Growing up lonely (by John Cooper)

I recently went to a 14th birthday party as a responsible adult. I mainly hid upstairs and tried to watch a film over the colossal shrieking. Downstairs we had set up a karaoke room, a piano room and a dance floor so they could sing, play and throw some shapes.

When I went downstairs to check on the sausage rolls most of the kids were stood around taking pictures of each other. It seems that this is what a teenage girl’s party is these days- an online pouting contest. Life has become all about the Instagram likes. How do you keep up with the ‘popular girls’?

Oh, maybe it’s just me. I’m in my mid-forties, Iam not supposed to understand their culture or like their music. So, I shrugged my shoulders and went around with a bin bag, collecting discarded fruit shoots. The feedback on the party was that it was a big success, so everyone was happy. If they want to obsess over themselves, I can’t stop them. At least they are in the same room as each other.

At the expense of the real world, so many young people put their efforts in to making friends online. These are people that they will never actually meet- your best mate is in Finland, your girlfriend is in Wisconsin, that kind of thing. I know that some friendships forged online can be satisfying and meaningful but it’s true that these are friends you’ll never hug or share a bag of pork scratchings with.

I’ve heard it said that there is a loneliness epidemic. I understand how it happens to pensioners, but it’s also a problem with teenagers. I worked with a young woman who told me that she’d run away from home but she couldn’t bear not to have internet access. She had no real friends and her parents didn’t understand her so she took refuge online. Teenage angst at 50mbps.

Orson Wells said in an interview once, that in his youth, the biggest stars in the world were opera singers. In his later life it was movie stars. Perhaps then it became musicians and then sports stars. Heaven help us, but could it now be YouTubers? Glorified television presenters. Like an endless episode of the one show with high pitch shrieking about what make up to wear.

What do I know? Just that I see more and more teenagers in my therapy practice for confidence and anxiety issues. Most of them are lonely, most spend all of their free time online. To think that our parents complained about us hanging about on street corners or mooching around arcades. Pretty soon I’ll be actively encouraging my two to hang around in the doorway of Gala Bingo with a can of Red Stripe and twenty Regal King size. At least it’ll get them out of the house.

From my Peterborough Evening Telegraph column March 2019