Back to School: In 2019, More to Worry About Than Just Classes

Photo by Kimberly Farmer

As my 18 year old niece prepares to start her freshman year of college, I asked what she was most looking forward to and what she was most anxious about. Her answer to what concerned her most both surprised and saddened me. I had expected my overachieving and hardworking niece to say she was most worried about the workload at the Ivy League university.  Instead, she confided that she was most anxious about the mental and emotional challenges that might await her freshman class in a world of campus shootings and sexual assaults.  She said the hardest part about transitioning from junior high to high school was that she no longer could easily solve her friends’ problems or cheer them up.  Depression, eating disorders, cutting and a friend’s parent’s suicide were the heavy burdens she helped her friends to shoulder in high school.

They’re certainly not the first generation of teenagers to face such issues, but their burden may be heavier given the role of social media in their lives. As excerpted from the Wall Street Journal: “The American Association of Pediatrics now warns that too much social-media use can lead to depression and anxiety. Social media works against basic developmental goals—physical, cognitive, relational, sexual and maturational. Girls sleep with their phones and react to every notification. As they create more interesting, supposedly happier virtual personas for themselves, their real selves diminish. Girls collect “likes” instead of making friends. They can be devastated by a cruel text or a tepid reaction to a selfie. Long before they hold hands with a date, they are exposed to online pornography and misogynistic messages.

In a sense, modern girls are never truly alone and never truly with others. In a 2018 national health survey by Cigna, girls reported the highest levels of loneliness on record.  The nonprofit group Common Sense Media found that contemporary teens spend six to nine hours a day online. “

         Imagine if those six to nine hours spent online were instead spent participating in activities or spending time with friends and family in person.  That’s time that could result in making memories and stronger connections.  I see social media as the equivalent of cotton candy. It’s fun while you’re consuming it, but not so fun once the sugar high wears off. Just as too much cotton candy can rot your teeth, too much social media can harm your self-esteem.

         I shared the Wall Street Journal article(

from which I took the excerpt above with my niece and reminded her that a good old fashioned hug in person beats an emoji any day and that I’m here to give her one anytime.

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