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  • Writer's pictureKrista Price

Anxious for Change? (Quarantine Day 5)

This morning I was watching an interview between Steven Colbert & John Mulaney during which the concept of perpetually living in a state anxiety was discussed. Due to the nature of the topic, I immediately thought of my students, and I quickly tuned in as the two comedians discussed how Mulaney's need to be "liked" had contributed to his underlying anxiety over the years. And then it clicked. In a flash, I was reminded that the current generation has never lived outside of "likes". Youtube likes, Instagram likes, and all other forms of "like" have defined this generation.

And it got me questioning: At what cost?

I grew up in a time when being "liked" was a luxury, but not a necessity. I recognize that this may not be true for everyone. Perhaps my personality, my ambition, and/or my overall need to feel proud of myself spared me from the shackles of needing to feel accepted by others, but I never felt "defined" by others' opinions. Ultimately, I was free to create my own assessment of who I was (or who I was meant to be), and I was given permission to rise or fall within that assessment. I had control over how I viewed myself. I didn't have outsiders dictating my worth.

Fast forward thirty years. Students today have the world at their fingertips. It's truly an amazing time. But it's also a time of great anxiousness, depression, and despair. Anxiety has reached an all-time high with today's youth, and most adolescents are barely surviving each day. Don't believe me? Go ask any teen. They'll tell you.

But why? What has created such anxiety and despair?

I'd be lying if I were to suggest it's only one thing. Clearly, MANY factors contribute to the world-wide anxiety that has concurrently exhibited itself in today's youth: global crises, uncertain futures, a barrage of technologies vying for time and attention, and an overall apathy displayed in the world...All of these things push our teens closer to an uncertain cliff's edge, but I believe it's the deep-seeded need to be "liked" that could push them over.

While in quarantine, I've joked that "I'm living my best life". I'm an extrovert, so it's obviously difficult to be away from other people for extended periods of time. However, during my "best life" I've had the rare opportunity to quietly re-connect with who I am, and who I am meant to be. However, the quarantine is not the time during which I LEARNED those skills. It was in my youth that I had to learn and practice those skills over and over. Ultimately, I'm grateful to have had decades of knowing and growing who I was before the overt and published opinions of others snuck in. Without having had the the time and freedom in my youth to explore, develop, create, and confirm my personality, values, and opinions, I don't know where I'd be now. My views of myself would probably be murky at best. Anxiety over who I should be would most likely rule my thoughts. Moreover, I probably wouldn't be confident in the SKILLS needed to develop myself outside of the opinions of others.

This brings me to the most important questions I'll ask you to consider: How have we proactively taught our kids to be strong without having others' "stamp of approval"? How have we given them the tools to feel good about themselves when the world suggests they may not be "enough"? In what ways are we showing them that we believe they ARE "enough?

I ask you to be kind to today's youth. They've got the power of the world at their fingertips, the opinions of everyone on their minds, and the desires for greatness in their hearts. They need guidance to access the "tools" needed to help them to quell outside forces as well as internal anxieties. They need a calming presence to remind them that they are "enough". They need mentors to show them how to give more than they receive.

Consider being someone who helps to guide and provide the needed tools, calming presence, and unconditional kindness that teens need today. Above all else, learn to listen. I've gleaned over and over in the past decade of working with teens that what our young people need more than anything is the personal connection that only our shared humanity can provide. Connect. Affirm. Empower. Only then will we calm our collective fears and create a shared and bright future for all.

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