Coping with Vystopia as a Parent
Vystopia is a term that describes the pain and anguish experienced by a vegan, as a result of witnessing the non-vegan world’s collusion and enabling of animal cruelty and exploitation.
As adults, we are affected by the frustration and misery of living as vegans in a non-vegan world. Adults though, for the most part, have developed support networks and social skills which may only require fine-tuning in order to survive daily. Children are still developing a sense of self, and along with more limited social networks and communication skills, may require a higher level of support when dealing with vystopia.
As parents, it can be stressful helping our children maintain veganism as well as deal with the emotional repercussions of living in a non-vegan world.
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The challenges faced will vary depending on the children’s ages, and where they are along the continuum of vegan experience. There may be issues with family, childcare facilities or schools with regard to adhering to a vegan diet, in addition to the emotional aspects of vystopia.
Issues such as respect and understanding come to the forefront of this experience, particularly with older vegan children.
When families and educational or care facilities aren’t vegan friendly, parents and their children face difficulties with inclusion. Questions arise as to whether or not non-vegan family and caretakers will be willing to provide plant-based options at visits, parties, or outings.
For the parents (or expectant parents) of a vegan child, dealing with family and caretakers predominantly involves clear communication and (polite) assertiveness. Having good social support along with well-refined communication skills may be enough to ensure your children’s veganism is respected.
With older children such as teenagers, matters are further complicated by issues such as socialization and self identity The parents of a vegan teenager may require additional resources for help and advice to ensure their children are supported through any level of vystopia.
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The Continuum of Experience
For an adult with vystopia, life can be infuriating as those around us appear indifferent to the truth. As a teenager, these feelings can be even more intense; at this crucial stage of growth they are forming a sense of self-identity, while simultaneously juggling strong feelings and social awkwardness.
The experience of a parent with a vegan child will be strongly dependent on how your child feels about being vegan, and how deeply they are affected by vystopia.
At one end of the spectrum, the young person has recently discovered what animal cruelty is, or has otherwise made a connection between the animals they love and what they eat. At this stage as a parent you may be concerned about adequate nutrition and may even be confronted by the school or care facility about feeding your child. Parents may also be worried that your child will face marginalization at school or exclusion from group activities involving food.
At the other end of the spectrum is a child who is so distressed about their discovery of animal abuse and general cruelty around the world, that they become suicidal. As they have internalized their pain, they see no hope for the future, and they show hatred for anyone or anything that is related to animal abuse. In turn, they also display anger at any connections with humanitarian or environmental abuse.
A parent with a child showing such emotional upheaval will require deeper levels of communication and support to help the child through severe vystopia.
Teenagers Who Love Animals
If you are a parent whose child has become vegan for the love of animals, congratulations. Your child is showing they are a compassionate and loving human being.
However, it can be challenging when a parent or other siblings are not vegan. Vegan teens who are upset that others don’t see animal suffering can become frustrated at others’ indifference, and can display anger and develop depression as a result.
Children under 12 seem to talk more openly about veganism and are more likely to involve themselves in activism. Teenagers, however, may experience the pain of alienation, and view their friends’ interests in shopping, fashion, and flirting as superficial or trivial. This can become a point of friction in social circles, where issues such as the need to belong and the need for self-expression may collide.
The Cynical Teen
Still, at the lower end of distress, teens who display cynicism and anger at non-vegans need plenty of emotional support. Although they are passionate about changing the world, they can be quickly discouraged by the seemingly glacial pace of progress.
These teenagers require support in identifying, labeling, and communicating their emotions, as well as reassurance that non-vegan individuals aren’t necessarily bad people. Helping teens through this stage of vystopia means explaining that people learn and become aware in different ways.
It’s worth discussing the bigger picture, such as how society is duped into certain beliefs regarding animal welfare and health. Encourage teenagers to recognize they can be part of the solution in creating positive change.
