classes they disliked ‘because it was good for them.’ Even ‘talking back’ was often met with serious punishment.

Back then, the choice for an adolescent was to be kicked out to fend for oneself, or do as ones parents wanted. That culture had significant downsides too, but one of its most important upsides was that shy kids were effectively forced to interact.

A good example of this is Bill Gates, who by all appearances exhibits strong tendencies toward a socially awkward or even an Asperger-like nature. As I’ve noted previously, the recent three part documentary on him demonstrates, his sisters note that a lot of Bill’s success came as a result of his mother ‘forcing’ him to act as the social greeter at the family’s country club.

By being ‘forced’ to have that social contact, a very shy Bill Gates –who probably would have preferred to stay in his basement working on code with maybe one close friend– instead became the sort of person who could run one of the largest companies on Earth, and who has gone on to run one of the world’s largest charities.

Bill Gates still doesn’t appear to love social situations, but the point is that he can function in them. That ability is a key part of what he has been able to accomplish in his life. As his sisters suggest in the documentary, without his mother and that exposure, Bill could easily have been one of the first generation of people to be crippled by a form of social anxiety disorder.

1388 Relax and Succeed - Social Anxiety Disorder

The challenge for modern parents is, they are bringing up children in a much more complex world.

In the end, in many cases, the influence of a parent is limited when a child is carrying a powerful computer with them everywhere they go. Even if they are instructed to ‘go socialize,’ it is easy for them to still avoid interaction through their smartphone.

This new technical ability means too many people are now reaching adulthood without having developed the skills needed to be a successful adult.

Fortunately all is not lost. In fact, the biggest barrier to making meaningful changes is the initial resistance of the young adult who needs a healthier approach. Once they have accepted that –at least in the way I approach it– most people find the socialization discussions we have to be interesting, sensible and motivating.

By developing a better understanding of the nature of society, the nature of human personality, and the nature of how our thoughts can impact both, most people find that the training process makes them feel increasingly alive. The world gets bigger and more exciting –and more inviting.

Far from hiding from the world, socially comfortable people become more interested in both participating in it, and affecting it.

If someone feels increasingly trapped by their lifestyle and they can sense the impact that can or will have on everything from their career to their love life, then they should know that they are closer to making changes than they may realize.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a shy person, they simply need to work with someone who can help them to find their place in the world in comfortable, inviting way.

Of course no changes can happen until we take the first step, which is to seek the help and then move thorough a process. It may sound corny, but the saying ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life‘ is always true. So none of us should hide from the world.

If any of this sounds like you or your child, then please get in touch with me or someone else who can help you navigate this change. Any resistance will only be as ephemeral as thought. And I know for my part I would be happy to meet anyone, no matter how awkward they think they might be.

peace. s

(780) 439-0341
scottis@relaxandsucceed.com

Other Perspectives #74

If you don’t read this blog carefully you might think I would unequivocally support this statement. It seems to fit with a lot of what I talk about: Your thoughts are powerful, you feel what you think, so be conscious of what you think. But experiences do not bother you when you feel you have chosen them. So feel that way about the whole of your life. Yes, understand how powerful negative thinking can be and do not do it for its own sake. But without not-path there can be no path. So to have things you prefer you must also accept that there must be things you don’t prefer and that the only way you know one from the other is by experiencing them. Negative thoughts aren’t worse than positive thoughts. They just feel different. If you don’t find a feeling to be rewarding in this moment you can always change it in the next. The important thing isn’t whether you chose positive versus negative, it’s that you stayed aware of your ability to choose between them.

peace. s

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Influencing Children

Yesterday I covered the culture of fear that has been created by politics and the news media and how that affects parenting and the brain development of children. Today we’ll talk about how social media and advertising combine to create an entirely new set of forces that are 608 Relax and Succeed - You decide who you areshaping your children’s minds in ways that have never been seen before. Some of it is exciting and awesome. Some of it is troubling and dangerous.

Again, it’s important to remember how different the world is than just a short time ago. A surfable smartphone didn’t exist until 1996 but due to capability and production limits they weren’t really in our consciousness until about 2001. Facebook was created in 2004, and Twitter in 2006 (even Google was just getting started in 1998), so at the time of this writing none of the people who’ve grown up with these influences are even adults yet so researchers can’t study the effects.

