It is estimated that ten percent of our nation’s children and adolescents experience a serious emotional disturbance (SED), and 80 percent of those do not receive needed services. During my last year of counseling I had weekly group session for students who wanted to discuss mental health. As many as twenty students would come … voluntarily. I started by asking them if they felt teens today experienced more mental health disorders than in previous generations. Typically they would say no. They felt their parents and grandparents experienced teenage nervousness, gloominess, and self-consciousness the same as they do. But they quickly added that kids of today are bombarded with more “things” that magnify even mild emotional insecurities such as academic and personal expectations, pandemics, national unrest, bullying, and the big one – social media.
Ask any adult which were their toughest years and most will say in high school when kids’ self-consciousness is at its height. Teens worry they are not pretty, no one likes them, they are dumb, they have no friends. Those thoughts can be devastating, but it gets much worse when their attempts for social acceptance via pictures, posts, or videos are not “liked.” When a former friend, jilted boyfriend, or cyber bully makes those social failures a viral joke through the school and community tragedies can occur.
So what do we do? Wholesale cultural change is tough … maybe too tough. What adults can do is teach children resilience. Instill in them strength to manage their lives, not let life manage them. Help them have wisdom in supporting friends while being cautious in peer social issues and “teen drama.” Teach them problem-solving skills and give them the opportunity to work out their own mishaps.
I know … all easier said than done. And no matter how prepared our kids are, they will feel overwhelmed at times. When that happens, be there for them, make sure they know home and family is a safe haven. And give them the skills and confidence to navigate their teenage years.