FIGAROVOX/TRIBUNE – The number of school dropouts and young people hospitalized because of their mental health is on the rise, warns psychologist Sabine Duflo. The eminently addictive configuration of social networks is largely responsible for this phenomenon, she adds.
Sabine Duflo is a clinical psychologist and family therapist. She published He does not pick up screens! The 4-step method to protect children’s brains (Marabout, 2020).
This September 1 marks back to school day for all college and high school students in France. This September 1, there are several thousand not going back to school, or else to stop going there after only a few weeks. Their number is constantly increasing: an estimated 450,000 the number of 18-24 year olds in dropout. But among college students, the figure is very difficult to obtain because a student who only comes very occasionally to college, or no longer goes there but benefits from a few hours a week in a relay class is not considered a dropout. In the full-time hospitalization unit for adolescents where I work, we welcome some of these. Those who are most at risk. Those who brood for too long, those who scarify themselves, those who make repeated suicide attempts. I should say those, because there are twice as many girls in psychiatry.
Why has the number of young people who are in bad shape been steadily increasing for about five years?
Numbers first. “Since 2019 the figures have literally exploded with more than 126% of emergency visits for suicidal thoughts among 11-17 year olds and a 30% increase in suicide attempts”, according to child psychiatrist Charles-Édouard Notredame (MCU-PH child and adolescent psychiatry department of Lille University Hospital). The stands with the warning cries of the psychiatrists in charge of these hospitalization units have followed one another for two years.
Why do our children want to end their lives?
For me, a psychologist, we take too late the measure of an evil that has eaten away at our youth for too long. And we are wrong about the causes.
Too quickly we pointed the finger the effects of Covid : confinement to the house, the cut with the college, the high school, the fallback on a purely virtual communication via the laptop. But the end of confinement, the resumption of the “normal” course of life have changed nothing for many young people. They didn’t go back to school because they weren’t going there anymore, or less and less, before the pandemic. They practiced confinement, withdrawal, alone in their room for a long time already.
100% of the young people I see in my office remain day and night glued to their cellphones, scrolling on TikTok, the favorite social network for young people, but also Discord, Snapchat, Instagram.
Confined to their homes but for what? Here, the answer does not vary. It’s not for reading In Search of Lost Timework on the piano, meet up with friends or do the 400 moves, chat, play, have a good time, that these young people no longer go to class.
100% of those I receive in my office remain day and night glued to the laptop at scroller on TikTok, the favorite social network of young people, but also Discord, Snapchat, Instagram. They practice several at the same time. The eminently addictive configuration of these platforms suspends for a time their fluctuating mood, their doubts, their indeterminacy, which are very natural at this age. But the more time passes, the less they feel able to do something else, to do otherwise; so they return to it tirelessly, according to a process already clearly identified some thirty years ago by Csikszentmihalyi for television. Shy little schoolboys, a little lonely when they entered sixth grade, they found refuge in social networks, via the newly acquired connected laptop. “I have found friends who are like me; they are the only ones who understand me”. Bullying in college having become commonplace, social networks represent short-term support. But soon the spiral of confinement in the totalitarianism of the virtual group comes into full play. Seeing other teens in their community touting scarification as a relief, they replicated what they saw; for some they even set themselves challenges. Over time it has sometimes become a habit: when anxiety comes to the fore, bleeding or inflicting physical pain relieves. Some of our patients are literally streaked all over their body: arms, legs, stomach, breasts. These marks will remain for life.
Understand: it’s really not the same thing when you as an adult spend a few hours on a social network and when a 13-year-old kid dives into it 16 hours a day. It takes about 25 years for the brain to mature, for the executive functions, that is to say the ability to control a need (for contact, social approval, for example) to be operational. Everything that takes time, requires close contact, experiences lived together, here claims to be able to be done at a distance and under the gaze of the group. We confide in it night and day, to the whole earth or to our group of “friends” who can share/change everything at leisure. It shows a cleavage, a piece of hip to the one who has never held your hand, who has never looked you in the eye… and who may not know how to do it.
