As therapist, in both my private client work, and in my work with young people in schools and universities, I am increasingly feeling like the boy with his finger in the dyke, trying to stop the tidal wave of mental annihilation destroying our young people. The tsunami is already washing over us, and I’m trying desperately to keep my head above the rising water and save some souls ……but I fear I’m drowning!
I am discovering that a major factor responsible for endangering our young people’s mental health is their increasing dependence on external validation for their self-worth, which results in them developing an external locus of control and evaluation, leading to mental health issues, which include social and general anxiety, depression and narcissistic personality disorder.
The conditions required for a mentally healthy, fully functioning & self- actualising person, demand an internal locus of evaluation and control, resulting in self-efficacy, self-esteem,being able to recognise personal strengths, (worryingly many children and young people are unable to state one positive personal quality, or identify something they are good at), and the ability to validate oneself, independent of influence from others.
Our culture’s current values run counter to this and actively encourages this external addiction.These conditions stunt the psychological development of today’s adolescents.
Some of the factors that I believe are responsible for this crisis of ‘self’ we are seeing in our young people:
- SOCIAL MEDIA
I was completely unaware as to the protocol of F.B, until a young client of mine recently presented at her therapy session as extremely distressed, due to not gaining many ‘likes’ for a photo she’d posted on social media. She explained the ‘rules’. If someone ‘likes’ your photo you have to ‘like’ theirs back. I tried not to show how stunned and perplexed I felt, and opened a useful discussion as to what drives the need to accumulate ‘likes’, and what value they hold if they come from obligation rather than free will?
Young people are committing their time to seeking out ‘likes’, and building ‘followers’ on social media, from people they don’t know, to validate their own existence. The irony is that it’s all a smoke and mirrors, an illusion.
As if that wasn’t enough, my children shared with me that you can buy ‘likes’ on the internet!! (You can get 5,000 for 84.99!) With seductive headings:
· ‘astonish your friends by your popularity!’
· Become famous today! Get Real Views.Get Real Comments The best way to get more Insta Followers & Likes.
· Grow Your Social Presence Quickly As low as $4.99
2. COMPARING & JUDGEMENT
Our young people are encouraged to compare and judge themselves, and each other, against the edited and airbrushed ‘selfies’ on F.B.This ‘selfie’ epidemic intensifies and optimises the enhanced attention that they give to themselves.
I was aghast to discover that there is even a make-up product called ‘selfie powder’, which is promoted for use when taking ‘selfies’: An ultra-soft powder that magically transforms skin to look poreless & pixel perfect? Yes please! The WUNDER2 PERFECT SELFIE HD Photo Finishing Powder, creates the ultimate finish to your makeup look, without the use of a photo filter. Your finished makeup look will appear poreless, free of fine-lines and smooth without camera flashback.
The media also exert influence, by portraying photo shopped pictures of ‘perfect’ people living enviable lives, which fuels a sense of ‘not being good enough’, worthlessness and failure. Marketers exploit these vulnerabilities, maximising on and leveraging the pain, by feeding on the increasing sense of inadequacy and insecurity, controlling and manipulating consumers into buying into the illusion that their products will bring the happiness they seek. They never do…….and the destructive cycle continues.
Our society is encouraging the practice of judgement and comparing, even in school children are assessed on their performance against a set of rigid academic, left brain criteria, that do not acknowledge personal successes or strength of character, and instead compares children to each other, which does not allow for everyone’s uniqueness and difference. Only excellent outcomes are given validation, and rational thinking is applauded, meaning emotions are often excluded.
In this increasingly demanding society, our youth are being pressured to conform, morphing and shape shifting to feel accepted and to fit in, lured into becoming part of the homogeneous masses, conditioned and influenced from the cradle to the grave. Groomed in how they should be thinking, doing and being, and what they should be buying, having and coveting.
This lifestyle is creating depressed young people and rising mental illness, stress and anxiety, as a result of trying to live up to these unrealistic expectations.
This materialistic and consumerist led society, gives ‘net worth’ more importance than ‘self-worth’, the focus increasingly on what you ‘have’, rather than who you ‘are’. Individuals are evaluated on how they present externally, rather than on innate personal qualities, resulting in young people who are lacking in:
- Autonomy. Awareness of WHO THEY ARE and their place in the world
- Ability to think for themselves
- Confidence in their decisions and abilities
- Ability to recognise their own strengths
- Awareness of personal values
- Ability to identify their own needs, and know how to meet them in positive and productive ways
This means they are more at risk of being influenced by others, seeking solace in illegal substances, finding release in anti-social, unhealthy, and destructive behaviours e.g. gang affiliations, substance abuse & addictions, self-harming and anti-social acts.
The Netflix series ‘Black Mirror’ shines a light on the challenges ahead for the human race, giving a chilling glimpse into the future landscape, but what is most terrifying is that future is happening NOW.
As a society we have a responsibility to equip adolescents with all the important skills for life and living. We need to aim to keep them engaged and connected, and with a sense of purpose and meaning, a sense of self, so they know WHO THEY ARE, independent of others.
We need to invest in their mental health to create resilient, confident, resourceful, independent and creative thinking young adults who will be our future.
We can start by challenging the culture we live in-social media, education, and marketers, that indoctrinate our children into believing they are less than they are, for their own gain, and explore with our children what’s important to them, encouraging them, and supporting them, in connecting with themselves, and creating their own personal code. This is the way to mitigate the negative effects of our fast moving, modern world.