I heard a stat the other day that either this year or last year, 90% of the photos taken in history had been taken that year. That is a huge indicator of how incredibly important cameras have become. I have maybe 50 photos in total of me from a baby to age 25. Some friends whose parents were more technically motivated used cameras more often and they would have more, but it was expensive processing pictures back then very few people went crazy. But the fact that 90% of photos were taken last year shows how insanely different the numbers are today. A child will have more photos taken of them in a month than they would have had in a lifetime. And so that lens—that eye—becomes one of the eyes they understand they should pay attention to.

How this plays out is that if you’re talking to someone and you hold your camera up to take a photo, they’re quite likely to mug for you, or give you their best angle. So just the very appearance of a camera changes the social setting and people interrupt their human conversation for a machine-based ego-focused interaction. We all see this with text messages 608 Relax and Succeed - The most precious giftwhen we’re having lunch with a friend as well. It’s now common for people to not look at or pay attention to their tablemates for large percentages of their time at the table.

What this does is get the kids who are watching believing that phones are more important than people because that is exactly the behaviour everyone is actually modelling. So what I’m seeing now is kids who will choose to look at a camera lens or cell phone screen instead of looking at the people they’re with. So rather than learning how to socialize and read facial and body language cues, instead they learn how to look down and spend time in a place that exists only in their imagination—a place called cyberspace.

It’s very important for parents to remember that we all live where our consciousness is. So if you’re sitting on a beautiful beach alone thinking about how 10 years ago you were on this beach with a love you have since lost—despite all of the pleasures available on the beach today, the person will be sad because in their consciousness they are reliving 5 years ago and comparing it to today.

608 Relax and Succeed - We are living in a worldThe same is true for kids except they travel less in time and more in space. I walked to school with all of my neighbourhood friends. Kids today primarily get driven or take the bus so they can have friends that live two buses away. So they might be physically at home because their parents never let them go anywhere without some detailed plan, but in reality they’re meeting their friends in cyberspace. The important part about that is that if your kid can always meet their friends in cyberspace then, in a way, it’s like their friends are present for every single thing that happens in your house. Technology has changed society much more than people currently recognize.

Privacy for all intents and purposes no longer exists. By 16 every kid knows your email can be hacked, friends can choose to share photos they were never supposed to share, there’s revenge porn sites and robots are crawling through everything you write and post in an attempt to understand you well enough to help advertisers sell to you when you’re most vulnerable. There’s even video and audio systems that detect crying so that they can respond. Do we really want robots responding to crying?

I’m hardly anti-technology. I was the first person I knew with a digital watch, the first with a programmable calculator and both a video recorder and a video camera. I was the second person I knew to get a computer and I started a large BBS system before the internet even existed. So I’m pro-technology in many ways. But with all things we must weigh the advantages against the costs. And the costs of social media are almost as high as the costs of advertising.

608 Relax and Succeed - If you find yourself constantly tryingSo where politics and the news media lead new citizens to be unnecessarily afraid, advertising leads them to be insecure. Secure people don’t need a product to fix their insecurity. So when I was young everyone thought teeth should be teeth-coloured and so no one would have put harmful chemicals in our mouths to whiten them. But today kids will feel stressed if their teeth aren’t unnaturally white. Go backwards and my mother never knew mouthwash until she was older. And her mother never even knew tooth-brushing or that breath should smell “fresh” until she was ten years old because advertising had not created that insecurity yet. The entire tooth-brushing fresh breath movement emerged out of advertisers testing the idea of whether or not a fear could be created and leveraged into a product. Obviously it worked and now every kid has a huge list of things to feel insecure about.

Advertisers need you to think the jeans you bought last year aren’t good enough for this year. Same with your hair style and your shoes and your purse and your car. There is always a new way to be acceptable or impressive to others. There’s always something new to buy. But do you see what this is telling the brain? The brain is being told that the person is not okay being who they are they must be someone else in order to be accepted, which in other terms means that the love they receive is conditional. It is based on their alignment with what advertisers have deemed acceptable rather than being loved just for who you are right from birth. The idea that you have to add to or change yourself before you are worthy is as unfortunate as it is dangerous.