However, as we feel powerless in the face of these new obsessions, we quickly give up and fall back on what we know, on what we know how to do, but which in this specific case is not very useful. thing.
Parents fight to get their child back to college, high school. Distraught observers of his sadness, of this face that has become friendly, they multiply the proposals for going out, use their days off for visits to the shrink, the doctor, the sophrologist… They have already tried several times to limit the time spent on this laptop, also tried to understand what their child was doing there. But the reactions were so violent, so intense that they gave up. “If I don’t have my cell phone, I won’t have any more friends, it will be a shame for me in college” ; “If you take it from me, I won’t be able to follow the homework on Pronote” ; “If you take it back from me, I’ll jump out the window”. What parent can resist these arguments?
Some courageous ones, however, confiscate the cursed object, then backtrack because their teenager has immediately scarified himself out of despair, challenge or lack effect? Or else he ran away to his grandmother’s… to get a new package.
Paradoxically, within the group of teenagers in the hospitalization unit, a new being is revealed: a teenager without his cell phone. This one criticizes little the confinement which it undergoes within the psychiatric structure.
The psychiatrist who is expected to make a diagnosis and provide a miracle drug declares “depression”, an “anxiety disorder”, a “mood disorder”, even “behavioral disorders”, and gives psychotropic drugs that make move the adolescent from a state of daze to that of sedation, making it even more difficult to successfully return to school.
The psychologist, out of professional habit, attaches importance to the family context in which the adolescent evolves. However, he rarely gives the same importance to the adolescent’s digital environment. He is quick to point to an overly lax mother, a resigning father. But he doesn’t know how to help them help their child, hooked on his cell phone, disconnected from life.
Paradoxically, within the group of teenagers in the hospitalization unit a new being is revealed: a teenager without his cell phone. This one criticizes little the confinement which it undergoes within the psychiatric structure. More surprisingly, he does not really express any lack of what until then was his only universe: no teenager consults one here, and the adults in charge of the patient are asked not to do so. After a short period of getting used to it, the teenager comes out of his shell, looks up and discovers the structure where he is: banal, old-fashioned, stuffed with doors that open and lock continuously. Yet of that he hardly complains: the confinement he knows. What is new for him is that he is now available to others, and others are available to him thanks to the absence of the laptop. Quite quickly strong, intense, passionate friendships are formed. As young people have always done. We see laughing out loud, arguing, ranting about the man we saw frozen like a statue yesterday. However, when the doctor asks him how he is doing, the teenager often replies: “Bad very bad”. He doesn’t want to go home.
I then ask him face-to-face why he doesn’t want to go out. He replies this disarming sentence “Because here, we are not alone.” Sometimes, some people take longer to accept this new life with real people. A place with landmarks. They are in a hurry to go home, find their room and their virtual connections. I then know an unstoppable way to make them change their minds. “Okay, you’re going home. But we talked to your parents. They understood that the problem is this object that cuts you off from others, prevents you from learning, keeps you away from the world… So when you get back, it will no longer be open bar”.
Sociability, the ability to interact appropriately within a group of peers, the construction of a sensual life, will never be learned other than face-to-face.
The adolescent’s response is often violent, abrupt: “I do what I want” , “Since it’s like that, I’m not going home”. And sometimes, silent tears begin to flow down the cheeks: anguish of a new world to face. These should be able to be kept longer in the teenage system, until the taste of others comes back to them.
Because sociability, the ability to interact in an appropriate way within a group of peers, the construction of a sensual life, will never be learned other than face-to-face, by the exchange of looks, by bodies brushing against each other. We must make possible what is no longer.
Certainly, this dramatic situation that our young people are currently experiencing is a complex social problem. Nevertheless, it is possible to test some common sense measures requiring no budget, but a little courage:
– Strongly advise parents not to buy a connected laptop before the age of 15.
– Promote, with mobile telephone operators, telephones…for making calls and sending SMS. Phones without internet.
– Really punish online harassment, cyberbullying, incitement to self-aggression or aggression towards others.
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