Years ago, life had a much slower pace. We have been thrust into a 24/7 society where nothing closes, and nothing goes offline. We expect answers immediately from internet searches and depend on directions from our phones.
The skills required – such as how to use an encyclopedia, read a map or recall from memory a friend’s phone number – are obsolete. While this has made our world easier to navigate, the demand on our brain and our bodies has significantly increased.
For adolescents, this constant demand can lead to negative thoughts and even self-harm. As a psychologist in private practice, I see first-hand the many pitfalls that contribute to this self-doubt and questioning of one’s self-worth.
Although the world has dramatically changed, our physiology hasn’t. Teens still need eight to 10 hours of sleep per day, yet 69 percent of high school students report sleeping fewer than seven hours per night.
Another issue is stress. Take the typical teen trying to fit way too much into 24-hours. Now throw into the mix social pressure. For most teens, social media is the best and the worst thing ever. It can make your day, or ruin your life, all in the same moment.
For the teen who has a rumor spread about them on social media this becomes a true source of trauma. As they read a comment, alone in their room, it could create such overwhelming anxiety, embarrassment, or sorrow, that it prompts suicidal thoughts. They may be unable to process this in a way that allows them to see a path out of their despair. Without support, proper coping skills, or a strong sense of identity, this traumatic event can prompt the fight or flight instinct to make a rash decision for them toward self-harm.
I once had a 14-year-old girl in my office who said, “If you’re not part of the conversation, then you are the target of the conversation.” She felt driven to be on her phone and considered suicide as the only way out of this constant worry. For so many teens, this is reality.
What can we do to help?
I found the key is giving them the tools for handling all the stress, trauma and hopelessness. It means creating a tool belt designed for each individual and not one size fits all.
This is why positive outreach like the movement of Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life is critically important. The annual youth conference provides the start to discussions about ways to manage social media that is realistic and still meets a teen’s need to be in the conversation. It also emphasizes the need for talks at home and among friends regarding how to protect oneself and each other. Just like a friend coming to your rescue if you are pushed in the school hallway, a friend online can come to your rescue and offer support.
The Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference also puts students in the same room as teachers, administrators, community leaders and first responders so teens know they are important, and they are not alone or hopeless.
It offers the start to a safe place to talk and someone to listen. The message is then carried on and the necessary and lifesaving conversations continue. It can be at home or school, a youth group, a chat group, but teens need to know that what feels hopeless today may not feel that way tomorrow.
To sign up for the Jan. 19 conference: SpeakStandSave.com. Saving lives starts today!
Dr. Ellen Kelman is a Scottsdale psychologist.