Apathy and the young adult

Jan 10 2017.

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If there is a choice between dealing with aggressive behaviour or apathy, I might well choose aggressive behaviour. Why? Because, aggression can be pinpointed, nailed down and thumbed to a set of emotions that can be dealt with, as aggression is visible. 

Apathy, on the other hand, creeps on an individual in such slow motion and in quiet solitude, unless detected early and addressed fully, an end result could even be a suicidal individual, who has lost complete interest in living. 

Quoted below is Wikipedia’s definition and facets of apathy.

'Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, and concern. Apathy is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation, and/or passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical and/or physical life and the world.

The apathetic may lack a sense of purpose, worth, or meaning in their life. An apathetic person may also exhibit insensibility or sluggishness. In positive psychology, apathy is described as a result of the individual feeling they do not possess the level of skill required to confront a challenge (i.e. "Flow"). It may also be a result of perceiving no challenge at all (e.g. the challenge is irrelevant to them, or conversely, they have learned helplessness). Apathy may be a sign of more specific mental problems such as schizophrenia or dementia. However, apathy is something that all people face in some capacity. It is a natural response to disappointment, dejection, and stress. As a response, apathy is a way to forget about these negative feelings This type of common apathy is usually only felt in the short-term and when it becomes a long-term or even lifelong state is when deeper social and psychological issues are most likely present.

Apathy should be distinguished from reduced affect, which refers to reduced emotional expression but not necessarily reduced emotion.'

Recognising a trend among the young adult population in being apathetic towards most things that define “life”, especially the opportunities that come their way and attitude towards learning, we spoke with Professor Siri Hettige, the Professor of Sociology at the University of Colombo, to articulate his view on three specific questions.

Do you recognise this and if so, what would be the reasons?
I agree with your general observation that there is widespread apathy among youths today. Many youths do not seem to have much interest or motivation in either education or work. It is true that they engage in both but they do not have the keenness that previous generations of youth displayed, say three or four decades ago. This is due to a number of reasons. 

Firstly, there is a high degree of uncertainty about the future prospects. This is the result of the prevailing economic, social and political uncertainties. Many university students do not show much interest in learning. This can be clearly seen on our campuses. They engage in trivial activities, not in their studies in any serious manner. Reading has become uncommon among students. This is largely due to the present emphasis on instrumental vale of education from school to university. The political leaders, teachers and parents emphasise the value of examination success at the expense of acquisition of knowledge for life. So, education is no longer a source of inspiration. 

Secondly, there is also the fact that those who inspired children and youth in the past are largely absent today. This is true for teachers, writers, parents, and politicians. There are exceptions but the general pattern is quite clear. This situation contributes to general apathy and disillusionment. 

Thirdly, future prospects of a majority of youth today remain bleak due to inadequate diversification of the economy. Agriculture is stagnant and there is hardly any diversification of the industrial sector. When Asian countries like Korea are busy developing and applying innovative technology to produce new technological products, most of our youth have become simple consumers of modern gadgets. The service sector cannot expand in any meaningful way given the present structure of the economy. Many youths look for opportunities outside the country. Many young men leave school early and become unskilled workers in urban areas. Others end up in the Middle East or Korea as unskilled labourers to earn money that is largely used by politicians to import luxury cars for their personal use. 

Does this stem from a childhood issue and if so, how best can it be reversed?
As for this question regarding the genesis of apathy, it can be traced back to family and school. Given the chronic economic inequalities in the country, most families have come under great economic pressure over the years. So, most parents have little time for their children. In fact, many are not even in the country. Many parents hardly inspire their children. But many schools have become even worse with a teacher population whose quality has declined over the years. Once again, there are exceptions. The experience of school children several decades back was quite different, even in rural schools where teachers were a great source of inspiration for children. 

Most children today spend much of their time travelling from home to school and back   with little time for reading or any other leisurely activities. This is due to the persisting craze for good schools promoted by the political and bureaucratic elites. Schools are also preoccupied with preparing students for examinations at the expense of any creative or productive activities. The whole teaching environment alienates children from the real world outside the school. These conditions, no doubt, frustrate children and youth but they are helpless. Many of these children and youth are increasingly lost in a confusing world of modern communication technology such as mobile phones. The absence of counselling and guidance in schools makes the situation worse. 

