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This is a sad topic for me to write about. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to profile how children respond, and what I´ve been experiencing with my own children. One of them much taller than me, but still my child though.
Childhood is not easy. Maybe a good portion of us had it easier, but generally speaking, it’s not that easy, I’d dare to say.
Some of us noticed sometimes whenever there were troubles at home, but as kids, we tend to forget easily and move on.
These times are quite different. The world itself is different. We’ve learned that a couple of blocks away, maybe living a cannibal. Unnoticed, grey, disguised as a regular person.
Small towns or cities, it doesn´t matter. World news via the internet has made information about terrible, horrendous news, be instantly available in the last corner of the world. We’re overwhelmed with information that most of us don´t even need.
Suffering a loss being a small child is unnerving, to say the least. A pet, our home, a friend. It’s something that leaves us with a feeling of emptiness in part of us. It makes a child feel unsafe and (even more) vulnerable.
Everyone experiencing moving from their native town as a child knows what I’m talking about.
Kids can find themselves in dangerous situations when doing basic things during a collapse.
What can we expect when troopers assault an entire building looking to crush a demonstration and throw into prison everyone who participated? Kids exposed to that suffer permanent scars. My own kid was close to being trapped in a huge mob that stormed the supermarket where he was with his mom and suddenly the employees started to get out powdered milk, one of the most wanted staples in Venezuela.
They took down the poor guy, as the kid remembers, and almost crushed him against a shelf. His mom reacted quickly, and got him, running out of the way. After the troopers instated some order, he asked one of them, if he could find a bag of milk for his cereal. The trooper just patted his little head, and couldn’t say anything.
Maybe he was thinking of his own kids, and all that would come along under that tragic pseudo-communist regime.
Exposure to such situations generates in childhood trauma of diverse severity. I’ve talked briefly to some children, belonging to parents in the same situation we are. These kids show a deep resentment and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable to see how they are able to exhibit it in front of people they don’t know well.
For me, this only means all of that will erupt in the future, at the least expected moment. Entire generations have been permanently affected. Not just their quality of life, but their mental health.
These kids have been faced since a quite tender age what it takes to survive hardship.
Some parents have no choice but take them to the food lines. Merciless hours under the Caribbean sun and rain. There is no such problem now, with so many millions of people less to feed, though.
But experts have mentioned how this is going to affect us as a society in the future.
Kids are much more susceptible to anxiety, depression…and aggressiveness.
I´ve seen kids playing with toy cars. When I was a child and my own kids played, we did normal stuff. Cars go into the gas station, maybe chase a thief.
Kids in Venezuela put their cars in large rows in the station.
They pile up toy figures in front of some toy house, and when asked them if they´re having a party they say “nope, they’re trying to buy something to eat”.
In some of the most dangerous areas, where drug dealing gangs fight each other, some parents tell their kids that the noise comes from fireworks.
If you remember that Italian movie “La vita e bella”, you would smile as sadly as I´m doing writing this. We parents do amazing stuff to protect our kiddos.
I met in Venezuela a young psychologist. A very nice person, indeed. Going through informal conversations, he mentioned (circa 2014, think) then the situation, in case it got worst, would sweep with the life (literally) of thousands of people. He was right.
Sadly enough, less than a year after his prediction, the number of suicides grew exponentially. Mostly elder people, of course.
But the feeling of impotence, desperation and the lack of opportune support in order to overcome the dark spot in the mental state the continuous struggling generates, is not exclusive of adults. One of the few non-gov institutions remaining, like the CECODAP (//www.cecodap.org.ve/cecodap) have informed about an alarming increase in the suicide attempts rate in children.
The 2017 suicide number was three times the one in former years. There is not enough data to calculate what happened in 2018. This is a direct consequence of the emotional impact, according to these specialists.
There is something important to mention here because I’ve seen it happen right in front of me. High levels of stress (and trust me, in our tragedy, this has been extremely high) make parents generate indirectly an atmosphere absolutely negative for children to grow up in.
We adults can walk to a bar (those who prefer to escape that way) and drink until they can’t keep going. Other ones can just get into an online gaming spree (my favorite way, much cheaper and I spare the hungover). I enjoy having good health and feeling well, generally speaking, and never was a fan of heavy drinking. To each one their own.
Most children don’t have the chance to change their situation for even a minute.
They can´t even express themselves properly because they don’t have the tools we do. They can’t even explain with words.
They just suffer, in silence, until they decide to say to the adults responsible for them how they feel if they dare to that is.
It’s heartbreaking to learn from parents that their kids get into their bedroom at night, begging for food, and when the rations sent by “the government” (yeah, right) will be there so they can eat.
