I am driving down the road when I notice a new billboard. Taking up a whole half of the advertisement is an image of a happy kid hanging on a tree limb. Covering the other half are the big, bold words: Urgent Care Now Open.
How have we gotten to the place where we now advertise, using fear-based tactics, the health support and healing we all need? How have we allowed marketers to use powerful and emotional imagery to sell us something that should have nothing whatsoever to do with how slick the ad campaign is to get us in the door? How have we allowed the use of terrifying young parents about the potential, and often unlikely, harms that can happen to their child, twisting that fear into a vehicle to sell them health care? And how have we taken the sacred trust between healer and patient and turned it into the sacrilege of a commodity sold based on generating fear?
It cannot be overstated how both egregious and sadly representative of our world that this one message depicts. I believe the injustice of it all is hitting me particularly hard because I have just finished reading over 40 self-reflection papers from my college students where the most dominant theme or sub-theme is their level of fear, anxiety, stress and insecurity. And while I recognize that there are lots and lots of factors into why this is so for the generations now, one salient contributing factor, that cannot be denied, is all of the cultural messages they have received over their lives around how dangerous life is.
This is represented so “exquisitely” in the use of an image of an innocent, unsuspecting kid having fun, while right next to it alluding to the tragedy that is just around the corner. This is powerfully depicted with how the billboard is set up; giving the message that even in the most seemingly care-free moments of childhood, something bad could happen. At any moment. Oh, but don’t worry, because now there is a new urgent care location just around the corner.
We are unnecessarily terrifying parents who go on to pass that terror onto their children; training them to be stuck regularly in a kind of warped fight-flight response. Our current ways of disproportionately focusing on what is unsafe, our worse case scenarios focus, our hyper-attention to the extremes and the unlikely outcomes, along with the self-generated fears that result, are taking their toll.
The tragic results? Our children are terrified of strangers. They believe something bad is about to happen at any moment which is why they must always have a cell phone on them. They do not sleep well. They do not let down. Unless of course, it is with the help of drugs; prescribed and otherwise. They cannot focus. And who could under these circumstances? Their poor little nervous systems have been conditioned to believe that the head must be on a swivel at all times to locate and identify all the ever-present sources of threat.
Instead of living, they ruminate. They isolate. They get sleep disorders, panic attacks and G.I. problems. They are so hopped up all the time on fear and anxiety that they need far too much alcohol, faceless sex, and far too many Netflix episodes to try and talk themselves off the ledge they live on. They have taken what they have gotten from us and gone on to up the ante by seeing danger everywhere. The level of self-generated fears they have created in their own lives is both maddening and suffocating.
Are there dangerous realities to the world? Certainly. As parents do we want to protect our children at all costs? Definitely. But what has been conjured up, whipped up, and force fed to both us and our children is not keeping us safe, it is making us sick and unhappy. What if for their sake we all worked together to get a handle around what is true and untrue when it comes to the fears we hold? Want a place to start? Do a news fast for a week. Stop entertaining yourself on violence or subjecting your kids to content and conversations that are beyond their level of maturity to handle. Quit violent gaming. Stop watching the same horrific news story over and over again. Isn’t once enough?