The most important thing a parent can do to help their child become more resilient to the internet-powered adult issues of bullying, addiction and exploitation is accept that under the right circumstances and the wrong thinking, we are all capable of anything. Being vulnerable to doing stupid things is a part of the human condition; common sense is not always dominating our thinking. In this regard, ten years of journalism and fieldwork around the impact of cyber technology on kids and the new demands on parents reveal how completely the network culture and the drug culture reinforce some of the mental and emotional conditions that promote “stupidity,” as explained by Dr. Frank Stass, the Clinical Director at Heritage Oaks Hospital who specializes in addiction medicine, in his new book, Why Smart People to Stupid Things: A Field Guide to Understanding How the Amygdala Triggers Counterproductive Responses and Knowing How to Avoid Being Blindsided by Your Own Stupidity.
Whether you are concerned about bullying, drug use and addiction, or exploitation, every law enforcement officer will tell parents that open communication is the most important thing a parent can do to keep kids safe. And that is easier said than done – especially when we are fearful and lack tools to talk openly without judging and criticizing about what the children are witnessing and experiencing. Most certainly our children’s internet-powered childhoods are informing them radically differently than our own.
Now more than ever kids need parents to be the trustworthy resource where it is safe to share what is happening and the feelings associated with experiences in the network and in the flesh. Stass’ book offers some insights for parenting kids who are confronted with a powerful drug and peer culture in their cyber-connected communities that encourages us to avoid pain and medicate – which can lead to addiction.
Below are some of the key concepts explained in his book that may help parents engage in conversations with digital natives.
- Stupid versus ignorant. Stupid is not the same thing as ignorant. Stupid is when you ignore what you already know from experience or from common sense that a certain action will lead to negative consequences. While ignorance is the mental state of not having information or correct understanding.
- Respect and tame your own emotion. According to Stass, stupidity is the product of strong energy, usually negative emotion, that causes us to veer off course for the goals we have in life. So it is important to recognize and examine the negative emotions that drive “stupid” decisions in context of life events. So for the modern parent, it will be important to encourage your child to talk about things that are happening and describe their own personal feelings and whether those feelings are in alignment with their truth. (Examiner note: This is where faith, what you believe about power, comes in. Your worldview is an important part of taming negative emotion. See related: Balancing emotion and reason: Taming the mama and papa bear.)
- Strategies for managing stupidity. Stass offers three ways to manage the stupidity factor: 1) Anticipate when an emotional state could influence you the wrong way (he refers to Emotional Highjacking of the mind) prior to a “trigger” event (such as a peer situation, family setting or work circumstance), and then you can be mindful about the undue influence of the emotion; 2) Interrupt the process of undue emotional influence prior to reacting to a circumstance or an event (such as an argument or disappointment); and 3) Evaluate your emotional reaction to an event or situation right after it happens – again, to be mindful and assert your capacity to reason and align feelings with your truth. Stass also provides a link to an emotions chart as an aide: Byron Katie Emotions List
Read more: Why smart people do stupid things (2014)