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Lost in the Virtual World

by Eddie Rayner

by Piet Jansen, Yes We Can Youth Clinics

You don’t have to be a wizard to understand that the internet and social media have completely changed our way of living in the 21st century. Although the term social implies platforms connect people as originally intended, nowadays many of these digital hangouts are abused by trolls to disorganise, misinform and groom (advertisers know more about you than you do about yourself). It is also clear that many lifestyle pictures are too good to be true and, as my mother always said, if something is too good to be true, it certainly is. Kids are constantly presented with a world that cannot exist in reality.

Did you know that on the entire planet, almost one in two humans older than 13 have a Facebook account (2.7 billion users)? Did you know gaming revenues ($137.9 billion in 2018) are almost three times that of the film industry ($50 billion in 2018)? In 2020, approximately 62% (4.8 billion) of the entire world population have internet access, with the US (90.3%) and Europe (87.2%) having the highest percentages of connection. If you realise that one in six people (1.3 billion) is aged between 10 and 19 and that one in three suffers from a mental health issue, you have more than 400 million youngsters at risk. You do the math and decide for yourself if compulsive social media and console use is at a pandemic level, destroying the lives of families all over the world.

Parents feel exhausted, drained, at the end of their wits – no wonder the kids do too

At Yes We Can Youth Clinics, we notice that compulsive gaming and screen addiction almost always stem from untreated mental health issues. It just creeps into the lives of young people, and in the end, it can destroy them. It is not the time online that counts, but the reason why they game or compulsively need to check their phone. Their actions are either driven by a strong desire to belong or by a self-inflicted conviction they never will. Young people misbehave, rebel and throw in the occasional tantrum. It’s all part of naturally transitioning into adulthood, as challenging parental control is the most normal thing to do. But what if temperament turns into aggression or destruction?

Did you know gaming revenues are almost three times that of the film industry

It starts to become a real problem when this kind of behaviour lasts for several months. When being cheeky, aggressive, disobedient, and rule-breaking behaviour becomes the norm. When rebellion turns into manipulation, lying, stealing, cheating or violence. When upholding structure and discipline no longer works. When school/work/social activities suffer and risk-taking behaviour gets out of control. Or depressive lethargy sets in, totally cutting oneself off from the outside world. Seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist is probably the most sensible thing to do. But what if that ship has sailed and a more intensive approach is needed? And how do you motivate a rebellious child?

Perhaps you recognise this kind of behaviour in your students. So how do you act when you see children and families have become powerless over their problems, and professional help is needed? Asking for help is difficult, for some even impossible, the ultimate form of humiliation. There are feelings of failure, as a human being and in life. Feelings of fear: to lose a child, but also for other children to be affected if you don’t act, and to witness a marriage disintegrate, if it hasn’t already. Feelings of shame, to themselves, their friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. Feelings of despair. This was not the life they envisaged. Parents feel exhausted, drained, at the end of their wits – no wonder the kids do too.

The rollercoaster of emotions is quite understandable, logical even, and if you are an educator you are only able to exercise indirect influence. Your main purpose is therefore not only to signal serious problems at an early stage, but to create a network in which children feel confident to confide in you. It is your challenge to align the entire system.

Almost one in two humans older than 13 have a Facebook account (2.7 billion users)

How to bring this message of concern to parents? Perhaps one exaggerates, and the other downplays the situation. Specialist family counsellors can help to manage this much-needed alignment. They will hear you out with patience and explain how to best address families in which problems are not easily discussed. They can help you uncover all sorts of unhealthy mechanisms which parents may believe are right, but in actual fact only make things worse. They can also help in how to best approach the child. In the end, your goal is to align the system in which help is accepted and ready to happen!

Piet Jansen is as the Director of International Relations, a valued member of Yes We Can Youth Clinics, a specialist treatment centre in the Netherlands that treats over 800 youngsters a year, age 13-25, suffering from a wide array of (complex) mental health issues.

yes We Can Clinics

T: +31 (0)85 02 01 222