I woke up to the news this morning of the closure of the schools in Colorado and the threat of harm to the children. It has been 20 years since the Columbine shooting. At the time, the shooting was unthinkable, two school aged children coming in and murdering their school mates. Sadly, this wasn’t a one time tragedy. Not only has there been a number of school shooting since but continuous threats that haunt our children. I can tell you from working with kids, school life has taken on stress that we can’t even fathom. Not only are children bullied at school with harsh remarks, emotional abuse, and are saturated in a culture of children that self harm, self hate, and disconnect, our children are bullied 24 hours a day through social media. A child wakes up and finds that they have been the source of ridicule on social media and now must face school with laughter and finger pointing, at least until the next victim appears. And to make matters worse, children are now walking around school wondering if at any minute, one of the miserable and hurt children around them is going to decide to take their hurt and anger out in the form of a shooting. This culture and this reality is not okay.
We are a culture that struggles to talk about the difficult topics in our lives. My husband and I sat down with our 5 year this morning to discuss why preschool was canceled. We explained was that some people hurt on the inside of themselves and they are not sure what to do with that hurt, so they want others to hurt so they don’t feel alone. We told our daughter that if she finds children who hurt on the inside, to be kinder on the inside of herself, let her heart melt and speak lovingly to others as they might not even know how to speak lovingly to themselves. Our 5 year old asked a lot of questions, mostly around why children hurt and how come they don’t let an adult help them in their hurting. These are good questions… in a culture that is an expensive one to live and wages are often low, parents now have to work full time coming home tired and unable to find time and energy to speak honestly and openly with their children. Days, weeks, years go by and our children are not finding clarity in how to release tension from their lives, how to process the hurt and abuse they see, and change how they feel from the inside out. They go to school, go on social media, they learn that if they pretend to be happy that is the same as being happy. They live a life from the outside in, instead of the inside out, and because of this, they live in anxiety for not feeling like they can be, and express, themselves. Our children are the most depressed, anxious, self-harming teens we have EVER seen. They need our help.
And our schools are not enough. They are not learning these skills at school and school is not meant to teach them resilience, boundaries, self-awareness, and kindness. School is a place to learn THINGS not WAYS OF BEING. We learn how TO BE from others, how to do with a sense of confidence, clarity, calm, and connectivity. So may years ago, I wanted to be a therapist to help our communities out, to help parents learn to have tough discussions, and to help our people sort out how to be the best version for themselves. I realize now that this can’t be left to the therapists. Not everyone believes in having a therapist or are afraid of the connotation of what that might reflect for themselves or their family, and yet, we need to provide more for our kids. We need them to know that this culture of trauma, of hurt, of pretending, this is not okay and we can do better. We need to show our children how strong we can be, how to not engage in drama, and how to speak to people in a loving way that also reflects how to take responsibility. I know the children I work with learn these lessons from the horses, what the difference is between forcing a horse to do versus building relationship and trust and asking. Even our children can start to understand the difference between DOING something with the horse and the FEELING behind what we do. If it feels good to be with us, the horse will and they will do so safely and relaxed. These lessons are a privilege to learn in life, but to me they are a necessity if we are to see change and health in this next generation. Parents, take time to learn how to be in true relationship with your child and take the time to be with them. If you are not a parent, spend time with your niece or nephew, friend’s child, just spend time with our children. Engage, play, laugh, make space for conversation. This will change perspective and how our brain functions and is medicine for the mind. We can help one another and not ignore the tragedy right under our nose.
Kaia Livingstone is a psychotherapist who runs a private practice outside of Boulder, CO. She specializes in helping horses and humans bond in order to help them relate and connect on a deeper level.