Whilst I don't disagree that technology and social media have a part to play in teenage mental health, I love how it's so easy to blame these simple things for the issues young people are facing today. The society we have created for them, including excessive use of social media is a problem but whilst the media and the government have us focused on how the “evil” technology is damaging our teenagers, we are happily distracted from looking at government policy, the education system and common parenting practice and advice as a potential cause.
Why is success the focus?
The irony is that we could have helped achieve real happiness (or mental wellness - as it isn’t normal to always be happy but that’s another issue) by doing things differently earlier on, saving people the most precious years of their lives. How?
“Put that baby down or they will get used to being close to you.”
“Don’t cuddle your toddler when he is angry, you are rewarding bad behaviour”
“teenagers are stroppy and hate their parents”
These are just three examples of the mainstream parenting myths that are actively disconnecting and separating parents from their children.
Humans are primates and our instincts are to keep our babies close for a very long time. We are supposed to be highly social and highly connected beings. Other similar primates keep their young close (actually physically with them day and night) for many many years, into their teens even, and research suggests that the more complex nature of humans, and the earliness in developmental terms in which we are born means that this would naturally be longer in humans. Our children need us physically and emotionally for a long time. They need us to hold them, and respond to them. They need us to parent in a way that they consent to, that makes them feel loved and like they matter. They need to understand from your example that working towards your dreams (across your life) is something to be motivated to do. This won't be achieved with stickers - unless their dream is to own the most stickers in the world.
BUT, even if you do parent in such a way that your toddler is a self-motivating, emotionally intelligent and resilient child (against all mainstream advice), what happens when you disconnect from them aged 4 (too young but again another issue) and they go to school, where you put your trust in others to guide them?
People can argue that home education may be the right answer but I only agree that in our society it is the right answer for some parents. For those who cannot (or choose not to), we need to pay much more attention to what is happening when we allow others to affect the minds of our children, and here is why:
We are also teaching them that dealing with these things is too scary for us grown-ups. That when they are really upset, we send them away from us instead of connecting with them and talking to them or meeting their needs. We teach them that isolating themselves from us will help them be a better person and what we require from them is constant happiness, compliance and achievement.
Social media and screens
What can we do?
Mostly we need to change the messages that parents receive about their children, making them based on actual evidence and empathy. We also need to demand that our education system do the best for our children's future wellness not the best thing for a broken society.
Thank you for reading.
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