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I just want to preface it with this I am very much still learning about all of this. I’m going to try very hard to pick my words carefully because social justice is a very touchy subject, so please give me some grace. I want to be clear that I am aware that I am very much simplifying a complicated issue to make my point.
By now I’m sure you’re aware that there are a lot of social justice issues popping up around the world. As millennials, we are gradually becoming responsible for governance in all areas of that process. As we work to restore respect and equality we need to pay close attention to not only the intellectual knowledge and values that we are consciously imparting but also to teaching our children the skills to actually put that knowledge into practice.
Social justice issues can be boiled down to being rooted in one core process deficit – self-regulation. The human brain has a built-in safety mechanism – the amygdala – which triggers a warning if and when we encounter anything unfamiliar. It scans our environment for threats and registers unfamiliarity as potentially dangerous, which puts us on high alert. While I am aware that I am very much simplifying a complicated issue to its very basic nuts and bolts- that’s the root cause of racism, homophobia, ableism, misogyny and any other form of discrimination. When we encounter people that society has deemed “different” or stray from the “norm”, our safety mechanism is triggered.
The Millenial Mindset
The way our parents’ generation chose to combat social justice issues was to try and erase difference. They impressed upon us that we’re all the same and the idea here was to instill the thought that everybody is essentially the same underneath and so there was nothing to fear. As a result of this programming, many Millennials developed the habit of ignoring their self-defense alarm when it was actually needed. In addition, we were not given the skills to actively self-regulate this system because we were taught that there is no threat. Alternatively, when our alarm does go off, we tend to jump straight into self-preservation mode- fight-or-flight. I’ve spoken about this in my recent post on Giving Your Child More Freedom.
This was a well-intentioned but misguided theory because erasure doesn’t take into account that ignoring the difference does not actually make the difference go away and therefore can still set off our defense system.
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Children learn to regulate by being regulated, and the result of this is children that can see differences and explore them without getting offended, without being scared, and without going into fight-or-flight. Self-regulated children don’t grow up into bigoted racist ableist adults because people with different sexual orientations, races, or abilities aren’t threats. Self-regulated boys grow up to be self-regulated men who are not misogynists because they don’t feel the need to tear women down in order to remain feeling safe. Self-regulated girls grow up into self-regulated women who are not scared of speaking up and being hurt and taking risks.
They’re able to do this because they have learned to judge actual danger based on actual behavior cues, process that information and utilize the mental skills needed to stay calm.
That’s why understanding self-regulation and how it develops is so important.
Learning As We Go
When it actually comes to teaching our children how to deal with those differences, our alarms are still going off because we don’t actually know how to do it. We are still learning to pause, identify what set the alarm off, and then actually critically evaluate if that thing is a threat or if it’s just new, and just don’t know enough about it.
If you agree with me and you aren’t really sure how to go about actually teaching those social skills, this is something that we cover in ParentAbility, join us. Make sure you grab the scripts for managing crazy-making behaviour as well for more tips on how to keep your cool in challenging behaviour situations.