David Hall Presentation: Youth in Glass Cages

David Hall, a family counselor who specializes in narrative therapy, spoke at Carson-Newman Friday, Feb. 15.

He works with youth and spoke on many topics, but the technology-saturated water that youth are swimming in was a major focus throughout the 6-hour interactive presentation. I missed one third of the presentation, but what I was present for gave me a lot of food for thought, and I share some thoughts here.

He highlighted some of the simple everyday differences the generations have experienced: he recalled calling friends’ houses as a teen. It was no big deal if you had to leave a message. Now, he said, if he doesn’t get a text from his wife before she leaves work he worries and joked about convincing himself not to call the police to see if she’d been in a car wreck.

Patience has changed, he says. For youth today, there are many areas of their lives in which they’ve never had to wait. Instant gratification is all over the place. As my friend Haridas Chandran, a high school physics teacher, described one of the major issues of having students do real science: science is not a one-touch process, and since his students, even the best ones, get so much so quickly, they can lack perseverance. Like science, life is not a one-touch process, but when you can control so much so quickly–pick a song you want to hear, a video you want to see–the illusion of control grows strong.

And when you get used to control, life is pretty scary. David said, “I can’t make corn manifest. But I can get seeds, plant them, tend them, and do a lot to try to grow corn.” But disaster can happen. Raccoons might get the corn. (Especially if you happen to grow it in a garden in Knoxville). The lack of certainty for youth produces a lot of anxiety. And anxiety now represents the largest number of mental health diagnoses, replacing depression.

Anxiety is one of the major issues youth face that is exacerbated by technology. A poor relationship with time is another. Both of these set up what I consider a paradox: despite all the “connectivity,” people feel isolated and alone.

Loneliness is brought up a lot these days regarding a lot of undesirable behaviors (addiction, violence, anxiety). David brought up two studies regarding loneliness and drug addiction. During the Vietnam War, US troops had a high incidence of heroin addiction. Yet upon return to the US, fewer troops continued to have addition issues with heroin than did not. Similarly, a study with rats illustrated that environment plays a huge role in addiction. A single rat with the option to drink opiate-laced water and plain water goes for the opiates more and more the longer the isolation. Rats in a group with toys and company infrequently or never choose opiate-laced water.

People are connected with each other virtually in ways we never have been before. Yet loneliness and its accompanying detriments are so prevalent. William James said that there is something deep in our souls that knows when we are being untrue to ourselves. Perhaps as well, then, our souls know the difference between face to face and virtual contact.


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