In A World Without Virtues Anxiety Becomes the Norm

Does good mental health mean feeling good all of the time?

Recently, I read an Australian newspaper article that reported that more than half of the students in Australia were becoming chronically absent from school, which was defined as “missing more than approximately 20 days of school each year”. The causes reported included the isolation of the Covid period which imposed a long period of “isolation and minimal contact with the outside world, and overexposure to the hyper-stimulation of social media platforms like TikTok”. But these issues were already on the rise before Covid. The article indicated that over time this “morphed into social anxiety, transforming the outside world into a perceived threat”.

The article went on about how parents tend too often today to “over parent” out of a natural desire to protect their children from the pains and sufferings that come unbidden in the world. The article makes the argument that many young people have internalized the false notion, so prevalent in these times, “that good mental health means ‘feeling good all the time.'” It went on to say, rightfully, that “discomfort is not a problem to be solved, it is a necessary part of life we all must learn to willingly endure.”

The article, though written from a secular perspective, recognizes a real problem and its negative effects on our young people today, but it does not go far enough. It points out that, instead of being overly protective, parents would help empower their children more if they supported them and taught them how to confront the painful things in life, but it fails to recognize the real source of the problem, that is, the modern rejection of the “traditional virtues and values.” The traditional role of education, up until more recent times, has been to teach and to promote the development of virtuous habits as a civic value.

Due to its purely secular perspective, the article fails to recognize the role that faith in God plays in recognizing and in developing both the practical virtues, and the Christian virtues. They must do this by their words and, more importantly, by their deeds. Christian parents are challenged by God to encourage their children, through their words and, more importantly their deeds, to develop the liberating and empowering habits of the “practical virtues” of courage, self-discipline, and patient endurance. The habits of these virtues are hard, yes, even painful to develop, but they actually make us mentally and spiritually stronger, more free, more resilient, and more capable. These are the things that help a child respond to the difficulties they meet in their daily lives more effectively.

As Christians we know that all of the practical virtues listed above, and those that Paul listed in Galatians 5: 22-23, arise from the three transcendent, theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13: 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” He tells us that Love is patient and kind, that it is without envy, or boasting and is not proud, or self-seeking, or easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, and that it rejoices in truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” That is the perfect description of a virtue that has become a habit!

If we as parents teach these things to our children, we will be giving them the proper and most effective tools they need to liberate and empower themselves in difficult times. They, then, can be role models of those virtues to this world that so desperately needs to be reawakened to the truth of their power to bring about the happiness all human beings do naturally desire. With the habits of the practical virtues rooted in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, we can be true parents to our children giving them the inner resources they need to live lives of true human dignity.

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