I’m worried about our kids.
I’ve been worrying for a while. We’re beginning to see the first generations who grew up in a smart-phone dominated world reach adulthood, and I’m really, really concerned about the implications of that.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a BIG fan of social media – it really can be a power for good. BUT… I’m also a massive fan of perspective and it’s really easy to lose sight of that if we allow ourselves to get trapped in a bubble of Fakebook, Insta and Snapchat. Hell, we could even throw LinkedIn into the mix for some of us grown-ups.
I’m lucky. You might be lucky as well. I grew up in a world where smartphones hadn’t been invented.
I was probably only just into double figures when I saw my first mobile phone – it was about the size of a house brick and was grasped firmly in the gold-signet ring-encased fingers of my uncle, having just climbed out of his bright, red Porsche and flicked his mid-length, blonde highlighted mullet over his shoulder.
It was the 1980s and, clearly, mobile phones were totally out of my reach!
I didn’t get my first mobile until I was in my early 20s. It was pretty clunky and certainly wouldn’t fit into my pocket. It could be used for making calls. Crazy, huh?
I didn’t get Facebook until my 30s. Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest came much later.
Why does this make me lucky? Because I have perspective.
My childhood was filled with skateboards, whether Grifters were better than Choppers, tree house dens, videos from a top-loading VHS player and, in later years, phone calls – from the wired, circular dial two-piece telephone in our hallway – that went on for far too long with one person I’d also spent the entire day with at school.
When the playground politics played out, I could come home, sulk about them in my room, play some records and, if it got really bad, maybe sob to my mother.
I wasn’t checking social feeds, comparing myself to richly-filtered photos of my friends – or those in the ‘in crowd’, or having multiple conversation streams with other kids all caught in the same social drama trap.
If I was being bullied, I could escape to my room, lose myself in a book, talk to my parents, write it all out in a journal or strap on my roller skates, get outside and let the wind in my face blow it all out of my system. It might not actually get rid of my challenges, but it WOULD give me a break from them, some perspective and time to formulate a plan and a coping strategy.
In my teens and early adult life, everything was about grades, romances and my first job. I still didn’t have a smartphone, there was still no social media and I still had perspective. I could go for a walk, journal, get out on my cycle or go for a drive in the countryside to clear my head. There was still no social media bubble to be trapped in.
Research just out tells us that young people’s happiness levels have hit their lowest point in a decade, with half feeling regularly anxious.
The study – conducted by The Prince’s Trust – looked at more than 2,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 and found that emotional health had dropped to the lowest levels since the study was first commissioned in 2009.
Worries about the future, money, body image and generally “not being good enough” are piling up on the generation.
When asked to describe how they feel, three in five (61%) said they regularly feel stressed, more than half (53%) regularly feel anxious and more than a quarter (27%) said they feel “hopeless” on a regular basis. Furthermore, just under half (47%) of young people said they have experienced a mental health problem – a 10% increase since last year.
I read about the study in the Huff Post and, though social media wasn’t cited in the report, I think we really need to give the way we use social channels serious consideration.
Social is NOT going away and I think we’re wasting time and just shouting into a vacuum when we start complaining that it’s ‘bad’ for our young people.
Social media isn’t bad. The world is moving into an increasingly tech-driven place and communities and interest groups are to be found online more than in the street. Social and tech are likely to be responsible for a huge number of jobs in the future, so adopting an old fart attitude and trying to keep our kids away from screens is not going to help. In fact, that approach might even end up keeping them back.
Think about it… some of those young people who were allowed to spend their childhoods on game consoles are now actually earning a living through being excellent gamers. The world is changing, whether we like it or not.
The smart move, I believe, does not lie in keeping our kids away from technology, but in teaching them about perspective, teaching them self-respect and self-worth, helping them to believe in themselves without needing to dip into the addictive online drama pool in order to get their fix.
We need to teach our kids and build them up enough for them to truly believe that the lives they’re seeing on social are not the real deal. We need to help them to realise how easy it is to look at smiling, filtered social images without filling in the gaps and creating perfect fantasy lives for the people around them.
It’s too easy to look at others on social platforms and imagine their lives are better than ours in every way.
We do it as grown ups. We look at others online and assume they’re richer than us, their lives are more abundant, they’re fitter and healthier than us, their jobs are superior to ours, they’re happier, have more friends, wonderful relationships and they’re absolutely getting more – and better – sex than us.
We have no proof for any of this. We’re just looking at our social feeds and creating perfect utopias that are impossible to live up to. Take a step back, right now, and look at the truth of that. How much pressure have YOU – as an adult – put yourself under based on your perceptions of other people’s lives since being on social media?
Imagine what that must be like for the generation coming up now, who have never lived a life WITHOUT social. Without proper coping mechanisms, without perspective, without adequate levels of self belief, their imaginings could be crippling.
People, we need to wake up. We need to pull our heads up and out of Angry Birds (or whatever all the cool grown ups are playing now) and pay more attention to the world around us. And that doesn’t mean decrying social media.
Social will be there, and growing, long after we’ve gone, so that’s a losing battle.
Social isn’t the problem. The problem is US.
The problem is in US not spending enough time and care to instil a sense of perspective, self-belief and self-authority in our young people. They need to believe in themselves enough that the faux perfect online world does not pile on the pressure. And they need enough self-worth and confidence, to be able to feel proud of themselves and their achievements enough, that praise and acceptance from their social connections becomes a bonus, not a necessity.
Maybe we need to start leading by example.