TURNING OFF AUTOPILOT
Helping Our Kids Quiet Their Minds and Change Their Brains

Remember when there was time to stop and smell the roses?

At some point, that stopped. We became a society of jugglers; all suffering from culturally induced ADD. We brush our teeth while shampooing our hair. We make dinner while writing emails, Tweeting, Facebooking, and Googling. To-do lists are long, days are short, schedules are overbooked, and our patience goes overlooked. We give all our time to everything but our full attention to nothing, because we’re always concerned with what’s next. With so many balls in the air, we end up on autopilot.

Kids are different. They’re born knowing how to be in the moment. With a curiosity for the world and how things work, they’re concerned only with what’s in front of them—the Lego blocks, building forts, coloring books and monkey bars. But somewhere in between playing dress-up and having to grow up, that sense of innocence is lost and is taken over with the worries of modern adulthood.

Specifically, it’s when the influence of others—parents, teachers, caregivers, television characters—begin to play a more prominent role in children’s thinking and being that kids begin to take on the characteristics and concerns of an adult mindset. They, too, start to go through their days on autopilot. It’s a learned behavior, as children begin to mimic the behaviors they see in front of them. Additionally, children in today’s society, with recent mass shootings and gun violence, have a whole new set of concerns: safety. As a result, they are losing the ability to live in the moment. And here’s the thing: Losing that carefree childhood can be more severe than we realize, causing attention problems, loss of concentration, anxiety and other emotional difficulties.

So the question begs: How do we get our kids to go back to being, well, kids? The autopilot epidemic has caused scientists and researchers to ask the same question, to which they equivalently agree that the key is to slow down and focus on the present. It’s also known as mindfulness, which involves stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation. More specifically, it’s training individuals to pay attention in a particular way: purposefully engaged in what’s happening from moment to moment, without drifting into thoughts about past concerns, future worries or judgmental thoughts.

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