Young people at this stage of experience may benefit from homeschooling, in order to prevent social isolation as the only vegan in class. They will also require lots of help when it comes to negotiating complex social situations, as well as external support such as communication training and by
At this end of the vystopian experience, a young person is so distressed and anguished that they may be suicidal. They see no point in living, as the world appears to be going to hell.
This person just wants the pain to stop, and yet feels guilty that they would not be able to stay and help the animals. It is a serious situation, and requires deep compassion and understanding from parents.
As explained in my book “Vystopia”, parents of these children can help by assisting them in exploring and understanding their own pain. By navigating the pain, these young people will be better equipped to make positive changes for both themselves and the animals.
It can be so hard to adopt self-care strategies and learn better communication, but remind the young person that these steps can create better collaboration and a push towards a vegan world.
With a teenager in the middle range of the experience, professional support is recommended along with plenty of empathy and by in making the necessary changes.
How to Help Your Child Navigate Through Vystopia
Encourage and facilitate self-care
One of the most effective things a vegan can do is lead by example. People are naturally drawn to healthy, positive role models, and by maintaining great nutrition and a positive outlook, vegans become a strong affirmation for the movement.
The act of self-care means a vegan has more energy and resources with which to be a voice for the animals. It’s hard to give from an empty cup, and nourishing both the mind and body is crucial for general well-being.
Some options for self-care may include a whole-food, plant-based diet, along with social sports and exercise, meditation, and networking with other vegans for support. For those struggling with severe vystopia, it’s wise to extend the support network to vegan-friendly counselors, psychologists, and nutritionists for professional advice.
Don’t be afraid to educate your child about veganism
Age doesn’t preclude the accumulation of knowledge (however, age-appropriate material is important), and the more facts a vegan has on hand, the more prepared a person can be. With a good understanding of veganism, along with accurate information, a vegan can more easily discuss questions typically asked by non-vegans.
Teach your child exquisite communication skills
Veganism is an emotive topic and it’s easy to get angry and frustrated when dealing with common issues of ignorance, teasing, or nitpicking from non-vegans. This can include other parents and school teachers as well.
Often, questions and challenges raised by non-vegans is a result of their feeling confronted and judged about their own lifestyle choices. By learning to remain open-minded and calm, vegans may open the door to a respectful conversation, instead of always feeling defensive.
Encourage your child to listen carefully to what others are asking, and to ask questions for clarification instead of making assumptions. In reducing misunderstandings this way, it’s easier for a vegan to get to the crux of a matter, rather than dealing with quarrelsome individuals.
Foster a strong sense of community
Whether a vegan activist group, a bunch of potluck dinners, or a plant-powered soccer team, engaging with the vegan community is a powerful way for both children and parents to connect with like-minded people.
The support gained from by being around those who “get it” can make a huge difference in self-confidence and self-esteem. It can also supply you and your child with more tools and information with which to approach the non-vegan world, as well as potentially benefiting the animals too.
Just as parents are navigating the convoluted path of veganism in a non-vegan world, so too are our children. It’s hard enough dealing with vystopia as an adult, let alone helping children to deal with people and experiences which can be so triggering.
Each of the tools and skills listed here are equally applicable to adults, and may in fact put vegan parents in a credible position. In leading by example as parents, children may be better supported and empowered in their own lives.
These tools are discussed in more detail in “Vystopia”, and may be of assistance for parents in coping themselves, as well as supporting their children.
The continuum of experience for a child with vystopia may progress , when there is little to no support in place. With such a build-up of emotion and a lesser developed coping ability, children and teens require ample emotional and practical support growing up, let alone growing up as a vegan in a non-vegan world.
Being a vegan child or teenager presents its own unique set of social and ethical challenges, and requires assistance from parents, professionals, and community in order to prevent or cope with the deep distress of vystopia. By caring for your own well-being as a parent, as well as providing appropriate support for your children, you can demonstrate a healthy vegan lifestyle along with creating a generation of empowered and confident children.
Clare Mann is a vegan psychologist,
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