608 Relax and Succeed - If a mother values herselfYou don’t need different jeans or a different hair colour. You don’t need different music or to like different movies. You just need to love yourself. Because you’re parenting when you’re living. Just like those kids watch smart phone screens because you do, they also worry about their hair and weight because you do. So if you really want to parent in an amazing way that will strengthen and support your kids to be all they can be, then stop worrying about the bad things that might happen or the judgments they might face, and instead focus on realizing the natural greatness that lives within yourself, because that will teach your children to look for that strength and capability within themselves. And that’s all they need to do. Because it’s always there waiting.

Your kids live in a sea of other people telling them who they should be. Be the one person who stands out for not telling them who it would be good or positive or healthy to become, and instead just ask them who they would most like to become and then help them do that. Because if Michelangelo’s father had had his way his son would have been a bricklayer and we wouldn’t have the incredible Statue of David. So don’t get in the way of your kid’s David. Don’t help frighten them into being small and worried. The world is too awesome for that and it will only be made more awesome by the contributions of you and your children.

Thank you.

peace. s

Parenting in the Digital Age

I do not envy the people struggling to pull off raising a child in the new millennium. There are challenges today that have never existed before, and many routes through life that most parents have never even considered as a part of their parenting options. But if we want healthy children then we must consciously give them an environment that promotes both their physical and mental health as well as the ongoing maintenance of both.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn creating this post I came to learn that it is best presented as a four-parter that includes last week’s Friday Dose (which includes a set of links to relevant documentaries etc.), and yesterday’s Other Perspectives. In this posting I will cover the culture of fear and the value of freedom, mistakes and the nature of growth. In the next I’ll cover advertising, ego, insecurity and inter-personal connection.

First off, let’s remember how different it is for kids now that just a short time ago, because these are the biggest changes that the human brain has had to face since the construct of abstract language. This is big. Really big.

Let’s talk about children’s media environment rather than just the internet. When I was a kid you were too focused on playing outside to really find TV all that inviting. Yeah you had your big shows you watched, but we only had three channels so even until the invention of video tape there was no way to even see a re-run. The three channels shut off at 1am and turned back on at 6am and that was it. That meant we used to be influenced primarily by our family’s values and the values of their friends and the immediate culture you lived in. Today you’re influenced by your friends and peers even at home—via social media—but more importantly you 607 Relax and Succeed - If you don't fit inare influenced by two additional groups, and those groups do not have the same agenda for your life that you have at all.

Politics and advertising create most of the current zeitgeist. Countries used to be much more unique, and while they still are to some degree, the spreading of media has homogenized the whole world. People are dressing more alike, listening to the same music, and eating the same foods. What’s important is that the homogenization was designed by people who had a motive. Your motive is to raise your kids to be happy, successful, good-quality citizens who can contribute to their culture in a meaningful way all while building a life they find to be largely secure, rewarding and enjoyable. Politicians want you and your kids to vote for them, and advertisers want you to to get you and your kid’s money. How this shapes your brain is no small issue.

A key political strategy almost everywhere is to create an us by creating a them. The them is generally another society you can compare yourself against—so when your own country is in political turmoil politicians create an enemy. Maybe that’s a war with another country, or maybe it’s stoking fears at home about who among us might be untrustworthy or dangerous. It’s very easy to ask people to support your politics if you want to stop crime or violence. Who doesn’t want to do that? But there’s tons of research: jails don’t stop crime and there’s no indication laws do either. The one thing that science has proven over and over is that the easiest, cheapest way to stop crime is to make a solid investment in early childhood development. Norway did that and ended up having to close a large number of their jails.

607 Relax and Succeed - My friends love is better than anger
At this writing there’s an upcoming Canadian election. This man was a politician but I’m not attempting to influence anyone politically. My use of it is strictly for the quote.

Now the fact is that, no matter where you are, there have never been fewer criminals and there’s never been less violent crime. Never. Anywhere. And yet in survey after survey people are worried about what might happen. The biggest fear I hear about is abduction, and yet this is remarkably unlikely. Yes, agencies that get their funding for children’s protection will give you statistics that don’t mention they include stats on every divorced spouse who was turned in for having their own kids back to their vengeful spouse one hour late. Think about how seldom you hear an Amber Alert. Hardly ever. And when you do, you almost always learn it’s one of the parents or a grandparent that has taken the kids away from a situation they (rightly or wrongly) feel is bad for the kid. That’s not the sort of abduction that they do fear-laden TV shows about.

