generations that first encountered the Internet as adults came to understand
this radical new technology as the “information superhighway,” a medium to dial
up content worldwide.
today’s teens and young adults, rather than a vehicle traveling at
unprecedented speeds, their experience is more akin to the proverbial fish that
doesn’t realize it’s in water. The digital world may feel indigenous to 6th
graders who were born the same year as the iPhone, but, for all its benefits,
technology is an invasive species — evolving faster than we can understand its
effects on adolescent minds and ecosystems.
Jeremy Baruch, from the Michigan Medicine Department of Psychiatry, sees correlation,
and has a message of caution and compassion:
that with young people today rates of anxiety, rates of depression are rising.
We don’t know exactly why that is, but we see that going along with the rise in
social media — people becoming more engaged with their technologies than
media has upended the notion of social
in a few short years — the difference between friends and “friends,” followers
and “followers.” The same app that can serve as entrée to a more diverse and
expansive world can lead to withdrawal from those around you.
distant that digital world may seem, anxiety-inducing questions — “Who am I?
What’s my place in the world? Do people love me? Will I be accepted?” — can
manifest themselves in real life and in real time.
people looking forward to their 10th or 20th or 50th high school reunion,
Facebook can be an invaluable way to stay in touch with old friends and reflect
on good times. Navigating high school along a steady stream of status updates,
news-feed fodder, snaps and tweets, however, makes for a funhouse mirror whose
distortions may start to seem like reality:
“A lot of
young people feel like they have to be perfect, not a lot of room for error.
Sometimes the goal is to win a sports championship; other times it could be to
get into college and get certain grades. When people are trying to live up to a
certain standard, they can become very critical of themselves.”
new medium — where selfies skew, “likes” drip like dopamine and bullies can
transcend the schoolyard — feelings of self-doubt that might have been normal
and nominal can swirl and spiral.
Baruch’s prescription begins with self-compassion: “loving oneself, accepting
oneself with all of one’s deficiencies and challenges.”
can offer critical help for people when “what they’re feeling is causing distress
or some impairment in their life.” But everyone can benefit from practicing
mindfulness regarding their screen time (less is more), exercise (the more, the
merrier) and engaging with people (face to face).
Baruch, the key is to resist preoccupying and polishing the identity we project
to the world and rather that “the more that young people — and all of us —
are really genuine and say what we mean and are vulnerable, the richer our
lives will be and the more success we’ll ultimately have.”