Typically each generation will lament that the one coming up behind them “don’t know how easy they have it.” We will talk about walking to school in the rain, five miles, up hill in both directions, and what it was like to know the value of money. My own generation is no different. The technological advances I have seen between my teens and my thirties are nothing short of astonishing. Even having to stand at a bus stop and just wait, hoping the bus might arrive at some stage, is a thing of the past. We have unlimited information and entertainment at our fingertips now, but has it come at too high a price?
My generation may have been the last mugs to have to stand, shivering at the mercy of public transport, but we were also the last to enjoy certain freedoms. I made plenty of mistakes and poor decisions in my younger days (I am still making them now) but my indiscretions were contained. My transgressions were not captured on film and disseminated to the masses within seconds. Any teenager doing a stupid thing back then would have had to face the shame of school on Monday morning, but would have been safe in the knowledge that it would have been blown over before the bell sounded on Friday afternoon. Not so now.
Young people now are afforded no such reprieve. Their every move is documented and subjected to the judgement of not just their inner circle, but to pretty much everyone. I can’t imagine how stressful that must be. Especially at that age, when everything feels so big and your peer group is all important. When I was growing up, if you had a falling out with your pals, as inevitably happened, no matter how nasty it got, you could go home, close your front door and if not forget about it, certainly escape it. Again, not so now. Thanks to social media, bullies and begrudgers have access to their prey 24/7.
Even more sinister, dangerous and potentially devastating are two phenomenons my peer group definitely did not have to deal with. “Revenge porn” and “slut shaming.” In the digital era, everything is on demand. Instant gratification is what it’s all about. A quick selfie sent to a partner or potential love interest can come back to haunt you. A lot of us have been there. You get caught up in the moment and it seems like a good idea at the time. However, as soon as you press send, that image is no longer within your control.
It is not only young people who are falling victim to this. I am hearing stories with increasing regularity of men and women of all ages falling victim. Often times these images, sent during times of intimacy or even love, can be used to blackmail and control victims. The difference between teenagers and older victims, is that usually older people have developed better coping mechanisms. They have had past experiences which have taught them that there is life after this. Not matter how unbearable it may seem, you can and will get through it.
There is so much advice I want to try to pass on to those coming up behind me. The truth however, is that I am probably ill equipped. I haven’t had to deal with the challenges that face you. From the outside looking in, however, I will offer you these words.
You are not your social media profile. Please do not allow your likes, follows, comments etc. to impact on your self worth. You have been put on this earth for a reason, one which may not become clear to you for many years, but I promise it is almost certainly not to become an “influencer.”
You are beautiful. Your 18 year old body does not need surgical enhancement, your gorgeous face does not need to be filled. Your uniqueness is the key to your beauty. Nothing makes me quite as sad as seeing you all trying to look the same. The ironic thing about our beauty is that we often don’t appreciate it until years later. You will have to trust me on that!
You will make mistakes. Your life will be messy and sometimes your shame will be on display for everyone. You will feel like you can’t possibly survive it. I promise you, you can. Hold your head high and keep going. People have short attention spans and the focus will be on someone else before long. You might even laugh about it someday.
Be safe. When I was in my teens and early twenties I took so many risks. I was depressed and although I never contemplated suicide, I wasn’t doing a whole lot to ensure I stayed safe and alive! Looking back on that time, I think someone must have been watching out for me because nothing terrible happened. I rolled the dice and miraculously escaped relatively unscathed. Don’t be like me. Don’t take chances with your life and your health. Even if they mean little to you now, someday they will be everything.
Lastly, smile. Don’t take life too seriously. In reality, most of us are just winging it. 99% of the decisions you make now will not have a catastrophic impact on your life. Adopt the rule of 5. If you are not going to care about something in 5 years time, don’t spend more that 5 minutes worrying about it. Take the time to smell the roses and appreciate not being stranded at the bus stop. Be well xxx