Do you have a positive attitude? Would you say that you have good self-esteem? How is your self-confidence? Do you feel good about yourself? Do people enjoy being around you? Are you happy?
The World Health Organization now lists depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, with over 300 million people suffering. That is nearly the same number of people who live in the entire United States. If that is true then it begs elaboration. Why are people so down?
Is it stress? Shouldn’t we have much more free time now than ever before? We live in a society with the greatest number of technological advances in the history of mankind. We have more modern conveniences and effort-saving devices than people who lived only 100 years ago could ever have imagined. We have dishwashers, washing machines, and microwave ovens to reduce the time and effort we spend on domestic tasks. We even have indoor plumbing and running water without having to go outside to fetch water. These were not available even as luxuries for most of human history. Food is plentiful and there is no shortage of recreational opportunities. Why are we so down?
What if technology itself is the culprit or contributes to the problem? Could it be that exposure to social media changes the way we think about ourselves and our expectations for what we want our lives to look like? When we see pictures of people having a great time, dressing well, and looking beautiful can that make us feel down in comparison?
The American Psychological Association recently republished a 2017 study of 41,641 college students which concluded that perfectionism is constantly increasing. The researchers also found a corresponding rise in anxiety, depression, and even suicide. The harder people try to mask or eliminate flaws, the worse they feel. Human beings are imperfect by nature. Striving for an impossible goal can only leave one feeling less worthy, more upset, and ultimately hopeless. We can never match unrealistic pictures which were taken by professionals in curated lighting, electronically airbrushed, and elevated into an artistic, aspirational concept.
We as religious Jews are fortunate to have excellent direction for how we should live as expressed by Hashem in His Torah and through our oral tradition. We have very specific guidelines about how we should act and dress. We are directed to be modest in the way we live our lives, not only in the way we dress.
Our wealth and success are not fodder for the visual consumption of others. We need not build our self-esteem and satisfaction based on how many likes we can accumulate. Instagram itself is said to be doing away with publicly showing how many like counts each picture garners. People are spiraling into a pit of comparative emotions where our value is affected by what others think and say about us. Just look at the widespread issue of bullying and see how much pain that causes. People can feel destroyed by what others think and say about them.
Realistically we cannot turn back the clock for our children. Social media is here to stay. Many would posit that taking away a child’s phone is viewed as cruel and unusual punishment. But we need not abandon them to be on their own on social media for the majority of the day. We can and should do a better job supervising what our kids are doing online. I think the dangers of unfettered social media use are already well established.
We have the power to invest meaningful positive reinforcement in our children. They look up to us initially for their own self-worth and to learn to believe in themselves. Take the time, invest the effort, and let your kids know how great they are. That kind of consistent and positive message can do wonders for helping our children feel a sense of well-being, reduce anxiety, and make them feel happier. Never assume they know how you feel. Make a proactive effort to spend time with them and to invest your time with them while they are still under your roof. Remember, these are the good ole days.