With the advancement of technology, the internet, and social media, is society experiencing a different type of social injustice?
In this episode of our podcast, we discuss the impact of a silent epidemic that is slowly wreaking havoc across global society.
We explore how the constant exposure to the internet and social media promotes a culture of comparison, where wealth and perfection are becoming standardised goals, and minority ideologies are being funneled into innocent minds. The impact of all these things eventually leads to the development of issues that are challenging society. All this can make it difficult for youth to develop a strong sense of identity, as they are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages about who they should be. So, what can a generation being raised by the internet do about overcoming this silent epidemic?
Listen to the full podcast episode by clicking below or read through the transcript.
Bushra: Welcome back to the Muslims Down Under podcast where we talk about various social constructs and challenge ideologies that lead to social injustices. Peace be upon you all today. Joining me on this podcast episode is Faiza! Faiza is a student and has a passion for learning as well as the arts, baking, and sports. But, I think the most important reason for inviting Faiza to this conversation was that she is a young person currently navigating today’s society. So, I’m really looking forward to discussing today’s topic with her. Welcome to the podcast Faiza, peace be upon you!
Faiza: Peace be upon you too, and thank you so much for inviting me to this very, very interesting episode. I really look forward to discussing it with you.
Bushra: So, in the very first episode, which I would recommend that you go and have a listen if you already haven’t listened to this episode, we discussed the nuclear family and what kind of impact society is experiencing as a result of the breakdown of this traditional family model. We discussed various ways that children are suffering and how it is severely impacting their general well-being as well as their growth and development.
And what we’re realising is that the overall trend towards materialism in society, it’s putting such a huge pressure on parents when parents value material possessions over other things, like developing good relationships, having good experiences, and even things like personal growth, it can lead to parents feeling like they need to provide their children with more and more material things in order to be good parents, and this is a never-ending cycle as parents are constantly trying to keep up with the latest trends and fads. But unfortunately, this is what parenting is looking like more and more in the modern day.
Faiza: Yes. This pressure of materialistic pursuits or the trend of materialism to which society is heading can have negative implications for both parents and children. It can lead to increased stress, increased anxiety, financial strain, and in general, burnout. And, for children, it can lead to increased materialism, increased feelings of entitlement, and overall, a lack of appreciation for all that their parents do for them. And this is becoming a common trend.
We see this as a silent epidemic because it really is. No one’s talking about it. No one’s willing to talk about it, yet it affects so many members of our society in so many different ways that it is so important that we actually talk about it and talk about it in detail and discuss every aspect of it.
Bushra: Yeah, exactly. And I think parents start to feel overwhelmed as a result of all of this because we live in a culture of comparison. We’re constantly feeling pressured to provide our children with the latest and greatest gadgets, the best clothes, the best experiences, and all of this can lead to stress as parents feel like they need to keep up with the Joneses. Even things like academic success. I think parents put so much pressure on themselves and their children to provide their children with things like tutors, extracurricular activities, and other enrichment opportunities. But they’re not doing it for the right reasons, it’s not so that they can, you know, promote the growth and development of their children. They’re only doing it so that they can be better parents in comparison to other parents. And when that focus is on trying to nourish your ego, I guess, and not so much the actual growth and development of the child based on their own individual capacity and capabilities, I think that’s when things can start to go wrong.
Faiza: Yeah. So this materialistic trend that we’re talking about really pressures parents to provide their children with a so-called perfect childhood, which leads to parents over-scheduling their children’s lives with little to no time for unconstructed plain relaxation. This is so vital for a child’s development because without it it leads to burnout for both the parents and for the children. It deprives children of the opportunity to develop their own interests, develop their own paths, and express themselves in the way that children should be able to.
Bushra: Yeah, exactly. And you know, we’re so heavily influenced these days. I think as a result of the constant bombardment of advertising of social media messages it can become difficult for parents to resist the temptation to buy their children things they don’t need and this can lead to other things like financial stress as well as extra clutter around the house and excess things that children don’t even use, and also things like laziness or lack of proper parenting.
