The Pressure of Being Connected
Updated: May 26, 2020
My daughter recently suffered the terrible depravation of having her “device” confiscated. The cause of this draconian punishment is irrelevant. After the initial, inevitable, caterwauling she settled down and, before we knew it, returned to being that delightful, fully engaged pre-teen we knew before The Device took over her life. She’s always been delightful. The word that counts here is “engaged”. Every parent knows how The Device rules their children’s lives. Every driver swerving to miss pedestrians on “devices” knows about their capacity to isolate from danger.
The extraordinary thing was that my daughter was released from the pressure to be “connected”. And here lies the rub. It’s the social need to be constantly in the loop that creates so much pressure on our young people. It’s not necessarily what they want. It’s what they feel they have to do. They have to be connected. They have to have hundreds of friends. They have to be available. The minute a nasty parent removes them from this a ton of bricks is lifted from their shoulders. And the bonus is they can blame the parents!
It is any wonder that statistics reveal that young people are living in a constant state of anxiety? They have at their finger tips the means for creating this on 24/7. Are they popular? How attractive are they? Will they be, heaven forbid, sexually appealing?
I’m talking about 12/13 year olds feeling the need to post inappropriate images of themselves to gain approval. The anonymity of social media enables people to bully and cajole each other in a way they would never be brave enough to do “live”.
Now don’t think for a second I am sheeting all blame for the terrible statistics about teenage depression, violence, drinking, inappropriate sexuality and even gambling home to social media. Social media is the means for exacerbating already established problems. The pursuit of a lot of the behaviours listed above is about the need to be noticed. To feel, even for a few moments, wanted. Special.
Not only that but being resilient to the slings and arrows. The generations preceding this one (Gen?) were never placed under the same public microscope as they are. We didn’t have “friends” we’d never met. And most of us, apart from the “Gatsby’s”, never had the kind of parties to whom these “friends” were invited. Preceding generations had small, intimate celebrations, where everyone present was known to the birthday girl or boy and, most likely, their parents.
Schools are being asked to step into the gap and provide leadership in the form of teaching “emotional intelligence” to their charges. This is all very well but if, after the lesson on self esteem, the students rushes out to her locker, opens her “device” and checks how many “messages” or “likes” she has totted up then in all probability the lesson will not have been learnt.
How do we teach resilience and, perhaps just as importantly, who should teach it?
It seems to be that, in this age of entitlement, many parents have the quite bizarre expectation that the school they send their child to will be able to transform the apple of their eye into a Rhodes scholar and potential Oscar winner without any input from them. They expect, for instance, the state high school with 25 x 12/13 year olds in the room, some of whom with serious behavioural issues, to be able to focus on their child at the exclusion of the other 24. They expect the primary school, catering for an enormous range of abilities and maturity to provide top class sporting competition that extends their little superstar. They expect, that in the private school that they have paid top dollar for, the teachers will successfully be able to ban “devices”. How can they do that when the child needs to be able to text mum/dad at all times?
It is high time parents took some responsibility for their children and their needs in this increasingly complex world. Things aren’t the same as when they were kids and they ought to recognize it. If they are too scared to create boundaries when it comes to what their children are able to watch then how can they expect the school to provide the kind of appropriate parameters the particular age group should operate in. If the student in junior school are watching inappropriate “R” rated material is it any wonder that violence might be on the increase.
No matter how we like to dress them up 13/14 years olds have the same level of maturity, vulnerability and judgement as preceding generations. They are just exposed to more.
The idea that, on the one hand, society struggles to accept the need for adequate funding for schools and on the other expects more from them is plainly absurd. And still the argument, as with Gonski, goes on. If we want schools to pick up the slack where parents have been unable to then we need to do something about funding the kinds of programs that might be able to redress these frightening statistics.
As much as Christopher Pyne and his hand picked advisers might fantasize about returning us to the top of the international tree it will never happen unless we address the wider social problems that are holding us back. It’s not the teachers. It’s us.
* This article first appeared in The Hoopla.