“It’s like we’re back in high school again.” That’s a quip I hear often when people have a response to “drama” between grown adults — for the sake of this conversation — usually grown women.
Naturally, the idea being that after we graduate high school (or from school environments), and reach that legal “adult” age, we magically transform into adults, no longer susceptible to the drama associated with being a kid.
After all, we’re grownups. And that means we know better — or at least should know “better.” But if the internet has taught us anything in its magnificently transparent ability to magnify the lives of everyone (with their willing participation in most cases), we never really leave the playground, do we?
Now, of course, there’s certainly an argument to be had about the correlation of behavior and the development of the brain. According to a Business Insider article evaluating data from neuroscientists on brain development, maturity and peak, it’s at age 25 that a brain is fully “mature.” Interestingly, the same research concludes that when it comes to reading others’ emotions, the brain doesn’t peak until age 48.
Humans are erratic beings. We’re animals — just “civilized” ones. And while society dictates that with age comes wisdom and maturity, if we aren’t providing younger generations with the social and emotional tools to learn and master conflict resolution, and relationship building or the concepts of empathy, compassion, tolerance, acceptance, love and privilege, how do we expect them to tackle adulthood successfully?
First, we need to toss the ancient notion that adulthood is vastly different than high school. It’s not. Sure, you’ve eliminated the education element, off-campus lunches, lavish prom invitations and living with your parents (well, maybe not that last one), but the main component — the exposure to people — is still the same. And let’s face it, whether we’re at Target, at the park, camping or working … we interact with people. That in and of itself lends a factor of unpredictably to your day. Regardless of what control you have over your actions and words, it doesn’t often extend to control over others, especially when emotions are involved.
As emotional beings, it’s often through extreme situations that we learn about our emotions and how to control them — or at least handle them in a responsible fashion. It’s the struggles, the hardships, the uncomfortable moments that teach us about ourselves and how we react. And that’s a continuous, ongoing process. Each time we’re faced with a new situation, we’re challenged either positively or negatively. That’s life. And it happens each and every day.
I think about this a lot, especially in terms of how we behave online. Some may believe the internet has emboldened people to be worse to one another (the term keyboard warrior comes to mind), and certainly there are valid points to be had lending credibility to this claim. For example, anonymous accounts empower those who otherwise wouldn’t say such cruel comments a feeling of safety and security in doing so. Add to that the impulsivity of human nature and an unpredictable emotional response and pair those with the illusion that fighting with a “stranger” doesn’t really count, and you’ve got a recipe for some very ugly online interactions.
People are “politer” in person. There are always exceptions of course (cue any viral video of racist rants or strangers insulting people on public transportation, etc.), but generally, in person, people will politely smile through your conversation regardless of opinion. Their real reactions saved for their closest friends and confidants.
But opinions about what it used to be like, while damning social media and the internet to hell, aren’t really going to get us to a productive dialogue or solution, are they? Because whether we like it or not, social media is here. It’s not going anywhere. And no amount of cursing it solves the very real issue facing not just adults, but our youth, both on and offline: bullying.
The days of “toughen up,” “deal with it,” and “it builds character,” really haven’t put us, as human beings (and yes, we’re fragile beings), on the path to success when it comes to developing not only coping methods for the combatting bullying, but proactive attitudes toward addressing it head on.
If, as adults, we find ourselves constantly saying, “It’s like we never left high school,” we need to evaluate why, because these aren’t infrequent occurrences. Articles talking about mom shaming, specifically shaming in mom groups for example, are a dime a dozen. And while we’re all adults here, I bet we’ve all participated in some behavior we aren’t proud of online. Whether it’s because we were having a bad day, felt emboldened by our group of friends, or just flat out thought something we read was dumb, reason aside, as adults, we entered the perpetual playground.
And, the more I witness how we behave online (and offline), it has further convinced me that our support of programs and resources that promote tolerance and acceptance, and that focus on the social and emotional support of each and every child, are absolutely critical. Whether it’s a combination of inclusivity and diversity-related training on school campuses, a well-rounded curriculum that introduces our youth to stories and experiences of people from all different backgrounds, or access to more counseling support and workshops that help develop skills such as the ability to disagree, conflict resolution, emotion control techniques, and so on … it has to be a priority. Start the process of introducing students to topics that help them develop emotional understanding and techniques to process their emotions earlier. It is the key.
Our generation? We’re in the throws of it. We’re learning by mistake, a lot of mistakes. And that’s not a failure because it’s how you grow. But we can certainly prepare our younger generations with a better foundation — one that works to proactively address mental health needs and one that puts its foot down to bullying of any kind.
We can be doing better and we should be. And while we will continue learning far into our adulthood, and making the mistakes humans are bound to make, perhaps while we’re working on ourselves, we can also help equip the next generation with more self awareness and accountability, and the important ability of being able to recognize one’s own role in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
In the meantime, perhaps we stop pretending that the playground disappears and get back to the basics we tell our children every day: stand up for what is right, be kind when possible and treat others as you wish to be treated.