SEÁN MON­CRIEFF

Is this a great time to be young? No

The Irish Times Magazine - - SOUND OFF -

Young peo­ple to­day. This is a golden time for them. They’re well- ed­u­cated, well fed and clothed. They are lis­tened to. Never be­fore in hu­man his­tory have par­ents put to so much ef­fort and guilt into try­ing to en­sure their kids de­velop into happy, un­dam­aged adults. Our cul­ture de­votes most of its at­ten­tion to the young, to bol­ster­ing the idea that their age is the best age. Yet the young are mis­er­able. Rates of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion among young peo­ple have swelled dra­mat­i­cally over the last cou­ple of decades.

Dur­ing 2016/’ 17 more than 10,000 third level stu­dents in Ire­land sought coun­selling. A study car­ried out last year among sec­ond level stu­dents in Cork and Kerry re­vealed that a quar­ter of them had symp­toms of anx­i­ety.

Some­thing is go­ing on, and while there is an abun­dance of the­o­ries as to the cause, or causes, there is as yet no firm con­sen­sus. In part, this is due to a de­gree of baf­fle­ment among their par­ents and a strong temp­ta­tion to be un­sym­pa­thetic; af­ter all, we had it much harder when we were their age.

We weren’t lis­tened to; we weren’t par­ented. We had far fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties and more ob­sta­cles. We weren’t told we could be whomever we wanted or do what­ever we wanted. If you got a job in the bank or the civil ser­vice, you took it. No one felt the need to teach us re­silience.

But per­haps this is mis­placed guilt, an un­spo­ken fear that by want­ing to give our kids a nice child­hood, we made it too nice, too in­su­lated from harm and stress. If we have a gen­er­a­tion of snowflakey wusses, then we made them that way.

Re­lax, par­ents: it’s not all about you.

Given that all hu­mans are a mys­te­ri­ous mix­ture of na­ture and nur­ture, there’s at least 50 per cent of your child’s psy­cho­log­i­cal make up that came pre- packed. And as for the nur­ture part, yes, you did have some in­flu­ence, but so too has ev­ery other per­son your child has met. So too have friends, TV, peer pres­sure, so­cial me­dia, mu­sic, school. It’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to take all the blame. Or all the credit.

So in­stead, let’s en­ter­tain this mad idea; what I’ve said so far is non­sense. This isn’t a golden time to be young. It might not look like it, but it’s tougher now for young peo­ple than it was for their par­ents at the same age.

Part of it must be the way we brought them up. With the very best of in­ten­tions, we told them they de­served to happy, that they could be what­ever they want to be. Given that range of choices, no one wants to take over the fam­ily plumb­ing busi­ness; they’ll want to be a zil­lion­aire In­sta­gram star, be­cause those peo­ple don’t even work. They just film them­selves go­ing to the shops and peo­ple love them for it.

Con­stant happiness has turned into a right and an op­pres­sive re­spon­si­bil­ity. You have to be happy, and if you’re not, you bet­ter keep it to your-

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Rates of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion among young peo­ple have swelled dra­mat­i­cally

self. Be­cause if you’re not happy all the time there’s some­thing wrong with you.

So­cial me­dia didn’t cause this dis­con­tent. In­stead it has acted as a mas­sive am­pli­fier, a place where peo­ple pre­tend to be happy and scram­ble af­ter a few crumbs of the ap­pro­ba­tion that they believe will de­liver them the happiness they al­ready pre­tend they have.

But mostly it’s the cul­ture we live in now. We are all im­mersed in it, and it never shuts up. In the last decade, the hu­man race has pro­duced more in­for­ma­tion than in the his­tory of the hu­man race prior to that.

News and mu­sic and Net­flix and Ama­zon Prime and Snapchat and movies and In­sta­gram and Twit­ter and on­line shop­ping and real shop­ping and pre- debs and debs and the Leav­ing Cert hol­i­day. No won­der they feel over­whelmed. There’s too much of ev­ery­thing.

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