Stories of political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and campus protests have become a common recurrence on college campuses nationwide. While it’s easy to dismiss these incidents as archetypal liberal “snowflake” behavior, we should instead try to understand it in an empathetic way.
The people who are mocked online for their hyper sensitivity to just about everything — including terrors such as memes and clicky headlines — are the same people who are reportedly experiencing higher rates of suicide and mental illness because of the culture of “safetyism” and social media.
And while I agree that tantrums over microagressions, safe spaces, and trigger warnings are completely unhelpful to their development and are counterproductive to discourse, there’s actually something more sinister brewing within these young people: higher rates of suicide, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression.
According to a report in the journal of Depression and anxiety last September, 1 in 5 college students are so stressed that they’ve considered taking their own lives.
The study surveyed as many as 67,000 students and found that 20 percent of them admitted to having experienced stressful situations caused by a mental illness.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and over 1 million people attempt suicide each year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention.
On college campuses, the suicide rate has tripled since the 1950s in students age 15-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The uptick in suicides has prompted the city of San Francisco to erect a suicide net under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to stifle the attempts made by some 1,600 people per year.
And as of 2015, $69 billion was spent on treating injuries caused by suicide attempts.
The issue of mental health on college campuses was the focus of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The book serves as one of the leading and logical explanations for what’s occurring on college campuses nationwide.
Social media is partly to blame but the culture of “safetyism” and helicopter parenting, as both Haidt and Lukianoff contend in their book, is also a major factor in young people’s inability to cope in stressful situations.
In their book, the authors explain how safetyism took off in the 1980s following the highly publicized murders of two young boys, including Adam Walsh, the son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh.
Following those two national tragedies, we saw missing children on just about every milk carton, which resulted in parents assuming the worst in strangers and becoming obsessed with safety.
Lukianoff and Haidt define safetyism as “a culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value” that “trumps everything else no matter how unlikely or trivial the potential danger.”
Safety used to mean safe from physical harm; now safety means safe from uncomfortable feelings and “controversial” campus lectures.
So who exactly is iGen and why should you care?
iGen or the iPhone generation (“i” being for innovative or “I” as in self-absorbed) are those born in the year 1995 and after. They’re also known as Generation Z. They’re the ones who grew up with iPhones in their pockets in the early years of their adolescence and who never had the chance to experience what life was like before the advent of social media and helicopter parenting, according to Haidt and Lukianoff.
This has been detrimental to their health and development and it’s showing in college classrooms.
Their mental development is much slower compared to previous generations and by the time they enter college, they’ve had fewer meaningful interactions with others that significantly delays their interpersonal skills, psychologists have found.
You don’t need a scientific study to tell you that they’re also vastly different from millennials and prior generations. It’s evident all around us.
For example, 18-year-old iGens now act and look like 15 year olds. When I was 11 or 12, I babysat my brothers (then ages 8 and 6). Nowadays neighbors call the cops on parents who dare leave their children alone at home to babysit their younger siblings and there’s even a “babysitting bill” being proposed by lawmakers in Illinois to lower the babysitting age.
On average, iGen spends 8 to 10 hours a day on their cellphones and 60 percent admitted they have an addiction.
That means less valuable time with family, friends, and their community, which is critical to their well-being and social skills as studies have shown.
When Baylor University asked 164 college students why they spend so much time online, some said it was to kill time or avoid awkward situations.
“Awkward” social situations are only awkward to them because they’ve used their cellphones to pacify themselves instead confronting the “awkwardness” head on. That’s what helps young people grow into more secure and confident adults and that’s being stifled thanks to electronic scapegoats.
According to reports, depression in adolescents “rose from 8.7 percent in 2015 to 13.2 percent in 2017.” For adults age 18-25, that number increased 8.1 percent.
What’s more alarming are the increases in self harm. CBS reported that there were significant increases in thoughts and acts of suicide between 2009 and 2017, which is linked to increased social media use. Before suicide rates increased, they were on a downward trend for almost two decades.
Can you recollect how many times you came off social media feeling good about yourself as an adult? Now imagine being a teenager or young adult with frenzied hormones and brutish emotions.
Just last week, it was reported that actress and singer Selena Gomez — who has had her own bouts with mental illness, anxiety, depression, and an Instagram addiction – spoke out about the dangers of social media at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Our world is going through a lot, obviously. But I would say for my generation specifically,” Gomez said, “social media has really been terrible for my generation.”
“I understand that it’s amazing to use your platform, but it really does scare me to see how exposed that these young girls and these young boys are, and they’re not really aware of the news or anything going on,” she continued.
And she’s right.
Social media has been terrible for iGen and younger millennials — and the emergence of the their inability to cope on college campuses is evidence of that.
“Snowflakes” as conservatives call them are typically young, entitled college students who are offended by everything. They’re the ones who require trigger warnings and who typically throw tantrums when speakers they disagree with show up to college campuses.
Emotional underdevelopment and mental instability is an explosive combination on college campuses where they’re often indoctrinated by left-leaning professors obsessed with the hierarchy of oppression which only exacerbates their already fragile mental state.
They often end up being the individuals who have professors ousted at some of the world’s top colleges for questioning their feelings about hot button issues like race, gender, and even Halloween costumes.
While screen time can enhance learning and expose iGen to new ideas, its drawbacks have been significantly detrimental for them. Too much screen time usually causes sleep loss, weight gain, and changes in their moods.
Studies have found that it’s even worse for girls. Gomez admitted in her interview at the Cannes Film Festival that once she had hit a certain number of followers on Instagram, she became addicted.
“As soon as I became the most followed person on Instagram,” she explained, “I sort of freaked out. It had become so consuming to me. It’s what I woke up to and went to sleep to.
“I was an addict, and it felt like I was seeing things I didn’t want to see, like it was putting things in my head that I didn’t want to care about,” she added.
Instagram is one of the worst sites for mental health because what’s typically highlighted are doctored photos of women, plastic surgery, and only the best angles of our lives. This leaves young girls feeling inadequate and left out.
Mocking and ridiculing their tantrums is easy, but having empathy and understanding for this generation is vital and the future of our own nation depends on it.
They’re the future of media, education, and even government. They’re the future leaders of their communities. They’re the future parents, pastors, teachers, and lawmakers.
Instead of quickly pointing out and mocking this generation, we should try to first understand them then convince them to see the other side of their arguments on taxes, inequality, welfare, immigration, free college, free speech, gun laws, and abortion.
Instead of teaching young people to be safe from words, ideas, or uncomfortable situations, we should teach them to be resilient and daring.
And the most important ingredient of that instruction might just be teaching them to put their cellphones down.