Discover more from McGST
Helicopters, parents and resilience
Why are so many young people struggling to cope with what life throws at them currently?
It is a single question with many answers which could all be correct, but the answer that evades us is knowing how much each possible cause contributes to the seeming epidemic in young mental health.
The first thing I should say is that the question above is worded badly, but I chose those words because so many of us describe mental health as something that a person can control which is rarely the case. There are things that an individual can do to get help and to improve their mental health, but the sad irony is that as a person's mental health declines so does their ability to access the help they need. Simple tasks become difficult, admin feels like torture and the overwhelming feeling of negativity can be all-consuming.
We cannot see mental health with our eyes and so most of us do not understand it at all. There is an argument that we know 3% of what goes on in the mind, if that, and that in 2023 we are still fumbling in the dark trying to guess what is wrong with a patient, and subsequently why the problems are growing throughout every population on earth. We try to suppress the symptoms of mental health, usually to allow an individual to work, rather than understanding why they are present as if we were prescribing painkillers for decades to someone with hip pain rather than finding out why the pain is there.
We should look at some of the possible reasons-
There is no doubt in my mind that social media presents one of the biggest challenges to young people than has been seen for many decades. It brings the world to them in an instant and presents more information than the human mind can reasonably fathom. From unrealistic images of what a person should look like and the lifestyle they should lead (Instagram) to trolling, bullying, abuse and lord knows whatever else (Twitter / X) to scams and general 'look at me' behaviour (Facebook) to the crazy world of TikTok, how on earth is anyone supposed to navigate and ingest what is there?
I am not saying social media is bad, far from it because it has many benefits, but I do believe that we are not ready for the sudden influx of information, entertainment, abuse and envy that it has given us in the space of a decade and a half. That space is incredibly short for such a big change and there is no way that humans can adapt so quickly. That may sound overblown, but it does feel as if we are in a state of flux that is too big and confusing to understand. The problem is that it is everywhere and whether we understand it or not, the young in particular feel great pressure to join in.
When I read about helicopter parents, I discussed it with my wife and we agreed that we were certainly of the helicopter variety. The problem is that I do not know any parent who isn't. There was virtually no point in our children's lives up until their teenage years that we did not know what they were doing and where they were doing it. We had to know so that we could be sure they were safe and the end result is much more likely to be young adults who are not prepared for real life.
With FindMy on our phones and many other devices and so many easy ways to track our children, it becomes hard not to want to know where they are. It's like hearing that there is a device that can tell you if your baby has stopped breathing, there are many of course, and then not buying one. How would you feel if the worst happened because you had not spent the £100 to protect your child? It's the easiest sale in the world and technology has made us more like helicopters than ever before.
Life is busier, cars are faster, the streets are more violent (thanks to our current government) and so we react as any parent would. The downside is that our children are not prepared for the simplest of tasks which can bring on anxiety when faced with them.
I personally hate how the 'woke' word is used as a term of abuse. Call me woke and I will ask what it means or simply say thank you. Being woke is a good thing, but the lack of tolerance for controversial opinions is not. Look at J K Rowling and what she has gone through, it's insane, and look at how so many young people are driven to have a cause, often one which they have no business being involved in, and to then violently shout down anyone who does not 100% agree with them. This is more of a left wing issue to be fair and all it does is give the right an excuse to build a culture war on top of it.
Where it is more damaging is that these 'causes' take away from what young people should be shouting about. Ageing populations mean that the housing stock is reduced which ensures that house prices increase along with higher rental costs and so on. Throw in a reduction in worker's rights, a top-heavy world where the older generations are literally stealing wealth and at times votes from the young and I wonder why on earth they are looking at controversies that are built purely to distract them.
They should be on the streets demanding a fairer world and screaming at our leaders, but they are debating anything from trans to offensive jokes instead. Wow all of that does make me sound old, but hey ho- that's what happening when you get past 50.
Why is the upside not working?
The upside of parenting today is that we tend to love our children more, or at least we are more likely to display that love than our parents, and certainly our grandparents.
My mother died recently and as yet I have not sensed any form of grief in my heart. After some counselling a while back I spent some time considering how my childhood had affected the rest of my life, and it became obvious where the problem was.
She was an uncaring person, at least to me, and she had made it clear that I was never wanted. Not just through words, but through countless actions from a young age and through to the lack of interest in her grandchildren. It has affected me greatly and I have worked hard to move on, but I remain shocked at how small acts of cruelty and neglect at a young age can stick with a person forever more.
In theory our helicopter parenting should go some way to negating such emotions while causing the problems detailed above. For me, the good news is that my wife and children have proved to be the perfect family and my kids are caring in ways I never experienced as a child. From when they were very young I made efforts to give them what I never had and I continue to be surprised at how natural it felt. This is from a man who had his first hug at the age of 17 from a girlfriend- at no point in my life up to that point had I experienced such affection.
It is of course impossible to get anywhere near resolving or even understanding why young people are suffering today, but I remain hopeful that as we adapt to a changed world we will find a way to navigate it without as much anxiety and loneliness. I can only hope…