The very own family dynamics and social sharing have been affected. When you see an increase in the number of complaints between members of the same family who live with extended family in a dwelling, and almost all of them are for food stealing, you can’t avoid wonder what the effect of this will be on children.
I heard in the metro one of these sweet little kids say he would come back to Venezuela, buy a farm and have cows, to give free milk to all of the children.
Jeez, even my own kiddo told something like that several times. Not all the effects can be that bad, are they?
What is more concerning is, children usually don’t show signs of depression. Some of them show problems at school because they have to suffer an entire disruption of their environment.
Different food, different languages (yes, we Venezuelans almost have no accent, and even though Spanish is the same, vocabulary and accent is a big deal) and different customs for children are sometimes hard to accept.
Our children have been exposed to all kinds of disruptions of their former lives. Absence of one parent, grandparents, or both parents. A permanent state of stress, because he or she doesn’t know if there will be enough food or resources to keep performing a normal life.
The number of kids left behind is something to consider. Official numbers are around 850,000 just in 2018. 1 in every 4 children or teenager suffer anxiety, depression or mood disturbance to some degree.
In our culture, migration was never common and it still is not. Our country received migrants from everywhere but we don’t generate a lot of them!.
This phenomena, the largest massive migration in the American continent is not a minor event. The rupture of the social fabric originated an extremely high psycho-emotional pressure component.
In all of the elements, especially children. Their families broken, faced with an uncertain future in foreign countries with conditions they would have never expected. All of their dreams and illusions are now…in hold, so to speak. I don’t want to say vanished, at all.
No running water for days in some places.
All of these are scarcities that children have to learn to overcome.
One of the most important effects I´ve noticed are they have shown to get more united and close to each other than ever after. It´s not that they “band” together. Migrant children have developed a family relationship with other kids in the same situation, but the ties seem to be quite stronger.
It´s hard to explain though. In the barrios, if there´s no power, no TV neither. Children have to go outside and play with their neighbors. Traditional games are having again an important means of entertaining.
Flying kites, or playing marbles. Football, baseball. Girls join too, and all have a good time while adults watch. Or one of them finds an old “cuatro”, a string instrument, quite traditional, and starts singing traditional music.
Adults have left behind the pursuit of their own hopes and dreams to look for a daily survival struggle.
Under such conditions, arguments arise naturally. People get oversensitive. Uncertainty and fear, regular living conditions disturbed: no water, power, good food.
All of this generates in the adult’s huge discomfort. Children do not escape to this, and even worse: they are targeted by some unfair adults as a relief for their frustration. Humans are not perfect, and one of the forms to manifest their distress and anger is fighting.
However, kids must be properly oriented to channel this anguish, at least for a while.
Those who include board games, chess boards, puzzles, drawing materials, dominoes sets, and similar stuff in their bunkers, and introduce some play dynamics are right on the spot.
I´ve learned most of my friends with kids, when faced with blackouts just light a few eternal candles made with wasted vegetable oil, and start with a stories contest, or a song contest, drawing contest.
Or mom and dad talk about how they met, how life was there a long time ago. Some of them even read aloud a British encyclopedia from the 90s, before the digital age.
They insist on releasing weight from their shoulders, and tell them constantly that politics is adult stuff. They have to focus in learning: history, maths, language, English, biology. All of that will be useful for the rebuilding.
This allows the family ties to get stronger.
Parents get some relief, and kids distract and connect with his family in ways that maybe would not be possible in normal circumstances. Parents try to keep the routine life as much as possible.
Reality can’t be denied. But we have the ability to transmute all that negative stuff in positive things. We as parents must understand that, what kids need is assurance. This is what we must provide to our kids under these circumstances.Jose Martinez
I was surprised to learn my own kid had an existential issue…even at his young age. I’m not going to vent it here, but we managed it in the best form possible. Spiritual orientation is another thing we have to provide.
The good thing was, he, albeit not being an introvert kid, he trusted in us enough to (tears and all) to express what had him so upset. I had to resource to my own spiritual beliefs to calm him down, and he seemed to feel much better afterward. Smart kid. I´m sure he´s going to do a lot of things in his life.
Maybe there are differences regarding some minimal cultural issues.
Latin people are more open and expressive. We’re deeply rooted to our homeland, and leaving it is the worst feeling many of us have felt, ever. Our kids are mostly sentimental, and sensitive.
Strong? Sure, they are. But they are children, anyway. They will have enough to deal with once they grow up. In the meantime, it’s our responsibility to provide them with the necessary tools, and a proper environment to grow up and develop their best qualities.
Thank you very much for your reading, fellows!