Letting Kids Be Kids: The Rise of Mental Illness in Teens
In the U.S., there is significant pressure surrounding kids and their futures. Pick the right schools, so you can find the right career, so you can take care of yourself until you die. That’s a tough lesson to teach by 18 years old. As parents, we walk a fine line between pushing kids to succeed and pushing them over the edge. There are parents who panic when it comes to getting their kid into the “right” pre-school, let alone the best college. And there are parents who focus so deeply on grades, their kids never see the light of day. It can be the same with a family business or a traditional career path that the men in the family are expected to follow.
Is it wrong to care deeply about our kids’ futures? Not at all, but between 2005-2014, the rate of clinical depression among adolescents rose by 37%, and while anxiety can be harder to spot, there is a correlation between the two disorders. (Sugarman) It seems the more we push kids to do “all the right things,” the more mental illness is rising to the surface.
Between the ages of 12-17 years old, there has been a huge spike in the statistics regarding anxiety and depression. Among children 2-8 years old, boys are more likely to have a developmental or mental health issue. (“Data and Statistics of Children’s Mental Health”) With the trends of mental health illness on the rise in our youth, suicide numbers have also increasingly become the third leading cause of death in people 10-24 years of age. (“Mental Health by the Numbers”) And in 2017, there was a 21% rise in males ages 15-19 from the previous year. 80% of the deaths were males. (Edwards)
Children Have Feelings, Too
It wasn’t until the 80s that doctors realized children could suffer from these disorders. Most believed it wasn’t possible based on the fact their brains weren’t fully developed. (Sugarman) With that said, it’s clear these statistics correlate to an increasing number of treatment facilities and people seeking treatment in the last few decades, but it doesn’t mean these issues weren’t occurring in years past. However, none of this negates the fact that the world has changed drastically since the 80s. Parents and grandparents of today’s children have witnessed everything from WWII, the Cold War, 9/11, and more. Gun violence is on the rise with school shooting numbers at a staggering high causing active shooter drills to become a norm. Kids can watch wars from their cell phones and get cyberbullied on the same device. It’s no wonder our kids are struggling to make it through a day, and with those underlying issues, along with the push for perfect grades, becoming a three-sport athlete, and picking a life-long career at 18, these pressures can harm a child’s sense of safety and well-being.
Does this mean we let our kids do whatever they want and never push them to succeed? Absolutely not. But we must acknowledge the world has changed. Growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, even the 80s, was a vastly different reality, and as parents, we need to shift our parenting practices to honor and acknowledge that change. This mental health data is a reminder that kids need time to be kids, and that the societal pressures to figure out your entire life by 18, on top of cultural trauma, is unnecessary and damaging.
The auto-response here is usually: “I didn’t have mental health support, and I turned out alright,” and “Kids today are soft. They need to suck it up.” But these statements, along with many more like them, cause repression in an ever-evolving world aiming to shame kids into becoming what we deem “stronger.” But what if sharing feelings and learning to love are far more difficult tasks and ask for far more strength, than “sucking it up?”
Think about your parents and your grandparents. Did they talk about their feelings? Did they talk about the trauma they faced in their pasts? If not, this may be the doorway to family healing. We can’t help our kids work through their traumas and behaviors without working through our own. We need to ensure we aren’t passing down our own traumas, repressive behaviors, and emotional baggage to give our kids the best chance possible of beating mental illness and living their best lives.
It’s time to give our kids the freedom and space to grow and feel, along with the routine of learning how to become an adult. Open communication and emotional freedom are two keys to opening the door to a life without mental health issues. This doesn’t mean our kids will never develop a disorder, but the more space we can give kids space to explore their feelings through play, imagination, and free speech—being a kid–the less they will repress.
Growing up in 2019 is not an easy feat, and it can become twice as difficult if your teen is suffering from a mental health issue. If your son is struggling with addiction, don’t wait any longer to ask for help. Reach out to Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today at (662) 478-9463 to learn about treatment options. We are here to offer guidance and support to your son and family with the hopes of making the process of getting clean/sober, and growing up, a little easier for everyone involved.