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  • Writer's pictureJimmy Ekdahl

Alexithymia

In the modern world, teens are becoming less and less interconnected as they become more digitally connected. One of the biggest questions to answer pertaining to technology’s effect on today’s young people has to do with the emotional impacts. What effect does spending so much time online and the vast array of connection this brings have on our teens? We know that it leads to delayed mental maturity and heightened feelings of loneliness, but what about on an emotional intelligence level? According to the Sleep Foundation, the numbers of adolescents reporting poor sleep has been steadily on the rise with near 25% of teens suffering from insomnia. With sleep loss directly related to increased risks of cardiovascular disease this is not just a matter of tiredness and discomfort. It should also be noted that teenage rates of depression have skyrocketed, more than doubling in the past decade. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic did nothing but swell these numbers as any social connectedness outside of the virtual world was thrust to a halt. In the period since the lockdowns first hit, The Lancet reported that an additional 53.2 million people received diagnoses of a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) while in addition to that another 76.2 million were diagnosed with a Anxiety Disorder (AD).


These statistics are nothing short of terrifying especially when looking at the pandemic. During the time the world was locked down technology was viewed as the hero keeping everyone connected. But was it? Dimitri Christakis coined in his 2011 TedTalk that “We are in the midst of a large, uncontrolled experiment on the generation (iGen/Gen Z).” He wasn’t wrong but this quote is from more than a decade ago. In the time since then, technology has expanded and was entirely relied upon during the pandemic. This “uncontrolled” experiment is starting to yield results and not all of them are positive.

In short, do negative results mean we should stop using technology? Hardly, yet it does posit that maybe we need to rethink the means by which we employ it. Generally speaking, most household chores are relatively easy if you have the right tool for the job. Yet a hammer does a poor job to unscrew a switch plate. Likewise, a hammer can be used as a weapon to wreak havoc on others or to achieve greatness in constructing. The difference lies in how the tool is put to work. Likewise, the internet is the wild west of today, harboring few limits and near limitless possibility. Coming from a freedom loving western society we tend to regard this as a positive. Yet, we put in place measures to prevent dangerous things from happening as a means to protect our society. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean legislation is the proper way to regulate modern technology. For example, just because there are laws doesn’t mean they aren’t broken, and some of the hardest ones to enforce often go broken the most. There are two primary codes by which modern societies run, the code of laws, and the code of social norms/expectations.


These two systems each present benefits and challenges, but by far the easiest to impact as a lay citizen is that of social expectations. Like the domino effect, advocacy, knowledge, and personal influence may not change the nation overnight, but they impact the local community. As these spread, it can eventually have mainstream impact worldwide. Therefore, we shouldn’t overlook the impact of local advocacy & change.

Now, revisiting the matter of emotional intelligence, we have covered the rise in depression and insomnia. However, there’s a bigger monster at play here, that of alexithymia. So, what is this big fancy word that sounds like an Amazon drug? Alexithymia is a condition that occurs when an individual feels emotionally, they cognitively comprehend that something isn’t right or feels off but don’t know how they feel or why. Essentially, if you’ve ever felt upset, bad, hurt, lonely, etc. but don’t know why or couldn’t place what exactly you felt you just knew it wasn’t good, that was alexithymia. Now that the vocab list is out of the way, how does this fancy term relate to teenage technology use?


As the rates of teenage depression, discontent, and unhappiness rise, this likely has to do with alexithymia. Every Instagram post, news article, TikTok trend, and Wikipedia article contribute to the waves of constantly moving thoughts in one’s head. Anyone who’s ever been online likely has an experience where they saw something, realized they wanted it or were jealous of the person or experience witnessed and noted this negativity. This is often referred to as falling into the “comparison trap” and it certainly is a trap. Even the most selfless individual has a hard time not envying another when the emphasis is placed on what they have as opposed to what I already have. Additionally, every time we connect, the wealth of knowledge continues to build in our brains. Children have an innate way of neglecting to contemplate the negatives of a situation and focus near entirely on the fun benefits. This may be immature, but it certainly leads to a more joyous existence. Likewise, as children age they are more suited to handle the negatives and still appreciate the positives. This is in part because of increased mental maturity and worldly experience. Yet, if mental maturity is lacking that would mean a less equipped individual being thrust into such circumstances. Moreover, when the exposure to the world comes at an increasingly early stage in ones life, it leads to increased negative thoughts and depression. Now the horrors of the world are constantly at the fingertips of even the youngest of children and all the reasons NOT to dream big being displayed for the historically most creative age group.


In conclusion, how does this relate to alexithymia? Well, this condition is not necessarily a condition, rather it’s a state of mind encompassing other undiscovered mentalities. Children who are seeing the negativities of the world they are not prepared for tend to not understand the circumstances or why they feel the way they do. Think back to the last time you forgot where your phone/wallet/keys were. Confusion leads to dismay, anger, frustration, depression, and negativity in general. We, as humans, don’t like to be confused. After all, why else do we always need to Wikipedia the things we don’t understand in the middle of having dinner? Yet, this confusion is not something our teens are ready to handle and thus they experience emotional responses they don’t understand (alexithymia). Technology is a window to the world. While that often leads to picturesque landscapes of the Amalfi Coast and funny cat videos, its not one way, and also shows the horrors and fears the world also encapsulates.

Works Cited

Single. Dating. Engaged. Married. Ben Stuart 2017

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