How can young people be raised when the instant gratification of a life online affects all aspects of their life asks DESPINA NICOLA

Few would disagree that the young of today are spoilt and entitled, but how did that happen? Have we been over indulging our children? Is this due to showing them excessive affection? And what can we now do?

I have been teaching children for over 30 years and have noticed how over this time parents are becoming ever more concerned by how self-absorbed their children have become. Parenting styles have changed due to influences in society and as a result, children have become more demanding.

After listening to a talk by Simon Sinek, it would appear that it all started with those born after 1984. For some reason, young people of this era have been encouraged to believe that the world revolves around them, and have become the generation of entitlement. So, how can we, as educators and parents, help these children?

The issue stems from four main factors according to Sinek: parenting styles, technology, impatience and the environment. In terms of style, many parents overpraise their children to make them feel special but end up seeing them as more outstanding than they actually are. They may even go so far as to quarrel about grades with teachers or may do homework for them so that their children can enjoy more free time. These children usually grow up unable to handle life’s responsibilities.

With regard to technology, I have had parents complain about how when they bought their child a computer game or a mobile phone, they withdrew from real life and became anti-social. They then entered into what is termed a ‘techno-realm’, where their main interaction is playing games against other children. Alongside the limited conversation here, their language and behaviour tend to become coarse and aggressive. This can lead to an addiction to technology and to feelings of depression when not playing games. At school and around others in their social sphere, these children are often seen as lazy or self-absorbed.

Teenagers who are addicted to technology also tend to compare their lives with others. Facebook and Instagram have allowed people to filter their real feelings by making them look happy, when in fact they are not. This, as well as a tendency for certain teenagers to wear fewer clothes with a view to attracting physical attention. And when their posts are not liked they feel it is a direct reflection on them. It has been shown that people who spend most time on social media tend to be the most miserable because they live life in a fake world. Here, there is no real internal happiness.

Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain when we smoke, drink alcohol, do drugs and gamble, among other things. Sinek tells us that when young people gain significant attention their dopamine levels soar, leading to craving instant gratification later on in life. The habit of needing dopamine is learnt at a young age and is then hard wired. It is this instant gratification that numbs any feelings of emptiness. This is clearly a poor substitute for addressing and actually dealing with any life issues.

With instant doses of dopamine, adolescents manage to minimise feelings of irritation. This is why many teens adopt a lifestyle consisting of what they see as instant solutions. For example, by downloading apps and instantly ordering anything they want online, like fast food and video games. Even the way friendships are formed is instant. Dating sites provide direct connections to other similarly minded people. This instant gratification amounts to disposable experiences and can have detrimental effects on teens. By getting to spend quality time and getting to know real people properly, i.e. mentally and emotionally, provides a sense of purpose and can in turn help avoid toxic relationships later in life.

With respect to young people and their environment, many seek a life where they have a purpose and rewards to go with it. Again though, they may want instant results, thus rejecting any thought of putting in the hard work involved in getting there. They may want a job that will give them authority right away, but may not be aware of the responsibility involved in holding such a position.

I was bought up in a different generation. And like my peers, I grew up to respect elders, form strong bonds and loving relationships with family and friends, and to feel able to share love with others. As for education, I knew that I had to work hard for grades; my parents would ask me, not teachers, to take responsibility for any failure to achieve good results. Technology was not a distraction back then, because we played outside, forming real relationships and learning good social skills.

Society could benefit from adopting more responsible parenting styles to deal with the challenges that the post-millennial generation now face. Firstly, by finding a way to decrease the use of social media as well as the general overuse of mobile phones. Young people need to be encouraged to come out of their comfort zones, and help to adapt to their new environment. Society needs to make it acceptable for them to feel awkward and vulnerable when facing the real life challenge of forming real relationships. In this way, the next generation may stand a better chance of becoming happy and fulfilled adults who can truly flourish in whatever choices they make.

Despina Nicola is author of Enough is Enough, A Guide to Managing Addictions