Why are we so tired?

The other day at work I was tasked with supervising a group of children whose parents were late for pick-up.

This was a welcome relief to the menial job I had been attending to, and I ran out with the kids into the eighty degree Southern California heat for a round of freeze tag. A mere five minutes later, I was out of breath and sweating. One kid even told me, “wow, you really need to work out.” Tired, cranky, and thirsty, I told the kids to come with me back inside and start their homework.

Once inside, they kept bugging me to play. One of them wouldn’t stop jumping, despite rivulets of water streaming down his face. Another kept stomping her feet, and yet another kept spinning around in circles to watch her dress make patterns. In any normal circumstance, I would have thought them adorable. At that time, I greatly preferred inputing grades to dealing with their energy. I told them to stop it and sit down and be quiet for the next ten minutes until their parents came.

In that moment, it hit me: is exhaustion socialized?

The oft repeated mantra of any human aged tween and onwards is “I’m busy” or “I’m tired.” How did we all transform from creatures of boundless energy to lumpy masses of inertia? At what point did we all become too lazy to play?

We weren’t meant to work a 9-to-5 sit-on-your-ass-for-hours-on-end lifestyle. The vast majority of us start out like the aforementioned kids — restless and uncontainable. But through the years we are told, over and over again, to sit down and shut up. This is mostly done for the benefit of the overly-exhausted supervising adult, whose socialization is already complete and is far too drained to deal with jumping children.

Our exhaustion then, is a result of an almost Pavlovian conditioning. Every time a child gets up to run around, an adult reprimands them and requests their submission. For the child who continually refuses to obey, punishment ensues. Eventually, the child reaches a point where they realize prolonged expression of energy is useless. They’ve heard a solid decade of complaints of “how do you have so much energy?!” Ten to twelve years of systematic, automatic silencing results in the wearied tween.

Perhaps the question we should be asking isn’t: “how do kids have so much energy?!” Perhaps it should be: “at what point did we get so goddamn tired?”

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