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  • Writer's pictureJimmy Ekdahl

Too Much Exposure for Courage to Contend

Life is finite, fleeting, a non-renewable resource if you will. This begs the question of how we spend our time in this life. When ascribing value to one’s life, different people will come up with varying definitions of what makes life valuable. Yet, the most universal and agreeable version goes something like this. “Life is valuable based on the experiences we have and the people we experience life with while we have it.” The rationale behind this reasoning is that only people and experiences are transcendent. Sure, a shopping spree can be pleasurable but its only a flash in the pan. Once the dopamine hit wears off it might as well have never happened to begin with. For this reason, our memories, and experiences, as well as those people in our lives that fill them, are arguably the most important thing we have while in this world. Resultantly, this begs the question of where the next generation is spending their time.

When looking at how many of todays teens choose to spend their time there are stark differences to prior generations. For example, the time spent reading paper media has been steadily declining since data started being recorded in the late 1970’s. Additionally, rates of other benchmarks typically looked forward to by teens have been on the decline in past decades as rates of technology use have increased. The number of teenagers going on dates, getting their drivers licenses, trying alcohol, or working paid positions continue to fall. One would be mistaken to assume that technology use increasing is not linked to these drops. Samples of these populations have been scrupulously calculated to account for changes in technological innovations and modified cultural norms.

An interesting approach to this data would be to assume the reason these risky behaviors are declining has to do with teenagers becoming more responsible. After all, in the same time frame rates of teenage pregnancy, dating and, teenage sex have also been declining. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Author Noreena Hertz documents in her book “The Lonely Century” that as technology use has increased it has fostered a greater divide amongst the entire population but especially digital natives (those who grow up in a technologically connected world). Resultantly, today’s teenagers are less mentally mature than prior generations. A 18-year-old in 2022 has the mental maturity of a 15-year-old previously held and a 13-year-old that of a prior 10-year-old.

While this only presents as a three-year difference and in the grand scheme of a human lifetime that is comparatively a flash in the pan, it is a very big deal when it takes place in such a crucial stage in human development. At 18 a child becomes a legal adult in the United States and while that is fairly ambiguous, some will live at home until they are 27 or older while others have already gone off to college, it is generally when one assumes far more adult responsibility. Some of this shift is quite obvious, beginning to assume ones own financial independence, voting, making major career and life decisions, etc. But much of the transition to adulthood is not as obvious.

Let’s imagine a young girl in her early teens experiences a break-up and the same experience by the same girl in her early twenties. When a young girl experiences a break-up, she will certainly feel pain and angst as well as all the negative emotions typically experienced through such circumstances. However, she will feel pain and seek to rid herself of it. To this young girl the situation seems quite simple and the “situationship/relationship” provided some form of consolation and joy. In its absence she now feels negative emotion and without much appreciation for delayed gratification she will likely see a return to the relationship as a viable treatment to her pain. The same girl who has matured and better appreciates emotional situations from an adult perspective will still feel the same pain and tumult felt by her younger counterpart. The primary difference is that she realizes the pain is necessary, but it is better to not be in such a situation if there was viable cause to end the relationship.

This is a very simple example but essentially this gap in maturity means less ability to reason rationally, comfort and console oneself, regulate one’s own emotions, navigate stressful situations, delay gratification, and make better overall decisions. On a macro scale this translates as teens coming into the world unprepared to handle situations that prior generations dealt with, even if still imperfectly. The simplest way to view this would be examining risky behaviors and the tendency for these to be encountered later and later. In essence risky behaviors are generally not “bad” yet they are not necessarily “good” either. What we categorize as “risky” usually mean that they require more advanced or heavily scrutinized behavioral oversight. Think of an amusement park where they have minimum height requirements to go on a ride. The point of these is not to stifle the fun of the younger ones but to allow older individuals to enjoy the ride while preventing those that would be endangered by their current physical state. Likewise, we don’t want to encourage teenage pregnancy, premature drinking, or thrusting our children into relationships they aren’t prepared to handle. However, when adolescents are prepared to step into the next phase of their lives, they shouldn’t be afraid to do so. To clarify, any new life change will bring with it fear, but when looking at these studies, we see that these individuals are not halting advancement because of the typical jitters but because of much more high-tier anxiety.

Adolescents end up with crippling fears not of the simple task at hand but more broadly of messing up their lives beyond repair. Growing up in the 90’s and early 00’s one likely remembers the DARE campaign, probably more aptly named the SCARE campaign. Now I am not advocating that drugs are good, far from it. Yet, the general idea of this campaign was to show children the real-world consequences from drugs. This achieved its objective in repelling drug and alcohol use, but it also created skepticism with regards to responsible alcohol consumption or legitimate prescription drug use. Likewise, technology has similarly provided a much more behind the curtains preview of what can be expected when adolescents reach adulthood.

A new driver takes about 5 years to acclimatize to driving and develop good habits. To help with this many parents put controls on what their kids are allowed to do and go easing restrictions as they age. Similarly, on the threshold of adulthood it is understandable that one would be afraid of financial management or other complex matters. Yet, slowly easing this process is what introduces one to being all grown up responsibly. Problematically though, more and more individuals are so afraid of failure that they “fail to launch” as Mark McConville appropriately coined it. They become so terrified of failure that they don’t begin to try. It’s terribly sad that we are witnessing the most ambitious and simultaneously fearful generation yet. Instead of the traditional one lane road that most everyone followed we find ourselves with two strikingly different paths, meaning that amongst other areas, mental maturity too has found itself in the most polarizing period in recorded history.

Finally, how can we explain this phenomenon? As previously noted, todays teens spend more time online than any other age group, and less and less time engaging in community and family or even friends. The only reason I really want to dig into today is the way this time online impacts ambition. In the 1970’s libraries were the hub of knowledge. If something needed an answer, it was a pretty good bet it could be found in a library, if it could be found at all. Yet, the early 2000’s ushered in widespread broadband internet connectivity allowing much easier access to information the world over. In 2022 nearly 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are added to the internet every day with 66% of the world’s population using the internet. This has allowed far superior dissemination of information than ever in human history. Never before could you get so many opinions from so many people of varying backgrounds or hear such wide teachings from such different vocations. Resultantly, this is the age of the entrepreneur and the 25-year-old basement dweller. Younger and younger kids get crazy dreams they are growing up to chase yet for every person that learns 50 reasons to start a business there’s 50 others not too also pushed to the forefront. Likewise in every discipline, finances, housing, business, relationships, life in general, etc., fear is fostered as kids see all the things they don’t want to become.

Works Cited

Failure to Launch Mark McConville 2021

iGen Jean Twenge 2017

Single. Dating. Engaged. Married. by Ben Stuart 2017

The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz 2021

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