Writing at Psychology Today, psychotherapist Amy Morin offers “10 Reasons American Teens Are More Anxious Than Ever”.
Do we really know teens are more anxious than ever? More anxious compared to when? And how do we know?
We can’t take that knowledge for granted. However, many teenagers are anxious. Let’s analyze the reasons why this particular psychotherapist thinks so.
- Electronics offer an unhealthy escape.
The issue is not electronics. The issue is WHY so many teenagers seek an unhealthy escape. Before smart phones and the Internet, teens could unhealthily escape into music, television or shopping malls. The question is why.
Unhealthy escapism often means a desire to escape one’s mind. That’s the worst kind of anxiety. If you fear spiders, heights or clowns, you can take steps to avoid those things. But you cannot escape your mind — not without drugs, alcohol or some other form or method for escaping your consciousness. Today’s electronics offer that escape for many of all ages. It’s a misuse of electronics, if so. It’s not the fault of the electronic equipment itself.
- Happiness is all the rage.
Don’t blame happiness. Blame the inability or unwillingness to define one’s happiness. Many of these teens have parents who either (1) have not successfully defined happiness for themselves, thereby offering no rational role model or, (2) take it for granted they know what should and will make their kids happy, when that isn’t necessarily (or usually) the case. Happiness is still the proper goal.
- Parents are giving unrealistic praise.
“You can be anything you want to be”. What well-meaning parent has not said this to their kids in the current era? The problem is that kids take things literally. Cognitively and emotionally, they’re not yet able to do otherwise. If they take this out of context, it leads them to think and feel that the achievement of difficult things can and ought to be easier than it is. There’s a breeding ground for depression or anxiety disorder right there!
- Parents are getting caught up in the rat race.
What does this mean? That parents are too busy? Are kids whose parents have dead-end jobs happier than kids whose parents are well-off and highly productive? I don’t buy it. Kids do need to feel psychologically visible to their parents. Their minds and selves need to matter … their minds most of all.
- Kids aren’t learning emotional skills.
What are emotional skills? The ability to know what you’re feeling? Sure. The ability to rationally express one’s feelings? Yes. But here’s one that’s almost always overlooked, especially in today’s feeling/subjectively oriented government school system: The ability to separate feelings from facts. How else would you get a whole generation of people thinking socialism is the means to prosperity and happiness? They’re living in their heads, and it’s not good for them! Subconsciously many of them might sense the contradiction, which probably makes them anxious.
- Parents view themselves as protectors, rather than guides.
Parents are actually both. They start out as protectors and gradually phase out this role and become guides. But the point is well-taken. A majority of parents seem to act as if they’re permanent protectors of their children. When they sense their young adults’ anxiety, they respond by continuing the protection role rather than saying, “So what do you think you’ll do about that problem?” It’s part of the reason we have an unprecedented number of healthy kids living in their parents’ homes well into their 20s and even 30s. Parents are getting the environment they’ve created, along with the help of bad teachers in government-run schools who haven’t trained kids how to think.
- Adults don’t know to help kids face their fears the right way.
Plus they see it as their job to eradicate the fears, rather than putting their kids on notice it’s up to them to manage their fears.
- Parents are parenting out of guilt and fear.
In our politically correct age, nearly everyone suffers from unearned guilt. We just endured eight years of a President who repeatedly lectured Americans about how awful and self-centered they are, hogging most of the world’s success and achievement. The fact that half the population tolerated such a President — even thinking him a good leader — shows just how deep the problem with unearned guilt and fear really is, not just in teens but their parents.
- Kids aren’t being given enough free time to play.
Most families are scheduled to death. Sometimes kids are genuinely passionate about activities, like sports, that require scheduling. Nothing wrong with that. But there’s a compulsive attitude implicit in the need to fill every last hour for kids in their free time. I view it as an extension of the problem of running away from one’s mind. Parents and kids are doing it. “Keep busy. Don’t think. Don’t feel.” It’s not the lack of play so much as the lack of creativity, spontaneity and innovative thinking that’s plaguing many of us.
- Family hierarchies are out of whack.
I think this means that there are no rules or guidelines — even rational ones. Anything goes. And as people are discovering, the lack of any objective principles or standards is just as irrational as the fixation in earlier generations on arbitrary or irrationally rigid ones. If anything goes, we’re left with only our feelings. And with feelings alone, the world can become a pretty unsettling and anxiety-producing place. Just ask teens.
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