We must listen more to teenagers

I’ve been reading the “bod” postcards issued by Kanner-Jugendtelefon (KJT) relating to bullying, self-harming, relationship break-ups, and all sorts of issues that affect young people, and it’s been playing heavily on my mind.

A few weeks ago, a young woman committed suicide from the Pont Grand-Duchesse Charlotte (red bridge).

It made me realise how little I know or understand about teenagers today.

Constantly on high alert

A few months ago I remember seeing a video in which someone talked about the impact our “switched on” society with its smart phones and tablets, social media and photo uploads is having on the younger generation.

The need to be continuously online, checking friend updates and posting snapshots means we are on constant high alert. Technology is so integral to our lives that it’s hard to switch off. Add to this something as nasty as cyber-bullying or even just the feelings of isolation from not being popular online and you have a recipe for spiralling self-worth.

What will be the long-term impact on those teenagers who feel voiceless, or perhaps even more worrying, those who have to tell everyone everything they do in real time? Instant gratification is an exhausting way to live life.

I see this already in my children. I had time to be bored in my childhood. My children seem to have countless activities. If they have free time I am guilty of filling it up with family trips and socialising. Even at home we are bombarded with “entertainment”. There are dozens of cable channels and games apps dedicated to child and teen audiences.

Adults too are suffering. It’s a rare day when I don’t see someone on the phone whilst driving, shopping, and even eating lunch. If I am always in a rush, time poor, checking my phone and emails, what sort of message is this giving my children?

Promise of a future

The other worrying statistic in Luxembourg is the youth unemployment. It’s possibly much better than much of Europe, but it’s still hovering at about 19%.*

There are some amazing youth programmes in place but I can’t help thinking that the young people who benefit from them are precisely the well-educated go-getting ones who would probably succeed in life anyway.

What about the ones who have stopped listening at school and who aren’t going into higher education? Who is paying attention to them and reaching out when they feel vulnerable?

My daughter is fast approaching double digits and will soon be a teen. It will be futile to resist the unstoppable force of technology, and I am careful to teach her about the pitfalls of the online world while she still listens to me.

Already she is worried about her friendships and how she is doing at school. Is she too good at something or not good enough? The maxim, “try your best” is wearing thin. She’s already aware of class room etiquette, and afraid of being an outsider.

Who’s listening?

While it would be a good idea to have in-built anti-suicide systems in bridges, I guess we can’t protect every bridge and railway line.

It would be far better to understand and help teenagers before it ever gets so serious. To do that we’ll need to stop being so busy, put technology second, and start listening to them much, much more.