Distracted from grading, I checked Facebook last night and noticed that David Cassidy is gravely ill – organ failure, induced coma. The prognosis is not good. It was just earlier this year that he acknowledged that he has dementia. For many girls of my generation, he was a heartthrob. I can’t tell you how many times I played the Partridge Family LP and sang along with those songs during my pre-teen years. We, the generation of Gilligan’s Island, the Batman TV series, The Monkees and The Archies, The Brady Bunch, and a bit later, Scooby-Doo, grew up on low-tech shows, goofy musical sit-coms, and Saturday morning cartoons. No social media, no “reality TV”, no cell phones, and no personal computers, but lots of time with friends outdoors making up our own forms of entertainment.
Much has changed since then – in terms of what defines family on a sit-com to the technology (and online content) available to youth. Having taught undergraduate students for almost 30 years, I am all too familiar with the notion that musical trends, technology, and social interactions are constantly changing, and that it is hard from me to keep up. Students are amused by the fact that I used a calculator not my smart phone for doing math problems (I won’t even mention the slide rule days). They can’t fathom surviving with a single phone in the lounge for a whole dorm floor. And no, we never heard of downloads or streaming back then. My students would certainly laugh at the close-and-play record player I brought to college with me in 1977.
Other things have changed as well. This week, a friend of mine posted an article about teen mental health. It begins with the following staggering statistics:
In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.This change is seen at the college level as well. Coincidentally, we had a professional development session this past week on how to deal with students who are contemplating suicide. College counselors are seeing a record number of students; just type in “college students and mental health” into Google and you will see all the news stories on this topic. According to Active Minds, over 1 in 4 adults in this country live with a mental health disorder, but despite the rise in students using college counseling centers, the 18 to 24-year-old age group still has the lowest rate of seeking help. NCAA student-athletes identify student-athlete mental health and wellness as their number one challenges from a health and safety standpoint. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. And here is one more stat from Active Minds that is quite frightening:
More than half of college students have had suicidal thoughts and 1 in 10 students seriously consider attempting suicide. Half of students who have suicidal thoughts never seek counseling or treatment.Active Minds was started by a college student at the University of Pennsylvania after her brother committed suicide in 2000; the nonprofit organization has become the voice of young adult mental health advocacy nationwide with over 400 campus chapters. The group “aims to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, and create a comfortable environment for an open conversation about mental health issues on campuses nationwide.” We have an active chapter on campus. Creating a supportive campus environmental is important, but I keep wondering about what is behind these trends, the upsurge in mental health problems? What has changed since I was a teen or in college?
There is growing evidence to suggest that increased screen time and the associated decrease in sleep and diminished face-to-face social interaction are at least partly to blame. Some, like Richard Louv, have suggested that a lack of unstructured time outdoors and a disconnection from nature may also play a role in these alarming trends. I don’t recall my high school or college friends talking about depression or suicide, but, of course, the stigma surrounding mental health has changed dramatically over the decades as well.
In higher education, there is much talk about the need for grit – something many of our students seem to be lacking. From a 2017 article in Forbes:
As MIT professors Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee persuasively argue in The Second Machine Age, fast-emerging technologies guarantee that rapid disruption is the new normal, both in our economy and across our society. Once secured by degrees, professional success in the future will increasingly depend on coping and adapting to disruption: intellectual agility, determination, self-reliance, emotional intelligence, and the ability to innovate.Yet another reference to fast-emerging technologies and the disruption that can cause.
Admittedly, I don’t know how to teach “grit” or help students become more resilient. I am good with sharing the complexities of the molecular structures and reactions of living cells or talking about big global challenges like climate change. I can point a student to the resources on campus if they need help and have had to do so more times than I can count. Perhaps the enormity of the social, economic, and environmental challenges facing young adults is part of the reason they feel a sense of hopelessness or are truly afraid for the prospects for their future.
At times, I long for what seemed like simpler times – when technology didn't change monthly and we could sing along with the Partridge Family or the Brady Bunch on songs such as Come on Get Happy or Sunshine Day. Maybe we need to review some episodes of Scooby-Doo and consider the life lessons that gang taught my generation. (I suggest reading this list and see if you agree.)
We certainly need more downtime from the to-do list and the screens, and more time to hang out with friends and family (and not just via Skype or Facetime). And now, the sun has just broken through the mid-November clouds, so I think I will go out for a walk to let the blustery wind rejuvenate me before I get back to the piles of grading.
|A walk with Corey (before he headed to Uganda) and the ever-silly Revi |
Photo credit: Dave Husic