Whilst doing some of the research for a course I am running, I came across an article in the Independent stating the following statistic “rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years” Although I work with a good awareness of emotional health, I found this a disturbing statistic. As a parent of two children in their early twenties, it highlighted to me that my own teenage years had very different challenges to those of my children’s’ teens or today’s teenagers. Indeed, life for teenagers, in our country, has changed dramatically in the last 25 years.
25 years ago, parenting was much more ‘hands off’. I, and most of my peers, (slightly longer ago than 25 years ago if truthful!) spent a great deal of time doing ‘our own thing’, playing out unsupervised, out of parental or adult contact, having to use our own initiative and developing coping strategies and survival instincts as we went.
Today, most teens have constant supervision by an adult who probably takes responsibility for the hazard analysis, discourages risk taking, manages the time and reduces the need for individual initiative and decision making. Do teenagers consequently find decision making, hazard analysis and coping more difficult with under developed skills in these areas? As a result, do teenagers feel more pressured?
25 years ago the world was much less accessible, choices more limited and expectations much lower. Does the vast amount of choice today, in everything, feel overwhelming to our teenagers? Does the higher level of expectation creating discontent and dissatisfaction? Exam pressure was cited, in the article, as a major cause of depression and anxiety.
25 years ago, communication was far more limited and frustrating; plans couldn’t be changed at the last minute, and whether we had a fantastic day or a terrible one, the only people who knew about it were the people we were in verbal contact with. Does social media create a need for external validation, praise and approval?
Maybe our teenagers need encouraging to make their own decisions and assess risk from an earlier age?
Maybe our teenagers would feel happier if there was less pressure put upon them to succeed?
Maybe our teenagers would benefit from receiving the message that it is OK for them to just be themselves and that they don’t need to be or do X,Y and Z to be valued?