Now More Than Ever

I have a morning routine that rarely varies. I awake when I hear the children gathering on the corner to catch a bus for school. The sound of their chatting and laughing energizes me every single day. I tiptoe through the dark of the house to prepare my breakfast and then I play Wordle while sipping on my tea. Once I have successfully completed the word puzzle I visit Facebook to wish happiness for those who are celebrating a birthday and then I post my blog for the day. I surf through the posts on Facebook for a time to learn who is traveling, who is experiencing a life changing event, and who is struggling. Then I read articles from my favorite newspapers and magazines after catching up on the latest news. 

Of late I’ve heard a great deal about the astounding level of depression that seems to be affecting so many people, especially teens and young adults. Theories abound as to why there is almost an epidemic of sadness in a time when the world is reawakening from the challenges of the pandemic. Much of the focus centers on social media as a likely culprit and, while I think that the real answer is more complex, I can see how an the worlds of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter might magnify the problems of those facing difficult situations. 

All of the venues for sharing tend to paint of a picture of perfect lives. I know that I have been guilty of giving the impression that every aspect of my life is a celebration. I have an online reputation of traveling and being infinitely optimistic and cheerful. It is quite rare for me to reveal the moments when I am frustrated or angry or dealing with challenges so enormous that I just want to give up and have an extended cry. Like everyone else I put on my happy face even when it feels as though everyone but me is having a grand old time. It’s easy to understand how the seemingly perfect lives of everyone else might drive a young person into the false belief the he/she is alone in struggling to feel a sense of belonging in a normal world. 

All of those lovely images of edited lives must feel overwhelming to anyone who is lonely or dealing with situations that that are more likely to be hidden than announced to the world. For a young person only beginning to navigate the world of adults emotions are already exaggerated and sometimes out of control. Viewing the bigger than life happiness of others has to be a daunting challenge that amplifies the anxieties of the youngsters whose concealed lives are pushing them to a breaking point. It’s difficult for them not to compare their shortcomings with the picture perfect images that bombard them daily. 

I have known well adjusted adults who had to take a break from social media just to maintain their sanity during very difficult times. They bid their followers adieu until they are able to sort out their troubles without the distraction of judging and comparisons that social media sometimes engenders. They understand how to regain control of their emotions and that the distractions of social media sometimes make doing so more difficult. 

I’m not an advocate of ridding ourselves of social media altogether. I look forward to keeping in touch with friends and family through the various platforms. I use them to post my blogs. I garner information from them and even enjoy a debate or two over important issues. I’ve learned how to handle my online presence and how to read between the lines of the posts. I can feel the pulse of society and individuals by regularly reading what they have to say. Even their absence for a time suggests to me that they may be suffering in some way. I use the media to keep track of people and issues that are important to me. Nonetheless, even I have lost friendships that were important to me and somehow have not managed to mend the rifts that I never intended to create.

I think that as adults we would do well to talk with those on the journey to adulthood about both the joys and dangers of social media. The importance of fitting in with peers looms large during the teen years and the early twenties. Nobody likes to feel different, unsuccessful or unloved, and that is especially true of the awkward years before we gain our footing and confidence to be ourselves. The false impressions of perfection that are so prevalent on social media can make that transition more difficult than it needs to be. 

So many young people had their lives disrupted during the past three years. Some of them lost family members and friends to the Covid virus. Many were isolated during the times when they most needed to be around their peers. Routines were often shattered. Opportunities were missed. The normal development process was delayed. They watched the adults around them arguing and battling at a time when there should have been compassion and cooperation. Competing forces turned our heroes into villains. Much of society now rails against the teachers, doctors, nurses who worked so valiantly during one of the most difficult times. Adults can’t even agree on how to keep our young safe from mass shootings. Little wonder that many of them are confused and morose, feeling as though nobody really cares about them. 

Instead of focusing on silly issues of culture we should be exemplifying resiliency and compassion. Our young are watching and learning from us. We would do well to demonstrate how to get back on track with cooperation, integrity, and concern for those who do not have the means to recover alone. We humans are at our very best when we are helping the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It’s difficult to be depressed when we are busy working for the good of all people, when our children see that we care about what they are thinking and how they feel. We owe it to them to rise to the challenges that face us rather than dividing into angry groups. Little wonder that our kids are quietly turning to social media for answers and examples that often fall short of showing them that happiness and success have nothing to do with money or trips or constant parties. It is found in our connections and our willingness to make sure that everyone is valued no matter how different they may be. We need to do these things now more than ever. 


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