We all feel pressure at times, but are the youth of today more exposed to it than the rest of society and past generations? People typically feel pressure when they are faced with too many tasks to be done in a set time, or there are very high expectations set upon them. As a consequence of being unduly stressed they are less likely to achieve their potential.
One of the primary causes of stress is having to perform well and continually being compared adversely against others at school. Due to frequent testing, others can see how well they are doing which encourages sometimes unhealthy competition. Today’s children are distraught, and this is evident in The Prince’s Trust survey: “Our 2017 Macquarie Youth Index” which reveals that “young people’s happiness and wellbeing are at their lowest levels since the study was first commissioned in 2009”. Young people often rely on the extent of online approbation from their peers and role models for their sense of identity and self-esteem. Much as a Roman emperor might decide on the fate of a felled opponent in an ancient and bloody arena with a mere thumbs up, the number of likes and positive comments on an individual’s profile may determine their moods, perspectives and aspirations.
To be able to access the best colleges and universities, there is a stereotypical expectation to have an impressive and extensive personal statement. When completing the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) form it is more than just the qualifications that matter. It must also include any voluntary work and highlight commitment, enthusiasm and dedication. For the purposes of being accepted by such a body, it is imperative that it is shown that the applicant has gained diverse experiences and has qualities which set him or her apart from his or her peers. The pressure of making time for this in addition to completing school assignments to a deadline and attending clubs and leisure and fitness activities can be difficult, resulting in stress. Young people today know that they must equip themselves with the skills needed to adapt in a rapidly changing world and for a future which will hold great uncertainty.
On social media, there is so much pressure to act, look and feel a certain way. For example, it may be argued that many Instagram models have an unrealistic body type for somebody to achieve and sustain; this constant bombardment fosters feelings of anxiety, depression and jealousy. Comparing ourselves to the models can result in poor self-image and self-worth. In women’s magazines there are about 10.5 times as many weight loss advertisements as there are in comparable men’s publications. This may be contributing to the increasing prevalence of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Research from anti-bullying charity ‘Ditch the Label’ suggests social media is making youngsters more anxious. Indeed, Instagram topped the study: 40% felt disheartened if nobody liked their posts and 35% said that their confidence was directly linked to how many followers they had. Even celebrities such as Cara Delevingne struggle with low self-esteem and depression on occasion. She said: “We are told that if we are beautiful, if we’re skinny, if we’re successful, famous, if we fit in, if everyone loves us we’ll be happy but that’s not entirely true”. This comment may act as an indictment on a celebrity-obsessed culture which places increasing scrutiny on those who have the ‘temerity’ to reveal less than perfect aspects of themselves to a global market of theatre-goers who revel in and salivate in the salacious theatre of it all… Indeed, media-savvy celebrities understand the necessity of employing social media directors to control public perceptions as deftly as blows in an arena might be parried by seasoned gladiators. If you’re on social media, there is no hiding place. This is reiterated in a recent Telegraph article that argues that platforms such as Facebook (allied with their mobile applications) may be contributing to a growing sense of paradoxical claustrophobia in an increasing competitive and interconnected world. The makeup of society has fundamentally changed.
Moreover, our society is having to adapt to increasingly atomized family units due to divorce, separation and factors including unemployment. Not only has family life changed but as Tim Gill, a childhood play consultant says: “I think back to my own childhood, when my generation roamed far and wide. But today's children are not free-ranged they are battery reared”. This metaphor compares modern children’s more restricted and surveilled lifestyles with those of incarcerated chickens. Such children are typically prevented from venturing out and playing freely and independently on the streets, as past generations have done. This point is echoed by Professor of Sociology at Kent University, Frank Furedi, who is the author of the infamous text ‘Paranoid Parenting’ – a denunciation of the apparent modern obsession with health and safety has produced a generation of infantilized – and the implications of this text’s arguments continue to reverberate around the public fora that is social media.
In conclusion, while the generational and digital divides might not result in literal evisceration, the stakes are nevertheless as high as always; the net fighters constantly vigilant for any symptoms of insecurity on the part of social media influencers or young, vulnerable members of the general public who may be vilified and tormented at any time. There is seemingly no possibility of a reprieve in the form of a conferring of a wooden sword offering hopes of freedom from the pressures of the competition, but rather one’s digital footprint remains indelibly in the sands of this generation’s colosseum. Finally, given the level of tiger parenting on display, it is no wonder that young people’s spirits are being crushed under the weight of such voracious expectations.