Despair seems to be the emotion of the day among the adults I know as we grapple with the gun massacre at the Tree of Life, as we witness thousands of desperate Central American refugees preparing to face a U.S. militia instead of warm beds, as we continue to function and not function as a divided nation, a division that is especially noted during this mid-term election week.
Now comes a study that points to despair among our children.
Twenty-five percent of 800 culturally diverse Arizona State University students reported stress symptoms related to the 2016 presidential election, some of those symptoms identical to the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.
The affected students described an inability to concentrate or to stop thinking about the bitter election, or they found they avoided talking about the election altogether, says the study's lead author, Melissa Hagan, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.
Among those most troubled were students of color, women, and ethnicities, all part of groups marginalized during the campaign. Specifically, students told Hagan they were alarmed the country could elect "a candidate who had an audio recording of him describing sexual assault." One student said she lived with the post-election fear that her parents would be deported.
"It would be wrong to turn to that person and tell them to toughen up," Hagan told The Washington Post.
And yet, that was the response from some in the media, including a Fox News commentator, retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata, who suggested the struggling students were "cowering snowflakes." The Daily Wire's Emily Zanotti, meanwhile, issued a missive: "It might be time ... to let go – and grow up."
I will say up front that I, for one, am not a proponent of not growing up.
But I am a proponent of the elders among us having enough empathy, common sense and responsibility to want to clearly see what our young people see. I am a proponent of tending and leading our children, rather than lambasting them like we've become accustomed to doing to each other. I am a proponent of a skill that we seem to have lost in this blistering disharmony – listening.
"I was in the fifth grade when President Obama was elected for the first time, and he demonstrated how marginalized communities have the potential to hold positions of power and create progressive change," Caitlin Lloyd, 21, a University of Tennessee student activist who happens to be my niece, told me recently when I asked about her post-election experience.
"Going from a president of his stature – which allowed me to feel proud of and love the president – to a president who actively does not respect or appreciate anyone who is not a white person made me not want to leave my bed the day after the election."
One young Cleveland woman, a friend of my eldest child's, told me she didn't feel so much traumatized, as she felt guilty that she didn't do more for the groups disenfranchised during the campaign. Another 20-something woman, a friend of my daughter's and a rape victim, told me she had a full-blown panic attack the day after the election.
"I panicked," said the woman, who asked not to be named, "because I knew we had elected someone who has a blatant disregard for others, especially women."
It requires finesse to know how to respond when we encounter such moments with our adult children, especially when we don't always know what to tell ourselves. And yet we do have the benefit of years. And if we've been paying attention to our own lives, we know that hope and despair are twin experiences, one begetting the other. Deep despair provokes a search for meaning. A search for meaning births hope. With hope comes imagination, and with imagination, come progressive ideas and change for the better, says mythologist and author Michael Meade.
"The tree of life, and therefore the unity of life ... is waiting to be found again despite, and because of, all the betrayals and all the tragedies of current life," says Meade.
This is what we can tell ourselves about the transformation of this lingering despair that seems to have paralyzed our country. This is also what we can tell our children. Educable moments in parenting don't stop just because our children's childhood has.
In the meanwhile, it's entirely possible our children know more than we think they do: Early voting tallies show young people out in droves, three and four and five times the number in previous mid-term elections.
"The number of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 who have cast ballots early has surpassed turnout levels from the last mid-term election in just about every state, according to several sources tracking early vote totals," reported the political web site, The Hill, last week.
While we seasoned elders continue a tight-lipped stand-off on different sides of the fence, our children, with the act of voting, found hope all on their own.
And now remind me again, who was that needs to grow up?
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)