These issues lead to the development of an entire generation that is being raised and influenced by social media or the Internet. And again, you know, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to our first episode, I would highly recommend that you do, to understand the impact of that. But, when we start to focus on that materialistic aspect of parenting and the only reason we’re doing something for our children is because of, you know, trying to improve ourselves in comparison to other parents. That’s when I feel like, the actual essence of proper parenting is lost.
Faiza: Yes, so essentially this lack of proper parenting comes from parents not having the time, parents not having the energy or the willingness to make an effort in raising their children, which then causes them to rely on external things to parent for them, such as social media or the Internet, leading to children and parents not developing a bond, not developing a relationship and children being more attached to their devices than they are to their parent, and this essentially is the cause behind so many of societies issues such as obesity, sleep deprivation, attention deficit disorders, mental health disorders, the inability of children to develop healthy social skills and a lot of risky behaviours that we witness in young children today and this essentially causes a breakdown in the family structure, which is also the leading cause of so many of societies issues, as we discussed in episode one of this series and the role and value of parents start disappearing. So, children don’t appreciate their parents as much as they should, and parents don’t follow, I guess, the values of being parents, both parents and children start to forget what it actually requires to be a family and to have a bond of love, to have a bond of communication between the two and when families are broken due to this, parents don’t have the support they need to raise their children and this leads to further feelings of isolation, stress, and anxiety in parents, which further leads to difficulty parenting effectively.
Bushra: Yes, absolutely. And what we’re seeing happening is as a result of the breakdown of that nuclear family and poor parenting choices. We’re experiencing a whole generation that is being raised by the Internet and social media and what this Internet generation is now experiencing is that they can end up in echo chambers of different ideologies online and it’s understandable that social media or online platforms, they may not be avoidable, but I think we need to be teaching and identifying correct avenues and ways to use the Internet and social media and informing our children. They’re always discovering their identity as they’re growing up, and they’re constantly changing and learning. And these young generations need to realise that any changes or any feelings or emotions that they have do not determine their eventual identity. And you know, they’re exposed to so many variations of role models online that children can be exposed to and when there’s no formal standard and when there’s no proper education and information being shared, then they end up following these kinds of ideologies which are not good for them.
And these issues, they’re obviously emerging and leading to this greater current panic that we’re seeing occur all across the world within society, and also as a result of this internet generation. We’re also seeing a number of different other problems that are unique to this generation.
And, you know it can be difficult for people to unplug and take a break, and this can lead to addiction, which can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health and well-being. Also things like cyber bullying and online predators. When our youth are growing up, they’re so vulnerable to the way these, very expert, very skilled people use these online platforms to create victims and exploit them in so many harmful ways. And also things like fake news as well. You know, fake news, which is misleading information that is presented as if it were true, it can spread so quickly online and you know so easily on social media. But it has such a negative impact on these young minds who are just learning about things for the first time and trying to understand the world from their perspective while they’re growing up and developing.
Faiza: Yes, I completely agree and I just want to add to this, that social media and the Internet also lead to an information overload in children. The Internet, as we know, is a vast resource of information. But this is also overwhelming people, especially young children whose minds aren’t fully developed, are bombarded with so much information that it’s hard for them to determine what is right and what is wrong and what to believe because they haven’t developed that sense of their own beliefs, their own lifestyle, they don’t really know what to believe. And this leads to stress and anxiety. Personally, you know, just scrolling through the Internet, I myself have seen Youtubers, especially in the US, are producing non-gendered clothing lines – I mean what even is that? And basically what they’re doing through this is pushing the interest of minorities into the mainstream media and onto a generation of children that are practically being raised by this social media and are absorbing all the information that is on there.
