#WATSS Campaign: Why are teenagers so sad?

Nov 17 2023.

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Young people in Sri Lanka have had a rough time of it – especially over the past four years. In addition to the isolation of COVID, the profound digitalization of day-to-day lives and the global challenges their generation is facing the world over, they have had to deal with the breakdown of the Sri Lankan education system and the disintegration of family and social networks. In fact, today’s teenagers find themselves grappling with an array of issues, and this has led to a pervading sadness, apathy and disconnect among them.

A young group of Sri Lankans – aged 16 – 24 years - have taken the initiative to explore, understand and counter this culture of teenage sadness. The Youth Ensemble of Stages Theatre Group came up with the question “Why Are Teenagers So Sad?” or the #WATSS campaign for this purpose. The #WATSS Campaign, launched in April 2023 by the Stages Youth Ensemble (called the L Board Artists), is a social media-based initiative that addresses the multifaceted challenges that young people face in their quest for fulfilled, integrated lives within a highly digitised world.

The campaign focuses on several critical issues affecting teenage mental health, such as digital dependence, crumbling education systems, family fragmentation, online violence, disassociation from social interaction and a loss of hope for the future. It draws attention to what happens to a generation of children and youth when their needs are not prioritised during a national crisis. Social media and technology, especially in a post-COVID world, play a significant role in impacting young people’s mental health. The lockdowns, curfews, and political instability in recent years have led most people to develop unhealthy device habits.

The restriction on person-to-person meetings has now created a preference for avoidance of human interaction. For teenagers, this predicament is compounded by the typical challenges of growing up. Just at the point when children are supposed to grow in personality and outlook through their increased interaction with the world beyond their own families, many teenagers now find themselves shying away from this important developmental stage.

The #WATSS campaign seeks to offer a platform for youth and adults to discuss the impact of all this on young growing minds and lives. What does it mean to be a teenager in these challenging times? What are the problems that this generation of teenagers is facing that no other generation before them has? How aware are adults of the realities that young people encounter each day? The L Board Artists created the #WATSS campaign by reflecting on their own teenage challenges and choosing to address them creatively and collectively. Phase 1 of the #WATSS campaign was launched in April 2023 in tandem with their show – ‘PING! Virtually Everything is Fine’ – a critically acclaimed original play which addressed taboo teenage subcultures with honesty and courage.

Using #WATSS, the Stages Youth Ensemble introduced the issue of teenage sadness through a series of self-reflective videos created by themselves. They also invited adult experts from diverse fields to provide insights into the issue. #WATSS also introduced the 'Shut Down' Campaign, where the Stages Youth Ensemble instilled a strict 'shut down by 10 pm' digital discipline amongst themselves. Phase II of #WATSS Commencing November 2023, the #WATSS campaign seeks to transcend geographical limits.

The L Board Artists are taking steps to take the campaign to India and to 16 other countries in Asia through their networking with other youth theatre companies. November will also see Phase II of the 'Shut Down' Campaign, which will invite families to engage in a ‘Shut Down’ discipline together. There will also be a number of additional activities and initiatives aimed at propelling the campaign forward. The overarching aim is to encourage young people to seize the reins of their own lives and futures, rather than passively succumb to apathy.

As the #WATSS campaign quietly gains momentum, it calls upon individuals, families, student communities and organisations to join the conversation, ask the question, demand an answer, and inspire solutions on behalf of teenagers. By pushing teenagers to address the challenges they face in today's world, #WATSS strives to change the lives of young people, moving them from apathy to action. disconnect to engagement, sadness to fulfilment, and isolation to a collective campaign that will give them back a full experience of the best years of their lives.

(Pix courtesy #whatss campaign)

 



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