Cartier: The digital cries of silence from our children are deafening (column) | VailDaily.com

Cartier: The digital cries of silence from our children are deafening (column)

Jacqueline Cartier
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"OK, I know you love this sweater, go ahead and take it." A little sister couldn't be happier. "I love you, Daddy, and Mom you're the best." Dad says to Mom with a smirk, "Such appreciation, do you think she's going to ask us for a car?" Those were the last words to her family.

Laughter at his torn jacket and comments about what a loser his dad is because he's in jail. His mom is overwhelmed with two jobs and still there is little money for food. His little brother is getting in trouble at school and he must help take care of him since his mother works all the time and they can't afford a babysitter.

His teachers are pressuring him about homework, test scores and truancy; they see a better life for him. While friends are out having fun, he is going to school, working full time and helping to raise his young sibling; sleep is optional. Drugs are the only thing that keeps him going and he's just been busted for possession of an illegal substance. He's only 16, and if this is what life's all about, then he is ready to call it quits.

Sports, honor roll, school leadership, community service, SATs, college apps … all part of the senior experience. A top college is expected, preferably with a football scholarship. Everyone keeps telling you how lucky you are, and yet it doesn't feel that way. The pressure to be outstanding at everything is such a burden that you feel like you're about to explode.

When will it ease? If you could escape the pain for just a little while, then you could make it another day. You can "medicate" or simply end it; peace at last. You feel guilty that in spite of "having it all," you are so screwed up. Will you ever be good enough?

Teen depression, substance abuse, suicide and school violence are at epidemic levels. Even in "Happy Valley" we are touched by the tragedy of young, lost lives. It's not that life has never been difficult, but there are some issues, unique to this generation, which push the boundaries of sanity. Happiness for many is just an illusion, and judging by Facebook, it is achieved by everyone but you.

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There are many contributing factors, but several revolve around the effect of increased technology on a developing mind. The speed and effectiveness of the digital age can produce information overload. We are genetically not evolving as fast as our technology and it is creating stress in areas previously unimagined.

Our brains haven't changed much over the past 50 years, yet the amount of information needing to be processed has increased exponentially. When snail mail was the main form of communication, you had days in which to contemplate a response; with email, an answer is expected within hours. A text message demands an immediate response. Phone cameras insist that you look perfect at all times. Even your food must be photogenic.

Social media brings a new dimension to the definition of "friends" and expands our reach across the globe to total strangers, whose profiles may be completely fictitious. Things such as bullying used to end at our front door; now they are delivered via phone and are permanently attached to a child's body, tormenting them 24/7, with no relief and space to recover.

If your daily life is not stressful enough, then we have horrific global events delivered via social media or cable news, right into the safety of our homes, in full color with the screams of agony for effect; the blood and violence of war, natural disasters, crime and other traumatic events delivered within inches of your child's face.

Movies and video games that were never intended for children are available unfiltered everywhere. There is a reason why tech moguls such as Bill Gates refuse to give their children cellphones and strictly limit their exposure to other technologies.

While many children survived the Depression, and bullying and high expectations have been around since the beginning of time, today's children are exposed to much more graphic images, creating areas of stress that have no release valve and are causing epidemic levels of substance abuse, depression, suicide and school violence. The long-term effects are yet to be measured, but the short-term reactions are devastating.

Our nation is in crisis, and our children are at risk. To counter this ominous trend, we must provide our children with additional support. Since most of their waking hours are spent in school, it is essential that we add mental health professionals to provide services to students, teachers and families. No child should fear going to school or feel helpless elsewhere.

Childhood should be a time of dreams, not of nightmares. Another child suicide anywhere is unacceptable. We must cut through the red tape of bureaucracy and assign a mental health professional on every campus. Demand actions. These young lives are our future.

Jacqueline Cartier is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at winningimages.cartier@gmail.com.