When Fear Of The Future Paralyzes Teens

Climate change, pollution, terrorism. Teenagers are increasingly scared of what's ahead, and why wouldn't they be? While a certain amount of fear is normal, psychologists advise teens to get help when anxiety takes over.

Concerns about the future
Concerns about the future
Tom Nebe

BERLIN â€" Terrorism, pollution, contaminated drinking water â€" these are the issues preoccupying teenagers today. Some consider this surprising, given that children in this part of world are relatively fortunate and not dealing with war and famine. But their lives so far have been defined by these looming problems. "They represent the key experiences of this generation Y," says Klaus Hurrelmann, professor for Public Health and Education at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and an expert in youth research.

Events such as 9/11 and the Fukushima nuclear disaser have marked their childhoods. That's also one of the reasons why these catastrophes have an even greater impact on the emotional state of many young people, more so than their own personal fears about disease, the death of loved ones and economic concerns. "Two or three years ago, security of employment was much more relevant and present in teenagers' minds," Hurrelmann says. "Now it has worn off a bit."

As children become teenagers, they begin to see the world through different eyes. They start questioning things, looking for their place in society, trying to find out what and who they will become one day. It's completely natural for fears to emerge during that process. But teenagers who are particularly sensitive to anxiety about modern life should quickly learn how to deal with it â€" by seeking help, if necessary.

Unwanted pregnancies

Rainer Schütz deals with concrete concerns about the future on a daily basis. He is managing director of a toll-free German helpline for teenagers and says that the most cited concers are unwanted pregnancies and problems at school. "After having unprotected sex, it's important to get tested, in order to eradicate any doubts," he says. Because "not dealing with fears and carrying them around only makes things worse."

Talking about fears can often vanquish them, he says. "Vocalizing them helps to organize thoughts and discern well-founded fears from those without cause," Schütz says.

Growing up in a competitive society doesn't make things any easier. The pressure to perform weighs heavily on the shoulders of students from an early age, and parents are often guilty of piling on.

Working toward good grades is the most rational way to react to these pressures, but those who fail often wind up with serious self-doubts, fears for the future, and, in extreme cases, health problems.

When fear paralyzes

"Tensions, constant uneasiness and sleeping problems are possible consequences," explains Christiane Wempe, a psychologist at the University of Mannheim. In general, fear is nothing to be concered about, until and unless it begins to paralyze. "It is considered a mental disorder only when it starts to have a substantial impact on peoples' lives," she says.

Wempe recommends information centers, help desks in schools and universities, and also resources that can be found on the Internet.

The psychologist says that young men in particular are reluctant to seek help from professionals. So the Internet allows them to orient themselves and become aware of various interventions to find something they might be comfortable with.

Not all tensions among teens, of course, call for professional intervention. Wempe recommends exercise to reduce anxiety and pressure. Alcohol and drugs, on the other hand, only make things worse. "They bring short-term relief, but are no real problem-solution," she warns.

Fear is normal

Schütz advises making an effort to worry less when thinking about the future. Young people aren't supposed to be scared of trial and error. "Failure is part of the game. Sometimes it clears the road for new opportunities," he says.

In fact, a healthy fear of the future might even be useful. "It helps activate additional portions of energy," Wempe says. And energy is necessary to succeed in life, exams, job interviews and other challenges. Fear of the future is completely normal. "Especially in this specific and destabilizing period of life that represent the teenage years," Hurrelmann says. "Family, school, society. It's all being assessed critically."

And because teenagers tend to project perceived issues and their consequences onto themselves, these observations often scare them. But the good news is that, with advanced age, fear of the future fades.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!