Cases where it isn’t someone known to the kid are so rare they make international news. Remember the British girl who went missing in Spain? That was 2007. Or the little girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Toronto? That was 2009. Just try to think of them and you realize there’s hardly any and there’s billions of people who’s children can make the news. If you were in poorest parts of Asia or Africa or South America I can see being concerned about your kids being grabbed because there’s an easy profit motive there—mostly so they can sell them to rich white people. But for the average North American, European, or even most Asians, Africans or South Americans, there is no rational reason to worry about your kids every day.

The number one place by far for a child to die is in a car with their parents. So why are parents so casual about driving around, and yet people are getting complaints from schools and parents, or their kids are even being taken by police or child services because parents let them walk to school??? So we don’t worry at all about the still-very-unlikely but much much much more likely 607 Relax and Succeed - Miracles start to happenstuff? Instead we’re going to freak out our kids by worrying about things as likely as lightening strikes? If you’re doing this you need to realize that you’ve been living in a culture of fear and it is adversely affecting your children.

Children learn from experience but adults can get like insurance mathematicians who are busy calculating the extreme potential downsides to every single thing that the child even might do. A woman in an interview said that she wouldn’t let a 10 year old and a six year old walk home alone because if something happened she didn’t think the 10 year old would know what to do. When the reporter asked what sort of things might happen outside of the aformentioned highly unlikely worst case scenarios, the best the woman could come up with was that the six year old might fall. Fall? From the height of a six year old? Oh yeah, you need maturity and a medical degree to deal with that, don’t you?

Let’s not be ridiculous. Can something happen? Of course, the aforementioned girl in Toronto was walking with her brother but he regretfully left her to walk another kid home. But it’s important to place that in the appropriate context, which is that hundreds of millions of young people made it to school just fine that day and hundreds of other days entirely safely. So why would anyone presume to load their kid with the entirely unrealistic fear that they have to limit the child’s life in the hopes of lengthening it? To avoid something incredibly unlikely? Generations of kids walked to school. I never ever remember hearing of a kid falling on the way to school and getting hurt. And even if they did, we’re going to limit the hundreds of millions of kids lives to try to potentially save one all while we’re losing thousands in cars?! It doesn’t even make sense.

We are teaching children to be afraid. Youngish parents write to me as though it’s the generation behind them that’s afraid, but my generation can easily see that there was a change, and for those paying close attention, it showed up when TV and later the internet took off. Kids didn’t used to read the paper. But they could overhear the news. And as more stations were created there was more competition for advertisers and so the news got increasingly sensationalized in the fight to get people to advertise to. News stations then went to 24 hours, so they had to find and even create news. As I’m writing this Fox news was just noted world wide for having had to apologize four times in a single day for reporting fear-mongering things that they later admitted were based on absolutely nothing. So why did those alarming stories get reported if they were made up? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause they would attract viewers. That’s great for shareholders but very bad for your kid.

We’re also teaching children to be weaker. There are studies going on regarding why kids increasingly have no sense of direction. What they know so far is that modern brain scans show we all have neurons that keep track of where the sun is as you walk, and with experience it helps your brain understand where things are in relation to each other. So there’s no such thing as a bad sense of direction, there are just unpracticed and undeveloped senses of direction. But if a kid gets driven everywhere, how are those brain structures going to get built? They can’t. And so the kid becomes smaller than the parent when the idea is that the parent helps the kid be bigger than they themselves ever could have been.

You only have two jobs as a parent: to teach your kids what they need to know to live without you, and to love them. Of course they need to know they are loved, but they also need to know how the world actually works. Insulating them from that is literally constructing an incapable 607 Relax and Succeed - A child does not have to be motivatedkid and it’s why we’re increasingly seeing parents showing up to conduct their kids job interviews. My instructions to the companies I advise is to never hire these individuals because their parents are very obviously proving that they have built a child that is actually entirely unprepared for the workplace, or likely even society in general.

