Is this all there is?
There is a prevailing toxic definition of success that is contributing to a significant increase in mental health problems for teenagers across the UK. This definition of success is based on achievement, appearance and money. At an extreme level, it’s focused on fame and power.
Part of the problem is how social media powerfully reinforces this toxic definition of success 24/7. Social media is pervasive and highly addictive. Teenagers today are over-connecting on social media and under-connecting with one another, their families and themselves. Teens lives are fuelled by stress, sleep deprivation and lack of meaning that leads too often to burnout. Fatigue is one of the biggest issues teenagers experience due to their inability to turn off their electronic devices. Research has shown that sleep deprivation reduces our empathy towards others, our self-regard and ability to think positively.
A parent may be thrilled when their child comes home with an ‘A’ grade, but should they really emphasize so much importance on the grade if the child is unable to care for their own emotional wellbeing? If a teen is making constant withdrawals from their personal wellbeing account – there are only so many withdrawals from their mental health account before it becomes overdrawn.
Our education system appears to be hell bent on raising academic results. Stress and pressure from high achieving academic schools are factors in eating disorders and other mental health issues amongst teens. But, it’s not IQ that is lacking, it’s life skills and wisdom. Many teenagers are making terrible decisions, this is not surprising as they are connecting in a shallow way to the whole world which is preventing them from being connected with those people closest to them, including themselves.
Due to their dependence on technology many teens fail to spend enough time developing meaningful relationships. I am an evangelist for the need to reconnect with ourselves and others. Teenagers need to understand that the goal to life does not revolve around ‘A’ grades, making more money, recognition and the number of social media followers. There is more to life than this.
In the UK, stress related conditions equate for 60-90 percent of doctor visits – stress has immerged as our top cause of illness. These stress levels are compounded for the developing teenager and many feel permanently undermined. A major cause for this escalation of stress in our lives is due to us not having time to take care of ourselves. We are too busy chasing phantom success. It’s common for a teenager today to have 700 plus followers on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, but no ‘real’ friends.
Our challenge is to redefine success. We need to include wellbeing in our definition of success. For many teens to be engaged at school, they need to feel valued. Education must be really meaningful to the individual. Philosopher, William James said, “the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another, all our anxieties evaporate when we gain the perspective of what really matters.”
We need schools with a commitment to wellbeing. Healthy, happy pupils are productive pupils. We need to develop a culture that puts life skills and emotional wellbeing at the forefront of academic life. I believe Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provides a complete framework to improve mental health and wellbeing. It gives us an optimistic mindset that enables us to take 100% responsibility for our lives. Moreover, it gives us the vital skillset on how to get on well with others.
I would welcome your thoughts, contributions and questions relating to this topic. Please email me at Clinton@unitededucationgroup.com