“Teenage” Issues

This week, the New York Times released the results of a study asking teenagers to rank the major issues they are facing. The list of concerns might depress you but won’t surprise you.

Bullying, drug addiction, drinking alcohol, poverty, teenage pregnancy, gangs and anxiety & depression.

What may surprise you is learning that gangs and teenage pregnancy are the least of their concerns while bullying, anxiety and depression are at the top of their list. In fact, anxiety and depression rank highest with 70% of teenagers admitting they are the issues they are the most concerned about.

I’m not surprised at all. In fact, this morning I asked my 16 year old this same question and she didn’t even blink before blurting out, “definitely anxiety and depression.” Citing school pressure and pressure from peers, she concluded what I already knew, “it’s just hard being a teenager.” Later when asked, her older brother didn’t hesitate before answering the exact same way. It is hard being a teenager. The movie, Eighth Grade, shows this modern struggle in profoundly honest ways. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. Better yet, watch it with your teenage kids. We did.

Anxiety has been around since the beginning of time and is a normal human emotion, but in recent times its grip has tightened. Although there are many reasons for this toxic anxiety, including poor diet and lack of exercise, here are three reasons that rise to the top.

Self Diagnosis: Google has become the go-to reference for our feelings and many people mis-label them accordingly. If it walks like anxiety and talks like anxiety, it must be anxiety. It could be. It also could be your body’s very normal way of preparing you to handle life’s challenges. A test, a new job, a new relationship. These are all big things and our body has a built in mechanism that readies us to embrace these normal challenges. The emotion feels similar to anxiety and many improperly label it as such, “I have so much anxiety about this.” This negative narrative leads to a feeling of dread and a desire to escape life when all that is required is a new label on what we’re feeling. “This feeling is the fuel I need to overcome this challenge.”

Connected. With over 90% of teenagers sporting cell phones, they are never without scrolling reminders that they live in a troubled world outside their control. They see it happening but are powerless to do anything to stop it. That, combined with social media apps rewarding them for their streaks of pretending everything is ok when it is clearly not, this 24-7 distraction has created a deeply connected, yet impossibly alone, generation. Teenagers, like all human beings, need daily doses of meaningful connection through face to face communication and honest conversation. Often they go from a long day at school, directly to a scheduled activity (sports, dance, work) with no break or meal in between crashing into bed later that night attempting homework before finally falling asleep having just been reminded by their phone one last time that the world is still messed up. They have barely exchanged a word with their parents, who, it turns out, are just as busy, distracted and anxious.

Helicopter Parenting.  Many modern parents over-estimate the obstacles facing their children while under-estimating their children’s ability to handle those obstacles. I believe these parents mean well but they don’t understand what they mean. They aim to help guide and protect their children but the subtle message that comes across to the teenager is, “I don’t believe you have the ability to handle life’s challenges on your own, so I’m going to handle them for you.” Guess how this story ends. When the child is inevitably faced with an obstacle their parents are unable to prevent or overcome for them, they are left exposed, with the realization that hey are un-prepared to handle their own life. This highly vulnerable state is a breeding ground for toxic anxiety and if left unchecked, can lead to depression. As parents, we need to let go and allow our kids to experience challenge and failure on their own. It’s the only way they’ll learn the life skills and develop the character necessary to become functional adults.

What’s a post on teenage anxiety have to do with adults? (I’m assuming only adults read this blog?) Also, why blog so much about anxiety/ managing our thoughts?

Two reasons.

  1. Adults are often just as anxious and distracted as their teenage kids. See our insane schedule and our anxiety-motivated helicopter style of parenting.
  2. Anxiety is the number one reason people don’t leap. They overestimate what could go wrong if they do, and underestimate their ability to navigate through the challenge.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. If we ever hope to take a meaningful leap in our life, we must start by leaping away from the limiting belief that say’s we can’t.

Why are our teenager’s so anxious and depressed? Perhaps they are following our lead.





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