How can the adult population help in the matter?
The adult population in any society has a great responsibility towards children and youth. It is not just a matter of providing them with their basic needs like food, shelter and clothing and sending them to school. Adults also have to set inspiring examples for them to follow. When this does not happen at home due to diverse circumstances such as poverty, domestic violence and alcoholism, others have to step in. The media, the professionals and the political establishment are critical in this regard. But, there are serious problems here. The declining standards in our institutions have prevented those in authority, in diverse sectors, to be a source of inspiration for youth. 

There is an urgent need to recognise the fact that adults in their diverse roles have a great responsibility in facilitating intellectual and professional development of youth. The process begins with good parenting practices. But in this country, there has been little discussion on this so the parents are left to their own devices, often leading to adverse consequences. There is no sound and effective family policy in the country so many families with problems have no external support to cope with adverse conditions. Professional counselling is almost totally absent at school and community level. Similarly, state institutions responsible for youth development need to become more professionally oriented. 

Future prospects of the country depends a great deal on the realisation of the full potential of the younger generations. In a fast changing world driven by modern technology and globalization, youth can also become highly vulnerable. In such a situation, inter generational solidarity and understanding can provide a sound basis for a mutually beneficial relationship. Besides being a source of inspiration, adults can also pass on to the younger generations the wisdom accumulated over generations. Human societies can benefit as much from change as from continuity, not just from new knowledge but also from traditional knowledge. 

We then contacted Dr. Lalith Mendis, whose extensive research into Digital Surplus (Simulating ADHD) in Children and Adolescents that has proved to be another cause of Impulsivity, Inattention and Hyperactivity. 

Empathic Learning Therapy, he says, is a critical pathway to arresting these trends and channelling the children into the normal, natural stream of learning and moving ahead in life. This, in our opinion would be the starting point in addressing apathy in the young adult, which has a tentacle in the while-away activities of childhood.

“Digital surplus (TV, Cartoons, Games, LED screen) increases adrenalin, noradrenaline, cortisol – making children to be on continual fright, fight, flight.  Dopamine and Serotonin also increase - in the brain tracts. Dopamine says - start and Serotonin says – slow down. Latter two have much to do with sleep and awake, appetite, working memory, initiation, pleasure, salience (minding one thing at a time and being spatially and directionally attuned), satiety (“I have had enough, I feel fulfilled”), thrills, sexual appetite. 

My working theory is that it is the neuronal firing order - with certain brain tracts over committed and others inhibited that is chaotic in ADHD which causes the neurochemical imbalances of catecholamines, dopamine and serotonin. Therefore receptor active drugs will only provide temporary relief or none at all and anyway receptor down-regulation leading to less effect will make practitioners prescribe higher doses producing more side effects. More drugs are prescribed for side effects without omitting the aggressor. Empathic learning therapy remodels brain tracts and commits neurones to preferred directional firing.  

Empathic learning therapies (ELT) effectively retrains neuronal directionality while improving the child’s attention span, working memory, recall, connection and collation. Retraining of mildly affected children may take 4 to 6 weeks of ELT with parent being trained to implement remedies at home while attending sessions at Empathic Learning Centre (ELC) once or twice a week.  

Early learning for children must be with empathy engaging the heart brain of 40000 neurones alongside the big brain. Mother’s bonding and empathy is recommended more than other teachers. Smart techniques early - away from the mother, do not contribute to better learning. In actual fact they retard learning and delay speech.

Empathic learning therapy concentrates on the seven functional tracts of the brain. The Empathic Learning Centre (ELC) uses what children are currently proficient in, to make them do what they would not like to and then aim to develop those brain tracts that are underdeveloped”

- says Dr. Mendis who was attached to the Dept. of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and has published articles on Anti-epileptic drugs, Anti-Parkison’s drugs, NSAIDs, migraine, and irritable bowel syndrome in peer-reviewed journals. 

In recent times he has extensively researched on ADHD. He has been invited to address numerous public and co-operate gatherings on this topic. His books “Parenting in a Digital Age”’ and “Right Learning and Recovery of Childhood” are available online from Lake House Bookshop, Vijitha Yapa and Sarasavi Bookshops. 

Two viewpoints, two scholars addressing a growing threat to the young, that are supposed to lead the nation  in time to come. 

Shouldn’t we take note?


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