Bushra: Yes, exactly. And so I think what we’re now realising is that social media and the internet and society overall, can have such a huge impact on the identity development of children, although it can be a tool for self-expression for exploration and learning and connection. It can also lead to problems like comparison and mental health issues like anxiety and create this sort of distorted sense of self. And for children, having this kind of confusion in their minds while they’re still learning and developing their identities, can be so harmful for them. Social media can be a powerful tool for self-expression because it allows people to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with a very wide global audience.
And although this can be a positive thing as it can help people to feel more connected to others and to develop a sense of belonging, it can also be a negative thing as it can lead to these young children comparing themselves to others and feeling insecure about themselves. And you know, this doesn’t just impact children, obviously, it also impacts everyone that is experiencing social media and the Internet like this. But obviously, children and young people, the youth, when they’re growing up and still discovering their identities, for them to be exposed to these kinds of issues and to be comparing themselves to others and feeling insecure about themselves, you can just imagine what kind of impact this has on the development of the true self or their identities. And you know, while social media can be a space for exploration, it can be a positive thing as it can help people develop a more open and tolerant mind and understanding of the world and the things around them. But it can also be a very negative thing as it can expose people to very harmful and very negative content. So, although social media is a good tool for connection, it can also lead to things like people feeling isolated or lonely. If they’re not able to maintain those meaningful relationships in real life, and you know, as I said previously as well, regarding comparison, people who are constantly bombarded with images and videos of other people who seem to be more successful, more attractive, better clothed, more rich or happy than they are, it ends up making people who don’t have these things feeling insecure about themselves and their own lives and then obviously this then leads to things like experiencing anxiety and other mental health issues as well, like stress, low self-esteem and then this kind of impacts the way children and young people grow and develop their sense of self.
It leads to that distorted sense of self. And, you know, people may start to believe that the way they present themselves online is the real them, even if it is not. This can lead to problems in real life then, as people may find it challenging to maintain relationships or to be their true selves around others.
Faiza: Yes. So where we’re discussing the negatives of social media, I feel like we should also discuss the consequences of it. And I think one of the major consequences of social media is causing an identity crisis in children. Basically what an identity crisis is that it is a period or it is a time of uncertainty and confusion in children and even in adults about who you are, what you want to do in life, your beliefs, and your values. And it’s very difficult and it’s a challenging experience. But it also provides an opportunity for self-growth, and self-discovery, and learning more about yourself. And so the rise of social media and the rise of the internet has made it so much easier for children to be exposed to so many different lifestyles, so many different ideologies, so many different identities and beliefs, which we can look at from both a positive and negative light. So, it’s negative because it leads to children being confused about their own identity. So what their personal beliefs are, what their lifestyle is, what they themselves want to be.
And we can look at this from Eric Erickson’s point of view. So if you don’t know who that is, he was an American and German psychoanalyst, who basically came up with or coined the whole identity crisis term, and he developed stages of identity crisis that everyone goes through. And particularly the fifth stage is identity versus identity confusion. So, in this stage, he says, children from 12 to 18 have a significant reliance on their parents to be able to develop so he says that parents have a very crucial role to play in this stage. So if teenagers, teenagers, and children during this age during this time period, are given positive reinforcement about what they’re doing, positive reinforcement about themselves, and their beliefs, they are likely to find themselves and find their own identity, and construct that own identity. However, if they are not given that positive reinforcement from their primary caregivers, which are their parents, then they don’t develop those feelings of independence, they don’t have control over themselves, or who they want to be, and they don’t know what they want to do in life.
They don’t realise their beliefs. They don’t realise what is right and wrong and we see this in children who are constantly bombarded with images of perfect relationships, lifestyles, and perfect bodies on social media, and they feel like they can’t live up to them. And I feel this myself. You know, when I’m scrolling on social media and Instagram and I see, someone getting a new car, it’s a subconscious feeling within myself that I feel like, ‘Oh, you know, I wish I had that.’ And sometimes it can lead to low self-esteem and a feeling that you’re not good enough. And it’s a very, very horrible feeling and it’s very difficult to overcome and the Internet just makes it easier for children to go through those feelings.
