There are lots of good thoughts circulating lately about loneliness in our society–particularly among our children, and particularly in our boys. Many of us are noticing that lonely boys with arrested emotional development are often the perpetrators of violent acts that splatter across our news feeds every week. So, what’s the next step?
Find some ways to effectively, practically combat that loneliness.
Here’s my first suggestion: support the arts.
Arts are ALL ABOUT emotional development and expression. Teach a kid art, and you give him a tool to communicate deep truth about himself that doesn’t require words. For kids who have not been provided with the verbal toolkit to “feel and deal,” as the Yerkoviches would say, and are too old to respect the suggestion that developing a toolkit would be a good idea–art is a safe outlet. It could be the escape hatch they desperately need to channel their emotions into something constructive and away from harm.
Secondly, collaborative arts, like choral singing, could actually provide a long-term fix to the loneliness epidemic. Read this excerpt from an article detailing the benefits of singing in a choir:
“People who sing in a group report far higher well-being than those who sing solo,” [Pink] notes. It’s about synchronizing with others.
What can explain this? According to Pink, it’s due to the sense of belonging that synchronizing with others brings.
He cites the work of Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary, social psychologists who came up with the “belongingness hypothesis” in 1995, and claimed that the “need to belong is a fundamental human motivation… and that much of what human beings do is done in the service of belongingness.”
That last paragraph should give us a real lightbulb moment. If a kid doesn’t feel like he belongs, how can we expect him not to lash out? When that disassociation is severe enough, the results are going to be drastic, as we are shown time and time again. Another excerpt:
Emily Esfahani Smith, a psychology instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, furthered this point in a TED Talk last year, as CNBC Make It reported. “Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself and from developing the best within you,” she said.
She recommends forming “relationships where you’re valued for who you are intrinsically and where you value others as well.”
If a child is unable to form such relationships naturally, putting him in a context of non-verbal collaboration that focuses on creating something beautiful could provide an intense sense of worth, value, and belonging like little else. To physically experience his effort contributing to something he and others admire–which is MUCH easier when you’re in a collaborative environment–could be the incipient difference in self-perception and sense of community that an otherwise killer desperately needs.
To actually get the people who need it involved in the arts requires real effort, and at least a little money–but maybe not as much as you might think. Here are some of my ideas on what we could try:
- Provide transportation to arts programs
- Supply scholarships for private lessons
- Teach art/dance/music/etc. at community centers
- Sign ourselves or our kids up for lessons to support local arts teachers
- Befriend underprivileged adults and invite them to free or low-cost arts programs with us (reach the parents, reach the kids!)
- Host an art/music/dance day at our church, activity club, or out of our own homes
- Get the word out about free artistic programs and productions
What are yours?
And what are your experiences with the arts providing a sense of belonging and self-worth? Leave a comment and discuss!