Today’s young people live under a huge amount of stress.
In our workshops, they tell us that they experience pressure from all sides:
- The need to keep up appearances online, projecting a beautiful, successful and happy image
- Pressure to keep up with the smartphone generation’s ‘always on’ social life, even in the middle of the night
- No safe space away from peer pressure and bullying
- Relationship pressure in a world of sexting and porn
- Information overload without time and space to reflect
- Increased exam pressure at school
- Worrying about entering a more competitive world of work
- Family breakdown or financial troubles at home
Belonging to a peer group is all-important to teenagers. (A neuroscientist recently explained that “teens’ susceptibility to peer pressure is not a character flaw, but a neurological drive.”) This need to belong can leave them vulnerable to getting involved in high-risk activities like drug taking.
The stresses of a teenager’s high-pressure social life can be amplified by social media. With a smartphone in their pocket, going home from school no longer provides a break from friendship angst, gossip – or bullying.
SOCIAL MEDIA PRESSURE
Today’s young people often live a double life. The real one, and the life they carefully curate and publish online. They speak of the real pressure to keep up appearances on social media, presenting a happy, successful image all the time – and worrying that others appear to be happier, more popular or more attractive than they are.
58% of teenagers say they have felt jealous, negative or insecure because of what they see on social media. Young people still forming their own identities are easily influenced; following stylish celebrities or health fanatics on Instagram can also fuel insecurity about their bodies.
Young people talk of the pressure to be always available, always ready to join in the conversation online, and the real fear of being left out.
This doesn’t stop at the end of the day. A survey in 2016 found that about half of UK young people use their phone in bed – one in 10 said they check for notifications at least 10 times during the night.
An Australian study found that bad sleep caused by late-night phone use was linked to a decline in teenagers’ mental health.
A quarter of young people say pornography is affecting their relationships.
Children are now exposed to porn before having any real relationships. Surveys suggest a third of UK teenagers first saw sexual images online when they were 10 or younger. Using porn to find out about sex creates unrealistic expectations and confusion on issues of respect and consent. This puts pressure on both boys and girls at a vulnerable age.
With sexting becoming the norm too, young people tell us they feel “pressure to be in a fast-paced relationship.”
Over the last few years, school exams have become increasingly high-stakes. Students are well aware that the world of work is more competitive now. Schools and teachers are under unprecedented pressure to show results, and this can sadly feed down to the students.
The demands of the new curriculum and funding challenges have forced most schools to reduce the time spent on creative subjects like art, music and drama, which were important for reducing stress and providing space to reflect. Pastoral care, specialist support and school counsellors have also been cut in many schools as funding diminishes.
Family breakdowns are a source of stress in the lives of many young people. In the UK, 700,000 children also have to care for a sick or disabled relative.
These often-unseen burdens and responsibilities can make it very difficult to keep up with school work or stay included in friendship groups.
Government statistics from 2018 show that child poverty is rising. More than 30% of children are living in ‘relative poverty’, and almost 790,000 families are living in temporary housing (in other words, they are homeless).
Financial pressures like these can make young people feel anxious and isolated. It’s embarrassing when you can’t afford to go to the cinema with everybody else. It’s stressful and lonely to keep moving house or school. It’s scary to see your parents missing meals to feed you.
Soulscape exists to create space for young people away from these pressures – the space they need during adolescence to explore, question, reflect and form their own ideas, opinions and identities.