At least you saved one starfish

How often to do you turn on the news and think “How did we get here?” The drug issues, school shootings, daily crime in every city… What can be done about it, if anything? If you could help one kid see the world a little differently would you want to? This is part of a poem that I have read many times and then one day, it made me think of all of the kids who need our help to navigate through this world.

Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. 

One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a  human figure moving like a dancer. 

As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t  dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” 

The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.”  

“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.” 

“But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean, past the breaking waves and said – “It made a difference for that one.”

Can you remember a time when your life wasn’t just a series of distractions that begins the minute you wake up look at your phone/check texts/check emails/check Facebook/check Twitter/check Instagram/check Snapchat/listen to a podcast/watch endless Netflix/Youtube videos/play video games/all while the news is on in the background repeating over and over all murders and natural disasters that have happened in the past 24 hours?

Can you remember a time when you went out for ice cream with your friends and talked to each other or at the very least, people watched together? You were present. You were living in that moment with the people that were there with you. You sat on a porch and “hung out”, or you drove around and listened to music with no particular destination. You connected with those around you. You greeted people when they came into a room. You said Hi, how are you, how was your day? And you were actually listening to the answer…

We are neglecting to show the children in our lives that life can be different. The world of death and destruction that they are living in can be made much smaller by us. Whether you are mom/dad/big brother/big sister/grandma/grandpa/aunt/uncle/cousin/family friend/teacher/coach, put YOUR phone down. Look at these kids. If they want to talk, listen. If they want to sit together and not talk, do that. Be present. Be ready.

If you are at least 35 years old, you know how to navigate through this world with limited technology.

Teenagers aren’t going to give up their phones, but you can take a break from yours. These kids are not equipped to handle what is happening around them. They have the desire to make changes in their schools and in politics but they don’t have the emotional or mental maturity to see things through and/or to handle an effort that doesn’t work out.

Experts say that your brain in not fully developed until you are 25 years old. These kids are not fine and they shouldn’t be. They need us to make their world smaller and safer if only for a few minutes. Turn off the news. Watch a funny movie. Don’t talk about your problems.Take them to a get a coffee and leave your phone in your purse or pocket. Offer to play a card game. Give them a hug. They still need adults to make them feel safe. We had the opportunity to have some safe years growing up, you can give that to them in small bits at home BUT you have to be willing to be aware and be present. Don’t share that time on social media, they will share it if they want anyone to see it. These kids are full of anxiety and fear, they need to be able to have a private moment with someone they trust. What is it that we value from therapy the most? One person is listening to you, giving you 100% attention and no distractions. Save the money, you can do this for them and if you have any good friends they can do it for you.

What if we stop telling these kids “it didn’t used to be like this” and SHOW them. We can do this and it can only help the dynamics you have with the teenagers in your life. Even if they don’t notice and walk through the room 10 times and don’t acknowledge your efforts, you are grown; you can handle it. That 11th time, they might sit down and want to talk. If they have spent the day on social media comparing themselves to everyone else in their circle and comparing the amount of likes or shares, finding out they weren’t invited to something, feeling good about a selfie until someone makes a comment about their looks… that one arm hug and offer to watch a show together might be what brings them back to the present moment where they are safe and loved.

Show them what love and effort looks like. I hope none of us ever have to live through another school shooting but if we do, wouldn’t you want to spend the time we have with these kids like this instead of on social media saying “what can we do?”

Angie Quigley
Indianpolis, Indiana