When I talk to people, this subject often comes up. Mental illness in teens is on the rise.
Why? Here are some of the reasons I think it’s gotten worse.
1. Lack of Connection
As technology has improved, our lives have gotten busier as a result of easier access. We tend to pack in more than is humanly possible and in trying to get more out of life, we are getting less. It’s always on to the next thing.
Social media and technology have also made us more more “silo-ed” and less social. It’s not as common to see kids jumping rope outside or playing chase. We’re more isolated. We’ve not figured out a way to integrate our technology with personal relationships and our teens certainly haven’t. One thing goes wrong in an adult’s delicately assembled jam-packed days and we lose it. We pack a lot into our kids’ days, too.
Kids are getting 45% less face time with friends than the generation before, their digital screens having seduced them. Same as the adults, actually. That is costing our kids opportunities to learn, fail and problem solve. If you are an adult, think about how much you learned when you played games outside with friends in your neighborhood. That gave you opportunities to negotiate, compromise and figure out solutions to problems. Our kids are getting fewer of those opportunities.
Add to that, families are not all living together in the same town any more, further fracturing the family unit. Communities overall, are less connected. Humans crave contact with each other and the pendulum will swing back the other way. But the result is that people are suffering from lack of attention, especially our teens, leaving them feeling anxious, small and insignificant and devoid of opportunities to problem solve and develop those life-long skills.
2. Trauma such as Cyber Bullying
Bullying has been around since the beginning of time. It’s not going away because it’s part of growing up.
But today’s bullying is around the clock and humiliation can spread from phone to phone to social media in no time. Ganging up in cyberspace is too easy. Our kids are not equipped to deal with an overwhelming onslaught and it’s our job as parents to limit technology and help kids build coping skills.
Trauma from neglect to parental separation can trigger a depressive episode in an otherwise healthy teen. Just know that behavior is the result of some root cause. A landmark study demonstrated an association of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with health and social problems as an adult. See the ACEs study here.
3. Lack of sleep
Charles had a sleep disorder called (DSPS) so getting to school early deprived him of sleep. He never slept well from 2 years on.
It got worse as he got older. His brain was always on, never off.
Teens need 9-10 hours of sleep. They don’t even get 8 and depression is so much worse when you haven’t had enough sleep. I know this wreaked havoc on Charles’ mental health. With the advent of mobile phones, kids are afraid they’ll miss something and text till the wee hours hence my rant on passwords for wireless phone account holders. I think parents have got to set some boundaries with technology because kids that age need them. Otherwise there is no defined time to do things like sleep!
The amount of information and activities coming at us is overwhelming. It’s easy to feel lost, isolated and more anxious. Parents are overwhelmed, too and often too busy themselves.
Sugar, caffeine, giant sized candy-colored drinks and processed foods. We don’t take the time to eat well. So much to do! I had to go through a strict medical diet a few years ago. I cussed it the whole 4 months.
All of a sudden, I slept better, got sick less often, my joints no longer hurt, I didn’t swell up as much and my brain was not as foggy. What’s more, food allergies that plagued me disappeared. What we put into our bodies is critical to both our physical and mental health particularly for growing teens. I do believe this is a contributing factor to the increase in chemical imbalance in our brains.
6. Lack of exercise
In high schools there are few sports that the majority can participate in. Add to that, that P.E. is an elective in many high schools. Charles wanted so much to play baseball in high school. I remember there was a league called “wooden bat.” I was so excited to find out about it until I realized it was yet another club for the elite players to get more practice.
Exercise has a lot to do with our mental health and weight control which lot to do with our self esteem.
7. Academic Pressure
We want to solve everything for our kids and we rarely ask them how they might resolve something. I love this short book that illustrates this concept.
Our helicopter-parent-generation is so hell bent on “protecting” our kids, they get no opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Besides that, we have cut out arts classes in favor of more “academic” courses leaving out opportunities to create and innovate.
We are so focused on success and achievement in academics, how it makes us look and measuring the success of our teaching, we have abandoned innovative approaches to learning. There is little unstructured time and every moment is planned for our kids.
Kids face so much pressure to achieve, it’s no wonder they are anxious. What’s more, memorization doesn’t teach problem solving nor does it prepare our students for college. Life skills training is so important yet we shun that for trigonometry. And how many times have most of us used trig?