They live in an airbrushed world where social media filters out setbacks and encourages us to âfollow your blissâ and âlive your best lifeâ.
Yet these trite âinspoâ slogans sit alongside statistics that portray an alarming truth: our young people are drowning in a sea of toxic stress.
ABS data shows we have the highest youth suicide rate in a decade. Waiting lists for help have blown out to the point that psychologists are saying young people are dying before they can access treatment.
In 2018, Mission Australia surveyed almost 30,000 15- to 19-year-olds and found that their number one concern is mental health, with 43 per cent naming it their biggest worryÂ â more than doubling in three years.
This is Generation Anxiety and they are stressed out of their minds.
And why wouldnât they be in our divided, volatile and over-stimulated modern age?
The frenetic 24-7 news cycle beamed onto phones that have become extensions of themselves warn young people of the constant threat of global terrorism, catastrophic natural disasters and irreversible climate change.
Then thereâs the increasingly unstable job market, the fact that many of them will never know the security of owning their own home, and the unrelenting pressure to carefully curate their âpersonal brandâ on social media.
Mission Australia’s survey found young people are also struggling with how to cope with stress, school or study problems, and body image.
In the face of all these challenges, telling them to âdo what makes you happyâ or âfollow your blissâ seems grossly inadequate, if not downright irresponsible, life advice.
Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg believes childrenâs stress is often exacerbated by well meaning parents who try to shield their children from adversity, in what he describes as the âwussification of a generationâ.
âItâs snow plough parenting, where we think we can smooth out the path for them to the point that we donât actually allow them to ever be sad, so by the time they hit real life theyâre just total unprepared for any challenges,â he says.
“If you mollycoddle these kids they never get to problem solve, or feel angry or frustrated or disappointed and they get this instant gratification that doesnât allow them to learn how to manage their emotions.â
Solving Generation Anxietyâs mental health crisis is a complex problem with no easy answers.
Our crumbling mental health system needs a radical overhaul and major investment if weâre to have a chance of turning the youth suicide rate around.
There are some positive moves afoot, including Victoriaâs forthcoming royal commission into mental health, and Premier Daniel Andrewsâ plan to embed psychologists, counsellors and other mental health professionals in every government secondary school in the state.
Nationally, the federal government has committed $47 million for youth mental health service headspaceâs head office and a further $52 million to bolster centres across Australia â although this still falls short of what is required to meet demand.
Carr-Gregg says families need more support. Australian Childhood Foundation research found 80 per cent of parents lacked confidence in their parenting ability.
He also wants to see as much investment in emotional literacy in schools as we channel into the traditional pillars of academic learning.
âWhat the Mission Australia survey tells us is that kids lack fundamental social and emotional competencies and thatâs a huge problem for their mental health outcomes,â he says.
âWe need to put our energy into teaching them skills like anger management, problem solving and conflict resolution.â
Itâs natural to want to protect the young people we love, but as they face unprecedented challenges in a hectic modern world, we do them a disservice when we patronise them with platitudes that ignore the real stresses they face.
Instead of wanting children to be happy, maybe we should start equipping them to be human.
Jill Stark is a journalist and author of Happy Never After: Why The Happiness Fairytale Is Driving Us Mad.
Jill Stark is the author of Happy Never After: Why The Happiness Fairytale Is Driving Us Mad (And How I Flipped The Script)