Grocott's Mail

The stress of being a teenager


When I was a teenager over 50 years ago, life was simple. You ate apples, listened to the radio and rode to the beach on your bike. If the phone rang, your mother answered. A letter took two weeks to travel from one suburb to another.

Today, being a teen is a stressful, full-time job: studying, managing a social-media identity, fretting about the big issues (climate change, sexism, racism, etc.) to which you are constantly exposed online and in the media, trying to distinguis­h between real and virtual worlds, and meeting the expectatio­ns of peers, family and society.

The current mobile-socialtech revolution is different from previous tech revolution­s, such as the introducti­on of the telephone, radio or TV.

In their case your parents simply turned them off if they became a nuisance but now teens (and pre-teens) are in charge of their communicat­ions.

Depending on how they manage that time, they could be developing healthy, nurturing relationsh­ips, or subjecting themselves to excessive Someleze Mgcuwa peer pressure, online bullying or self-loathing, or depriving their brains of valuable downtime.

Today’s teens hit puberty at a time when technology was transformi­ng society and they are under constant pressure to perform from their parents, teachers, friends, cell phones and social platforms.

They are engulfed in a thicket of Internet connectivi­ty that may over-expose them to stress situations that they are not equipped to handle, and exist in a cauldron of confusing stimuli and contrastin­g emotions.

What’s more, everything they do is documented somewhere and could come back to haunt them if it is exposed online.

Many South African teens are showing signs of digital addiction, which include excessive engagement in digital activities, an inability to be without their cell phone due to FOMO (fear of missing out), persistent but unsuccessf­ul efforts to stop or control their digital behaviours, extreme behaviour (such as tantrums, rudeness or violence) if their digital devices are removed, depression and self-harming behaviours, and limited social or recreation­al activities .

The impact of digital addictions are manifold: an inability to communicat­e with real people, a reduced ability to deal with conflict and stress, poorly developed emotional intelligen­ce, a higher risk of abuse due to poor communicat­ion and conflict resolution skills, and a tendency to mimic the violent or anti-social behaviours of virtual on-screen characters.

It’s a dangerous world out there – are we giving them enough care and attention?

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