I’ve come to a conclusion on something: I wouldn’t want to be a teenager today. I’ll talk from a female perspective, as I am one and as I have 4 daughters and a step daughter, but I’m sure that it’s equally tough for boys.
Having spent nearly 2 weeks in the company of all 4 of my daughters on holiday – something that never normally happens due to a mixture of work, their clubs and divorce – I realise the constant, unrepentant pressure they are under in their lives. Social media – they cannot get away from it. It is all-consuming. It sucks them in and changes them in the process. It turns them into highly-strung, short-tempered individuals, who would otherwise be perfectly pleasant. In fact, who are perfectly pleasant to other people; they save their stress outs for their parents.
Social media changes them. It’s a bit like someone who is having an affair. They have to get their next contact hit or a sick feeling builds up inside, as the stress of separation becomes almost unbearable. It’s as addictive as a drug and it also has side effects: paranoia, fear of missing out, depression. They are only the start: body image is distorted as are people’s lives. Everything is just so perfect on screen: happy photos of happy groups, photo shopped photos and photos that have been whittled down from a million selfies to one. Imagine the pressure for ‘likes’ on that one selfie. That one selfie that is literally one in a million. It is this pressure that creates stress and it is this stress that induces mental health issues in many teenagers.
Let’s talk about sex baby and specifically on-line porn. It’s setting the benchmark for my girls’ experiences and that really bothers me. You see, I want them to feel empowered when it comes to sex – mentally as much as physically. I want them, not only to say ‘no’ if they don’t want it, but to say what they do want too. Porn is making their future sex lives so much harder. It’s setting completely unrealistic expectations and I know that this isn’t good for the boys either.
So you see, I wouldn’t want to be a teenager today. Exams are all over the place right now. GCSE’s are changing all the time: is it a number you get awarded or a letter? Is it a triple science or a core? Wtf is it, because a parent here is confused. AS levels: in or out? Shake it all about. University anyone? If you fancy a debt of £46,000 hanging around your neck until you are well old.
Decisions seemed easier when I was a teenager. You knew where you stood with your ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. University was a straight forward affair: if you were poor you got a grant and lived on baked beans for three years. Sex was as simple as fuck – just the threat of AIDS to navigate your way safely around.
When I ask my daughters about the pressures they face, they shrug their shoulders and quite rightly say that it is all they have ever known. They cannot imagine life without social media – of course they can’t, but us parents can’t understand why they can’t put their phones down for a minute without feeling horribly alienated from their world.
Their world isn’t our world. They have to learn how to cope with it and we can’t help them with this one. That is why, as parents we get so frustrated with their world.
But I repeat: their world isn’t our world. The best we can do is try to understand and deal with the inevitable fall outs: low self esteem, paranoia, depression to name but a few. What we can’t do is try to enter their world and what we absolutely must never do is cut off their lifeline to it.
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