Social and cultural toxins encountered by young Australians in our current society

“Our society has become toxic for our young people….one in four suffer from some serious form of mental ill health.” (Dr Michael Carr Gregg, leading Australian adolescent psychologist)
In response to Dr Carr Greggs disturbing claims I set out to examine the recent research and to explore what might be the social and cultural factors causing this ‘Toxic’ environment. The following are my conclusions. [The research papers consulted are listed below]
1. Divorce and family break up, solo parents and blended families – now over one third of all formal marriages end in divorce.
2. The educational and vocational pressure to succeed. It now takes the average graduate between 5 to 8 years to find a full time job. Many only achieve part time employment for some years. (Plus sleep deprivation related to poor study patterns and m/phone use, phones on all night and so constant sleep interruption.)
3. The negative impact of digital technology through social media bullying, constant communication without intimacy or solitude, excessive use of computer games, the availability in visual form of all experiences, good and bad.
4. Youth unemployment – 1 in 10 nationally, 25% in many places.
5. The constant sombre background music of international crisis – Environmental, Refugees, Terrorism, Middle East conflict, etc. They feel powerless to affect any change.
6. The impact of pop-culture and mass marketing’s relentless exploitation of image and identity creation through consumerism – “Wear this, buy this and you will become this.”
7. Sexual experience without maturity – in early adolescence one in four 15 to 16 year olds; exposure to online pornography. (This is also affected by the now widely accepted idea and practice in the general adult community that the only constraint on sexual intimacy is the mutual consent of the two people.)
8. Sexual politics and identity confusion – ‘Queer politics’, the gay agenda, now transgender and ‘flexible gender’ campaigns (LGBTIQ.)
9. Binge drinking – 30% to excess, 12% to long term harm; 38% are victims of alcohol or drug induced violence.
10. The redefinition of personal freedom in Western culture from the Christian idea of freedom from selfishness to serve others to the freedom of the will to choose whatever I desire. This now effects all ‘rights’ discussions so they become hyper individualised. The individual has become an autonomous self-authorising agent. This is very confusing for an adolescent.
11. The above (10) is coupled with the concept that it is my right to choose my lifestyle without any ethical restraints or modifying transcendent values because there are no objective moral truths only subjective opinions – ‘What’s true is what’s true for me’ – truth has become relative.
12. Loss of a larger frame work of meaning and source of inner strength.
13. A lack of resilience. There are a variety of views as to why this is so, such as overprotective and overindulgent modern parenting who may be over reacting to being overbusy and underpresent, but many of the above factors are obviously major contributors.
The following view of a ‘youth crisis’ at another time was put forward in 1968 by the influential Jewish American psychotherapist Erik H Erikson. He in fact coined the phrase ‘identity crisis’ in an essay entitled “Identity Youth Crisis”. He put forward the idea that some periods of history create an identity vacuum. This he said can be caused by:
1. Fears raised by new facts and inventions that radically change and expand our image of the world.
2. Anxieties raised by symbolic dangers as a result of decaying ideologies.
3. Disintegrating faith and the fear of the loss of meaning – a kind of background dread of an existential abys devoid of meaning.
(See the paper on this site “Young People in Australia and their mental health” for a list of the research papers consulted.)
Peter Corney.