Today, frontpage newspaper headlines sensationally report that our ‘toxic digital world’ claimed the life of 15-year-old Tallulah Wilson, who killed herself in October 2012. Today’s stories follow on from claims earlier this week that children and young people are growing up in an ‘unprecedented toxic climate’ of stress and pressure – following a national poll commissioned for the charity, YoungMinds.
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at YoungMinds said: ‘Young people tell us they experience a continuous onslaught of stress at school, bullying, sexual pressures and bleak employment prospects.’ We should take these findings with a rather large pinch of salt – considering this was a poll commissioned for the launch of a new campaign and specifically asked respondents ‘about the issues that worried them’.
Whether genuinely motivated by a concern for the wellbeing of the younger generation and a desire to make the world better for them, or cynically manipulating the media to promote and raise money, YoungMinds should seriously consider the possible unintended consequences of this kind of scaremongering.
Yes, the world has changed. Many of these social changes have given the younger generation opportunities and benefits that earlier generations never even dreamed of. Of course, it is not all a bed of roses. Today’s youth face many challenges that fortysomethings like me never faced when growing up – in particular, in relation to negotiating the online world.
But adults need to think seriously about what our role is in socialising and raising the next generation. We have a role to play in helping young people negotiate new challenges. But we do not help young people by painting an overly bleak picture of the modern world, exaggerating every difficulty and possible danger, and telling them that they are vulnerable and fragile and unable to cope in the face of today’s ‘toxic world’.