I worry sometimes about young people and technology. No not for the reasons you might think of straight away. Not the sexting. Not the access to explicit content. Not the bullying. Not the myriad of horrendous people online. I’ve seen young people take down and deal with all of that spectacularly – its a world they’ve grown up in – most of the time that’s the easy stuff. No what I am worried about is the inability to turn off the tech from friends and within romantic relationships.
When I was young – the very sentence makes me sound old – I went to school and saw my friends. I ‘played out’ – I saw my friends. I went home and over-analysed every minute detail of the day over the phone with my friends, until my mam or her mam screamed at us to get off the phone… the phonebill!! blah blah blah. Same with my boyfriend. I saw him for a couple of hours a day max. There was always a period of the day where we were alone or with my brothers, probably arguing about something someone had stolen off someone else. I left my friends and my boyfriends behind physically, and often mentally. I just watched the TV, listened to music or, perhaps wrote out song lyrics which completely expressed my unrequited love (true story).
Whatever drama was going on, I got a break from it.
Now this is important. When we are worried about someone or something our stress chemicals flood our brain. We need time where we are distracted, doing something, anything, that helps reset this. If you walked into your house and your bathroom was flooded, what would be the first thing you’d do? Hopefully it would be to turn off the tap. Same with stress and anxiety. You need to be able to turn off the tap. In my job as a school counsellor I ‘prescribe’ fun activities as an antidote to stress. You need to be able to switch off.
Now I think this is where the problem lies. The tech has given young people access to each other 24 hours a day. When a friend leaves them ‘on read’ they get angry, or anxious that they’ve done something wrong. Moreover there is no getting away from each others drama. Or if someone is having a really tough time – of course as friends you want to support them. But where does it stop? I have heard stories of young people acting as mini-therapists to their friends until 3am, sacrificing their own health to help their friends. I know of young people – absolute heroes – that have talked other young people out of suicide in the early hours of the morning. The weight of this lies heavy on the shoulders of the helpers as anyone who works in the helping profession knows. But young people don’t have supervision. They don’t understand the meaning of self care and shutting off. And one by one they become more stressed and anxious, but unable to pin point why.
Then there’s romantic relationships. Leave me on facetime while you sleep. Connected all night. Expectations to be supported and to be there for each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Expected instant replies. Expected password sharing. Expectations that were not there 20 years ago.
To young people I say this. You are absolute superstars and the support and help you give each other is tremendous. However you cannot drink from an empty cup as they say. Please, please, please consider setting some boundaries. Think about turning your internet off at 10pm. Get yourself some rest. Spend some time on you having fun. Get out into nature. Laugh. The world will be there tomorrow. Self Care is not selfish, and anyone who tells you it is, is.