My wife and I recently spent a weekend binging on bad films.
Nothing unusual in that, as the lockdown has us all retreating from the coronavirus inside our own homes. I would actually go as far and say that content platforms are playing a big part in keeping us sane in this current moment in time.
So, after we had finished watching a mini-series episode online, we had one of those rare situations where you find yourself watching network television. There was a film on that was about a third of the way through. And the film was ‘Mean girls’. In fairness, I found it quite entertaining – but it’s not exactly Citizen Kane. I will also take this opportunity to say; I’d previously had my turn at playing couch commando – and Mean Girls was not my choice.
With all the time we’ve been spending locked inside our own homes, I for one have found myself thinking a bit more deeply about the subject matter I’m watching. My wife ended up doing the same thing and cast her mind back to how brutal school had been, remembering how one or two popular girls who more than harmed others’ confidence.
Watching the movie, I began to wonder what it must be like for young people to go to school in a typical American high school.
What struck me was that students don’t wear school uniform.
This is not a good thing when it comes to developing objectivity in our outside world.
When we’re in our teens, this is a confusing time, and our bodies go through tremendous adjustments – but our minds even more so.
Imagine you don’t have the latest trainers or designer bag, but you see other kids being championed because their parents have spent an obscene amount of money in kitting their offspring out. Now I appreciate that some kids work and may have saved or combined a birthday and Christmas to have landed the ‘holy grail’ of streetwear – but in most cases now we’re not talking a few hundred pounds – we’re talking £600 or £700 for footwear! And parents are paying it!
I have to be clear and say that my Dad always said to my siblings and me that it hurt him to know that there were kids making fun of us if we didn’t have this or that. I do appreciate that the number one job of a parent is to make their child happy – but what concerns me is the messages that we give our young people by showering them with expensive items where they no longer have a sense of value, or appreciate how these presents are paid for.
Some estimate we will be a cashless society before 2025. So much of our spending is online now. Our young people have the added pressure of social media where influencers very nonchalantly display lifestyles that less than one per cent of humanity lives.
My point; how do we teach our children the value of a £ or a $?
Money isn’t discussed within families. Why not?
We have a group – not all, but a lot of young people spread out in not one, but two generations who don’t aspire to be the hard-working people their parents are.
Indulge me for a bit here. Like the many boxers who work their way through poverty, give years of their lives to perfect the skills needed to be successful, and work their way through with no short cuts, we have young people who only aspire to use their looks and possesions to narcissistically carve out an unrealistic life.
Adolescence is a key part of emotional and cognitive development, and in psychological terms, it shares many characteristics with the preverbal phase of development. Our teenage years are where we leave the more basic and fragile ego defences behind.
It’s where we experience the biggest growth mentally, in what is a relatively short timeframe.
The very notion of how money is acquired and earnt has become warped. Our young people covert so much that they don’t have. Society is teaching them that they are not enough.
The message of social media is ‘only perfection brings happiness’.
It is creating a false sense of self and leading many to reject the person inside. We are seeing silent pandemics of self-harming, increasing mental disorders and most tragically young people taking their own lives. It is not simply materialism, and the have’s and have nots. Children, teens and people in their twenties are developing manic defence responses to this stuff. Anxiety is triggered every time their status is commented upon.
Our television is reflecting our culture with shows like Love Island, and Ex on Beach becoming more popular. The cult of celebrity has never been more obsessed over. I mention the former of these two shows for a good reason, as there is a human cost to pushing the ratings and winning the attention of those of us that tune in. I feel it important to include the names of Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis who reached an emotional and desperate place from which there was no return.
I believe that many teenagers in the UK haven’t transitioned sufficiently to be able to cope in today’s Britain. And the sad fact about this is that many young people have resources and good relationships around them but still develop anxiety and depression.
It’s never been more important to engage and check in with our children and young people. Find out what their subculture is. As a parent, we don’t want to be too intrusive – it is important to give a growing personality space. But at the same time, we should be asking them what they’re interested in, and what they’re choosing to spend time on. Social media and the endless obsession with fame is now the biggest threat to our children’s mental health.