First, their levels of emotional health, ONS says, are decreasing and the self confidence of nearly half is on 'life support', an effect intensifying since 2011, when these things peaked. Those from poorer areas have lower self confidence and lower happiness in greater numbers, but this is not the overall answer. One key reason appears to be ‘social media’. Young people today are hyper-sensitive to what they see their peers doing on social media - and it is negatively affecting their emotional wellbeing.
This is what they shared:
- If they see ‘selfies’ from some far flung exotic place, they mope and their confidence shrivels. It makes them feel worthless, for example, if their school friend posts a photo up some mountain in Africa or Asia. (One might be tempted to laugh at this, but it is real effect). Yet paradoxically, this does not stop them being glued to their screens drinking it all in almost even while they feel it is so damaging them. They seem 'addicted' to it.
- They have a strong preference for ‘glamorous creative’ jobs in operations like YouTube over serious career paths such as becoming a scientist, doctor or lawyer. Yet they privately wonder how things turn out for YouTube professionals and would like more data on it, to try to resist the 'influence'.
- They change jobs at a high rate (which ultimately does not look good on anyone’s CV).
- There are high levels of loneliness among the young and the inevitable lack of money is forcing them to live at home with their parents.
- Rocketing house prices/student debt is leading to high levels of pessimism about the future.
- Many younger ones are thinking about not going to ‘uni’ even though this is trumpeted at school, but doing apprenticeships, though they accuse employers of not taking these seriously enough.
Looking at the statistics (published September 2018):
- They expect to earn much more at age 30 than they do (average earnings at 30 are £23,000)
- Far fewer go into the creative industries than planned
- They may not be fully aware that the average age of marriage is now 32, and still climbing.
They need to comprehend that not getting masses of “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook means absolutely nothing. It does not mean you have no real friends and will never find love or meaning. It does not mean you have inadequate looks or social skills or even no real friends. Having 1000 online friends, but no real friend to talk to, is meaningless. Great people often swim against the tide and are unpopular in their generation. One might consider that the masses can be 'sheep people', too easily manipulated by advertisers. Einstein would not get many ‘Likes’ on Facebook today. VIPs, good looking 'Party People' (and serious animal lovers) do well on Facebook and also those more serious thinkers with media skills who use Facebook as a vehicle for the discussion of ideas.
The young also need to be taught this Commandment: 'Thou shalt not covet, want or envy' other’s photogenic good looks, their partners, their travels, their skills and so on. This is partly because it ruins your self confidence which is part of your survival kit. It is also because you are not 'God in the signal box' and human beings cannot perceive the life journey of another person. How can one know that happy photos on Facebook do not follow years of deprivation, misery or illness or that this happy person will die young and must enjoy their good things now? It is the longhaul that counts: one can only evaluate life's outcomes at 64, not at 24.
The young do not grasp that one must 'rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn'. Anyway, what are the lives of complete strangers to you? You have your own unique path and true self, to find and then to make useful. The most moving revelation came from a young woman who, in a cry of pain, said:
“There are so many choices out there and no guidance whatsoever through this thicket: there is no one to tell us which way to go in any direction. For example, if we choose a career it could be defunct in 20 years. What guidance is there?”
She might as well have added “Who are we? What is our true destiny?” The secular world will give the answer “You are a consumer of products and services” which is a half truth. You are much more: you are made in the image of God and have a soul. It is God holds the key to who you are.
At the bottom, the issue is always the same: it is about true identity. Jesus said one finds that in Him and then one benefits from divine guidance. In my view, the young clearly need to be taught the Bible. They are desperately lost but since they are living in such a spiritually barren secular society, the only people who can teach them are Christians, not any form of officialdom. Yet Christians are openly despised. No wonder some people say the West is focused on self destruction.
On my way out of the Conference, someone aged about 40 muttered to a friend, “I hated my twenties”. I hated them too, until I found faith in Christ - in my late twenties. Actually, it was the misery that was His megaphone, as C S Lewis perceived.