This shows how harmful and negative social media actually is and the harmful influences that it has on the lives of children especially. It is so prevalent and so problematic in children who are already struggling with their identity and who have yet not developed their identity and are still in the early developmental phase, they become very confused. They don’t know who they want to be. They haven’t constructed their own ideologies and become so confused with all these other views that they lose themselves in the process.
Bushra: Yes, absolutely. And you know, as we’ve been discussing, it also leads to many of those social issues that we see occurring around the world at the moment. So issues around gender identity and the confusion of who is a man. And what is a woman? Even issues around race and religion. For example, in Australia, there has been a huge history of injustices against Indigenous Australians. I was reading about a psychologist who was sharing her experiences on the kind of impact society has on younger generations and the development of their identity. And she was describing a situation with an eight year old girl who was in foster care, and this girl was so frightened of black Indigenous people. And the problem was that she was Aboriginal herself. And so, what had happened was that during that identity formation in her early years, she had experienced so much hatred and rejection against black people from these white people in society. And, you know, children first develop the ability to identify these differences around four or five years old. And she was reacting to that difference in race and the colour of the skin. So when a dominant culture is modeled as good, while the other is labeled as bad, it impacts how the child’s understanding and development occur. This girl did not have that positive experience of cultural identity, unfortunately, and issues like this lead to confusion around her identity, so this is what she was experiencing and subsequent high rates of mental health issues and suicide. All of these issues that we see growing in young generations, young people, unfortunately, are occurring. Because of this confusion around their identities. So, this is a very big societal issue happening at the moment, and the long-term impacts of these kinds of issues around identity and identity development for children. They’re being experienced by the current generation and they’re still being researched and I imagine we’ll continue hearing about it long into the future and who knows, what kind of actual impact this is going to have on society. Because we’re currently living in a society that is creating these kinds of social norms which are completely in contradiction to a natural human way of life, unfortunately.
Faiza: Yes. So I think it’s very, very important that we also offer solutions that ensure that children are able to develop their identity correctly and to protect families from breaking down as a result. The Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmed (may God be his Helper) has explained that nowadays education is very important because children are being informed of certain immoralities in school, all in the name of education, and parents need to be very mindful of their own condition and first educate themselves about the harms of the information which is given to their children in the name of education in schools. We cannot really stop the way things are done in schools and we can’t interfere.
But, we can identify these to our children, of what is immoral and what is foul and we can take them in confidence and show them their own good models. And saves them from the effects of the environment as well and it can provide children with a supportive and loving environment in which they themselves are comfortable.
So, we need to ensure that parents and children have a bond of trust. So children trust their parents enough to let them in and tell them things about themselves and ensure that they are confident in doing so. This means that children need to be provided with a sense of security, a sense of belonging, and an emotional attachment to their parents as well. I think all of this, comes from the environment around the child, so parents need to be good role models to their children, which will allow children to watch the parents and adults in their life. So I think it’s very important that children have a good environment as they grow up, so modeling positive behaviours, honesty, respectfulness, and responsibility in the environment of the child to make sure that the child adapts to those morals and gains those morals and uses them correctly throughout their life.
Also regarding this peaceful family unit, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his Helper) has once again said that always remember that the peace of society is directly connected to the peace within families and within that society when peace in the home is based on good morals and mutual respect between a husband and his wife and between the parents and their children. So once again, really bringing in that concept of parents openly listening to their children and having a good connection between themselves and their children to allow children to be able to easily communicate with their parents, which I think is really, really important in having a peaceful home and a peace in general.
