The New York Times recently published an article called, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?” In it, the writer followed the lives of several previously healthy teens, who suddenly found themselves in a life or death struggle with crippling anxiety.
Parents, counselors, teachers and administrators are all reporting a huge rise in teen anxiety. Psychotherapist, college lecturer, and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, Amy Morin, says anxiety is the most common reason people of every age come to her for therapy.
Though there’s no one reason for this rise in anxiety in our youth, there are some common issues. A significant portion of teens report that they are anxious about how others see them—both teachers and friends. Many are disabled with worry over family conflicts and even the latest news.
Stephanie Eken, a psychiatrist and regional medical director for several teenage-anxiety outpatient programs reported that in the last few years: “she has heard more kids than ever worry about terrorism… “They wonder about whether it’s safe to go to a movie theater.”
These days there’s also pressure from society and the media to be successful and many teens become hard-core overachievers and are disabled by their fear of failure. Add to that their every present concerns over how their peers view them and they can quickly become dysfunctional.
The biggest source of anxiety seems to be harbored in social media. Social media is available 24/7 and it can be a digital reality where teens fixate on what their peers are up to and this obsession can be a constant source of stress and worry.
Obviously, some kids have been subjected to abuse and unstable parenting and this can be the primary source of their anxiety. But many teens have had a strong family foundation and are well-fed and cared for and have had access to a good education and still become consumed by anxiety.
Amy Morin, believes that this rise in anxiety is related to: “several societal changes and cultural shifts we’ve seen over the past couple of decades.” Below, I’ve paraphrased some of her top reasons for this frightening trend:
1) Electronics Are Not A Safe Haven, They Are An Unhealthy Escape
We live in an age where kids can escape difficult feelings by immersing themselves in computer games, or while away the hours posting on social media. A parent might send their teen to their room in an effort to make them think about an issue or problem and the kids quickly end up texting with friends. Young people these days also spend time on electronic devices while riding in the car and often do not interact with anyone face to face.
Morin suggests that we have allowed an entire generation to avoid discomfort and never find healthy ways to cope with boredom, loneliness or sadness: “ Their electronics replaced opportunities to develop mental strength, and they didn’t gain the coping skills they need to handle everyday challenges.”
2) “Happiness” Has Become An Unhappy Trend
Parents these days do not teach kids that happiness is an inside job. Each and every person responsible for their own happiness but there’s so much societal pressure to produce happy kids that parents do everything they can to make sure their kids are happy all the time and as a result, many teens do not know what brings them happiness or how to deal with anger or sadness.
According to Morin: “Kids grow up believing that if they don’t feel happy around the clock, something must be wrong. That creates a lot of inner turmoil. They don’t understand that it’s normal and healthy to feel sad, frustrated, guilty, disappointed, and angry sometimes, too.”
3) Kids Don’t The Learn Vital Emotional Skills Necessary For A Healthy And Happy Life
As a culture, we place a lot of importance upon academic excellence, without providing the necessary emotional skills they need to really thrive in the world. In fact, a recent national survey of first-year college students discovered that over half the teens felt that they were not emotionally unprepared for the college experience.
College requires time and stress management skills that many teens do not possess. Many are also woefully unprepared to deal with the expected minor stresses of living and so experience anxiety over little every day hassles that are part of life. Kids also seem to lack the ability to take care of their own feelings.
4) Kids Are No Longer Given The Freedom To Just Play
Team sports are great and teach kids skills they can use in adulthood, but these activities are highly structured and driven by rules enforced by others—often adults.
Unstructured play allows kids to develop skills on their own and learn to manage disagreements with their peers. Solitary play teaches kids how be responsible for their own thoughts, happiness and to learn to be comfortable in silence with themselves and their thoughts. And, finding ways to alleviate boredom without the aid of electronic devices can help avoid dependence on these devices for relief of anxiety.
5) “Family hierarchies are out of whack”
In Morin’s own words: “Although kids give the impression that they’d like to be in charge, deep down they know they aren’t capable of making good decisions. They want their parents to be leaders—even when there is dissension in the ranks. And when the hierarchy gets muddled—or even flipped upside down—their anxiety skyrockets.”
So How Do We Address the Anxiety Epidemic?
“We’ve created an environment that fosters anxiety in young people, rather than resilience. And while we can’t prevent all anxiety disorders—there’s definitely a genetic component—we can do a better job helping kids build the mental muscle they need to stay healthy.”
Learn how to build your mental own strength from Amy Morin in this engaging TedTalk: “We spend a lot of time talking about physical strength and physical health, but much less time on mental strength and mental health… building mental strength is the key to reaching your greatest potential.”
Facebook image: solominviktor/Shutterstock
Psychology Today: 10 Reasons Why Today’s Teenagers Are So Anxious
The New York Times: Why Are More American Tennagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety
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