Updated: Nov 15
In my therapeutic work with adolescents, it is so clear that we live in an age where a whole generation of young people are afraid to be themselves. There is this inward distrust of their peers and sometimes even doubts that they are safe with their closest friends. This fear of open and honest connection then leads to a masking of who they really are, our young people have become masters of the mask!, and sadly this often leads to greater and greater levels of withdrawal, self-harm and even worse. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that this mask wearing, and worrying withdrawal, is an epidemic of protective disconnection driven by deep and anxious fear that their true self will be ripped to pieces by a cruel and judging world.
The huge problem of course, with choosing isolation as a protective measure, is, as the Bible and world-class Interpersonal Neurobiologists are telling us, it is simply not good for man to be alone. We are wired for relation-ship not a-lone-ship. Constructed to be safely huddled in a harbour with loving others not lost and alone in a vast and raging sea of emptiness. When we put on masks and lose connection with ourselves inside, we suffer the ripping anxiety of "inauthenticity sickness". When we withdraw and isolate from other people, we suffer the "dark aloneness of depression". So, it seems that neither masking nor isolation are our friends. But can you see how our young people might choose to protect themselves in this way if they don’t trust the world around them? What has happened in this generation to make the world seem such a dangerous place?
I don’t think any of us really understand all of the causes. But in an age of globalisation, mass-media, mega-schools & mega-churches, centralised services, super councils, online-tuition and digital connection, isn’t the simplicity of this epidemic staring us in the face? Our young people have been more highly disconnected from intimate relationship than any generation before. How can they have a deep sense of security if the majority of people around them are unknown? In a world with more social connection than ever we are nothing more than a mass group of strangers. Everyone is unknown and I need to stay hypervigilant in case they are a threat.
I think we also have to add to this an honest appraisal of the value system that we have communicated to our children. Through the bombardment of information that is pressed into young minds 24/7, what are the overriding messages? If they could find a phrase to define what they feel the purpose of society is, based on their experience of the society we have created for them, what might young people say? Would they say the society exists to protect and lovingly nurture their young lives as they are encouraged and supported to become the fullest version of themselves, might they say that society exists to make money and to be commercially successful or perhaps they might say society exists to create idols of fame and influence? I wonder what kind of young person might be born out of the womb of relational separation and endless influencer idolatry?
I’m writing this short piece to provoke adults into action. We are fast asleep and need to take responsibility for the society we have made - the womb we have created. Many young people are deeply deeply lost and lonely and simply crying out to be told that actually they are safe, and that they are loved. For adults to do their job and to start to protect and restore this generation rather than ignore and exploit.
So, this is an unapologetically hard hitting trumpet sound to those who hear this call. An epidemic of protective disconnection requires an army of loving mentors who are ready to reach out, connect with, and build up our young people. If you have the heart of a mentor, and want to make a difference in our community, I’d love to connect with you. RW.