Bushra: Yes. Thanks. I think you’ve covered a lot of really good points there and take-away messages from this episode, which I hope are able to help. Also, to add to what you’ve just said, I think it’s really important to talk to children about their identities. This can help them understand what identity is and how it is formed. It can also help them to explore their own identities. And to develop a sense of self-acceptance. This obviously takes a lot of patience. It takes time for children to develop a strong sense of identity while they’re growing up. And so we need to be very patient with them and offer them support as they grow and learn. And it’s also very important, I think, as parents, to remember that identity is not something that is fixed. You know, it’s not something that will happen or a child develops their identity and that’s it. This is something that will evolve over time as your children grow and experience new things, their identity will also continue to develop and grow, but by providing them with a loving and supportive home environment parents can actually help their children develop a very strong sense of identity, which will serve them well throughout their lives. I think we need to be paying very close attention to our children’s behaviour. If our child is withdrawing from friends or family, or if they’re acting out in negative ways, this could be a sign that they are struggling with something and so, you know, if you need to do, seek professional help.
But ultimately as parents, I think we’re the best people that understand our children and so we need to provide them with that sense of purpose. You know, we need to give them that identity that anchors them and provides them with that purpose in life, for them to live a meaningful life.
And for many people, this comes in different ways. For me, for example, it is my religion, my belief in God. It provides a sense of purpose in life for something that I try to instill in my children and something that we’re constantly talking about and learning about as well. Religion, for me, offers a set of beliefs and values to live by. It gives us that framework on how to live our best life. Basically, it gives us that sense of community and belonging as well, and this is especially helpful for young people who are still struggling to find their place in the world. And so our religion gives them that time, that space, that community, that connection they need to grow and become decent human beings as they grow.
And something I’d like to add here as well. I’ve often seen this happening around me as well, that sometimes we feel like our children need to make decisions for themselves, and as parents, we give them that sense of freedom. But, I think that as parents we need to not just blindly listen to our kids. Especially on issues surrounding their identities. You know, we are here as a source of guidance as a source of logic and reason, and we need to be able to provide that for our children. Children haven’t developed the ability yet to identify right from wrong in very complex situations, and although there are major efforts to take this away from children in current society and to expose children to things even when they’re not asking for it. For example, all of these issues around transgender rights and things like that, that we’re seeing happening all around us in advertisements and shopping centers, and as parents, I think we need to be very actively setting boundaries and we need to understand how we can teach our children what is right and what is wrong and for them to develop that strong sense of identity while we are being patient with them, while they are growing, and offer them support as they grow and learn. We also need to be very open-minded as well, I think you know the world is a very diverse place and there are many different ways to be open-minded while still catering to your child’s interests and their needs and their ideas that they have, even if they are different from your own. I think a child should be comfortable enough to come to you as a friend, not just as a parent, and share with them all of their struggles. All of their questions for us to be able to provide them with answers give them that sense of reason and direct them on the right path. And so when we create that safe space for our children to express themselves, I think that children then know that they can come to you with anything and that you’ll be there to listen to them without any judgement. And so we need to also help our children to not only be this kind of positive role model for them but to find these kinds of role models in other people, they meet as well, other parents, families, friends in schools. And this can include people such as their teachers, or other mentors that they’re exposed to and are dealing with.
In saying all this, I do recognise that this is not an easy task for parents to achieve. It’s a constant struggle. It’s a constant challenge. As a parent myself, it’s something that I’m constantly trying to establish in the relationship that I have with my children and they find a friend in me. I’m not just their parent, but I’m here for them when they need to talk to me about anything. I’ve tried to find those opportunities for conversations with my children, depending on their ages, and have these kinds of discussions about things that are happening in society, trying to teach them right from wrong and kind of direct them in that right path so that they can then make those decisions they need to make to form their true identities, built on solid moral values and to become decent human beings.
Faiza: Yes, absolutely.
And so ultimately, the silent epidemic, which is experienced by the youth nowadays in terms of their identity development and what is right and what is wrong on social media and the Internet in general is an issue that really needs to be discussed because it’s a very serious problem which is not talked about a lot, yet it really needs to. It really needs to be spoken about in a lot of detail to ensure that children are saved from further harm.