In my facebook feed of all the various groups I am part of I see two themes and they almost always refer to boys. Some start at 8. Some in their teens.There is violence, aggression or they "disappear" into video games.
It is interesting because that is the age that boys are often told to "stop crying" and are often becoming aware of the "gender box" of masculinity. In blunt terms this is the time they are told culturally that "being a man" means not showing feelings (except anger or violence). The harder the push culturally, socially and within a family for them to "man up" the stronger the reaction tends to be.
This is not to say that girls do not have the "gender box". Their's is to be quieter, thinner and "nice" (shudder). This means their reactions are different.
Numbing is a way to distract ourselves at the shame/pain/discomfort we feel. The stronger the feeling, the more we numb. Culturally Britain numbs with alcohol, even from a very young age but it isn't just about substances.
If we stay busy enough the truth of our lives won't catch up with us. This was/is a great socially acceptable numbing. Look how hard we work! Look at all the hours we put in! If I keep at it until I am so exhausted I can't actually think I might sleep.
Gaming (especially OLMMO's) can part of this. Not content with being busy in this life (which is messy and lonely and painful and awkward) they are buried in quests, and where the rules make sense. Where they can interact as their best self (or even their coolest). In short where they don't have to feel. You can play games for pleasure, but if you/child as not meeting basic physical needs it is numbing behaviour.
In the same way as the kitchen will never be clean enough for the neat/cleaning number, so too, the dungeon/chase/quest will never quite be enough. As someone who used to get up at 6am on a Sunday to clean, this is about avoiding feelings.
From coffee, energy drinks, smoking, sleeping pills, food and alcohol, we are a culture comfortable with numbing.
It is how we "unwind". It's "social". It's in "moderation". If in order to tell "how bad your day was" you need a glass of wine, beer or tub of ice-cream, then you are numbing.
The trouble is numbing is not selective. When we limit our feelings we limit all of them. The stronger the cultural oppression of feelings are, the greater the numbing. The trouble with this is it makes us sick and miserable. Addictive behaviour starts at that moment when you feel uncomfortable/awful/icky and reach for something to make it go away. That's all addiction is. You can "not give in" but until you learn how to be uncomfortable you will have to fight with that feeling, forever.
We learn our numbing behaviour from the people around us. Our peers, parents, families and culture. If one numbing becomes unavailable we transfer to something else.
Learning to Feel
Talking about our feelings and being vulnerable is so excruciating for most Brits we would do almost anything not to. Even avoiding eye-contact on the bus/train.
Culturally we avoid talking about anything important until we are forced to, or drunk. The narrow band of "acceptable" emotions is growing. Therapy and counselling is not unheard of or shameful to most folk under 35.
It's a process. Trying badly is better than numbing amazingly. The thing is if we want our children to be okay with their feelings, we have to be better at ours. We can restrict their access to things they are using to numb but without an outlet for their feelings they will find something else to numb with.
Children tend to "do what we do, not what we say". This means if you want to address their behaviour that is bothering you, you have to address your own first.
Leaning into the discomfort
Being present and honest is uncomfortable. It is also necessary. It walks us back from the addiction line towards something else. It is imperfect. It's sometimes painful but it is also filled with joy and beauty. Some people have never felt joy.
Or it was so long ago under so much "stuff" they can not remember that feeling. Feelings are the colour palette of life. They add shade and meaning. Tone and context. It is human and important to feel.
As parents we are still learning and we can change through changing our own numbing behaviours, and being present to how we are really feeling. This affect our children. If we see their behaviour as one about making uncomfortable, difficult and painful feelings bearable it is not so easily dismissed. It gives us more tools and more compassion towards each other and hopefully ourselves.
Being mindful of the pleasure/numbing edge.
Looking at ourselves is not about policing ourselves into "good" parent behaviour. It catching yourselves thinking, saying or doing something and stopping. Understanding why you do it. It is not numbing. Not running away from our most horrible inner self and feelings. It is being braver and more courageous than we ever thought we could be.
It is in giving ourselves permission to be whole. In enjoying the moments and being truly present when they are there.
Home education is far too important to take seriously.