Sitting in a jungle four degrees off the equator and most of the way up a 4,200 meter (14,000 foot) mountain I asked an anthropologist what she had learned from the tribes she had studied for 23 years. She told me it was that she had unwittingly but grossly underestimated her children. We saw children as young as five walking across tree trunks to cross very high gorges and they would do so without an adult nearby. They were trusted and they responded to that trust by simply watching the people around them, all of whom walked confidently across the makeshift bridge. And then the kids did what every kid does—and they mimicked it.

So you can teach your child to mimic fear. Or you can teach them to act confidently. Because in 23 years that anthropologist never, ever heard of one of those kids falling. And even if one did, that wouldn’t change those parents. Because they’re not busy worrying. They’re not guided by fears about jaguars or snakes. They’re busy living a good life and in doing so they’re showing their kids how to do the very same thing. And every kid needs parenting like that. So who’s teaching your kids to avoid fear and enjoy life?

peace. s

Note: Tomorrow we’ll talk about how advertising and social media are changing how children’s brains are structured and what that means for them/you as adults.

The Friday Dose #50

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Welcome everyone! It’s the first Friday Dose of the year, and we’re starting off with a Washington Post piece on parenting in the age of the internet and cell phones. Parents will often come to me with very sensible and realistic concerns about their kids and their developing brain’s ability to wisely negotiate cyberspace. I don’t blame them. Kids haven’t fully built the part of their brain that fully comprehends consequences until they’re out of their teens and yet the kids will believe they know all they need to know. And yet there’s no way to turn the internet off, and the constant access of a phone is largely understandable in the modern context where so much of what kids are given to do by schools and clubs etc. will be made easier through the use of both social networking and by phone apps. Who knows how long these things last, but for now it’s a tricky issue and there’s no clear solution. Fortunately the best answer is always the best answer: give the child what they need to calculate well reasoned answers to questions so they can take in their facts and context and then prudently and logically develop appropriate responses. You also want them to have a foundation of self esteem and the knowledge that they are loved and have value no matter what their circumstances might be at any point in life. And last but definitely not least, you want them to believe in the unbelievable. In magic. In things outside the bounds of current thought. Because that is where the discoveries are made. Where we push on our assumptions. But as good as it is, absolutely none of that fine parenting will have much of an impact on the weirdness that is kids hanging out in a place called cyberspace:

The Washington Post: Parenting as a Gen Xer

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Next we’ll go to an interview with disgraced journalist Johann Hari. For a man who had spread so many mistruths in his efforts to elevate his status and ego, his fall has created a humbler, wiser man who has surrendered any concerns about what we think of him. He agrees that you shouldn’t think much of what he did. But he makes an observation about addiction that I’ve mentioned in my blog many times. It involves the idea of not stopping an addiction, but rather starting to have such meaningful contact with people and the world that there would be no interest in an addiction. I place this here in the hopes that if I made the concept too abstract, perhaps you’ll grasp it when you hear how Mr. Hari states it. However the wisdom comes to you, I hope you too come to know the value of genuinely and enthusiastically investing in the enjoyment of your own life:

The Guardian interviews Johann Hari

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Next I’m gonna surprise you. I often refer to advertising as the most damaging and insidious force in our world today. But to be a fair-minded person you must be prepared to disagree with your friends and agree with so-called enemies. And so it must be the truth we seek more than to be right or to win. And so I must admit I recently saw an ad that I thought struck an impressive tone, where it honoured a living truth of the world and it approached the viewers with positivity instead of negativity. That it would come from a diet company is something we should all take heart in. Because we all know most advertising is fairly ridiculous lying. But if the world is shifting to greater positivity and it’s leading companies in this direction then advertising will significantly lessen its negative impact in the world. Enjoy:

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHi2RPXdvzw&w=700&h=400]

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And finally we’ll finish off with another beautiful way to convey an extremely important point to every man on Earth. The video’s so well done I will simply let it speak for itself, but the agency that came up with this should be proud. I won’t be surprised to see it in Cannes this year. It’s as beautiful as it is clever. Enjoy:

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2OcKQ_mbiQ&w=700&h=400]

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Have yourselves a spectacular weekend everyone!

peace. s

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The Friday Dose is a collection of cool, interesting and surprising things that are chosen for their potential to distract you away from any painful thought loops that may currently be disrupting your sense of perspective. Focus on these and change your mind. Enjoy.