Jacob, aged eleven, was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. 'My dream job is being a YouTuber', he replied. Emma, in the same class as Jacob, was asked the same question. With a little smile, she replied, 'I'm going to win the X Factor!'
Anxiety levels in kids and teens is only going in one direction: up.
It poses the question, why?
What is it that is different today compared to twenty years ago, or even ten years ago?
Anxiety has always been an issue – for people of all ages and at any period in history. But social media, mobile phones and obsession over reality TV have made suffering anxiety a real game-changer, especially for the millennials who grew up with this stuff.
But where is the harm?
A bit of phone usage. A chat on social media. A watch of Saturday night reality TV.
Listen to the kids.
Look at the stats.
When I wrote Anxiety Rebalance For Teens, one of the overwhelming findings was how hard teenagers are on themselves. They don't need anyone else stoking the fire of worthlessness. They especially don't need a constant reminder of why they are useless compared to others.
When I was a kid, I could leave a lot of the social-related issues (which anxiety revolves around) in the playground. Now, it is a relentless barrage.
Bullying and feelings of inadequacy are now accessible to them at all times. They just need to switch on the TV or grab their phone, which is never too far away.
Seeing their friends post enhanced and fake pictures on social media and watching people gain quick fame on reality television is giving them unrealistic expectations – goals to chase that have no substance and only lead to high anxiety.
Social media, mobile phones and reality TV have their good points. (Well, maybe just social media and mobile phones.) But there is nothing better for bringing out the worse in us. The bad points form a long list. The thing topping the list for kids and teenagers, and probably the most destructive and dangerous cause of anxiety, is the ease in which it gets them comparing themselves to others.
Comparing yourself to others is the quickest and most direct way to misery and anxiety for anyone at any age. But imagine what it is like when you are at an age when you can't properly process the reason 'why' you're doing it. When you can't process it, you think comparing yourself to others is normal.
You grow up believing the sole purpose of life is to be better than everyone else – to have more – to beat the Joneses. With such a mindset, you never have enough or feel enough. There is always someone who has that little bit more and, in comparison, you are useless. All this chase offers is a lifetime of misery and anxiety, chasing a carrot that doesn't exist – pursuing a perfection and a status that will never be achieved.
You grow up believing that within 5-minutes of posting a video to YouTube, you can become an overnight celebrity with fame and riches fit for a gangsta rapper.
You think if you line up for six-hours and sing in front of four douchebags – people who will instantly judge you and make or destroy your life's dream within seconds – within days you will be ditching your job at Tesco and touring the world.
All of it is a distortion of reality. There is nothing 'real' about it.
This misrepresentation of reality is causing serious psychological problems for our younger generation spoon fed on this stuff.
Aiming for quick fixes that hold no substance and having these unrealistic goals not come to fruition has anxiety go through the roof, feelings of uselessness become more prominent than ever, and life isn't worth living.
Let's get real. We all know how addictive mobile phones, social media and television are. These things aren't going anywhere. Technology is advancing and getting more prominent in our lives.
I like technology and benefit from it, as I'm sure you do. I'm not suggesting we go back to living off the land or go off the grid.
It could make all the difference to our children and teenagers, and their levels of anxiety, if we gave them other things to consider. Offer suggestions as to 'why' they might feel the way they do.
Help our kids and teenagers understand that there are bigger fish to catch out there. Fish like:
- finding substance by appreciating 'reality TV' might not be that real
- self-fulfilment through discovering and exploring passions
- gaining freedom from knowing that they don't have to compare themselves to others and it's OK not to follow the sheep
- knowing it's healthier to get out of the house and physically see their friends compared to sitting in a bedroom behind a screen all day and night.
The best thing we can ever do for our children and teenagers is to get them thinking critically – thinking independently and asking the question 'why'. Help them understand why they feel anxious and not allow them to be misled so easily. Stop them from succumbing to the feeling of inadequacy, being crippled by it, and accepting it as the norm.
Let our children and teenagers know that mobile phones, social media and reality TV form a part of life – they do not define the quality of life in its entirety.