There is no denying that we live in an age of instant gratification. Communicating, shopping, banking, even ordering food, can all be done at the touch of screen
While, this makes life easier in so many ways, our instant gratification lifestyle can also have significant downsides. Being bombarded with information, temptations and expectations constantly can take its toll on our energy levels, stress levels and, inevitably, our mental health.
This is particularly true of teens, who are already predisposed to a desire for instant gratification due to their developing brains. Studies are increasingly finding strong links between heightened levels of anxiety and depression in teens and this instant gratification culture.
In fact, Australian research indicates that over the last 5 years the prevalence of mental health disorders in 15-19 year olds has significantly increased.
It is not surprising that that the combination of today’s techno-driven lifestyle and the adolescent psyche is the prime breeding ground for anxiety. It is easy to see how it would play out in everyday situations. For example, consider how something as simple as a delayed response to a text message could trigger an avalanche of worries. Did I say something wrong? Do they no longer like me? Everyone must think I’m a loser….
Before the days of instant messaging, we would call, maybe leave a message, and if they didn’t get back to us we would catch up the next day or try again later. There was no expectation of immediate reply as people weren’t connected 24/7.
Likewise, shops weren’t available 24/7, if we wanted something we had to wait. Essentially, kids of today aren’t learning the art of anticipation.
Experts report this all culminates in setting today’s teens up to expect immediate success. They are not building resilience through trying, failing and trying again. They expect to get results first time, every time.
Not surprisingly, along with every days worries, this leads to increased stress about the future. Many teens worry about what they will do when they leave school and whether they will be a success. The Youth Mental Health Report based on the Youth Survey 2012-2016, found that ‘coping with stress’ and ‘school or study problems’ were consistently the main issues concerning teenagers between 15-19 years.
So how do we help our teens slow down and learn to delay gratification?
Like with many parenting issues, psychologists recommend role-modeling as one of the most effective methods. Our kids see us running from one commitment to the next, multitasking on our phones while cooking dinner and working from home after hours or even on holidays. If we never switch off, how can we expect our teens to learn how to?
Try to slow down as a family. Set rules around technology that help them disconnect, for example – no devices at the dinner table and charging overnight in communal area so there are no screens in the bedroom to steal precious sleep time.
Play board games, take family walks, learn how to meditate together and practice mindfulness. You can also introduce your teen to experiences like the ones listed on this post. Simple things like these will help our kids learn how to slow down and delay gratification. It will also give you the opportunity to tune in to how your child is feeling and to talk about any worries.
If your teen is experiencing obvious signs of anxiety, Beyond Blue’s Brave Program is one of many great resources to help them cope better. They also have resources for parents.