Opinion | What if Kids Are Sad and Stressed Because Their Parents Are?

Now there is a sad familiarity to the conversations I am hearing among the parents of teenagers. After the forced cheers, the conversation often turns to mental health issues. Someone’s daughter is struggling, battling with body image issues. Someone’s son is moody and immersed in video games. Parents’ concerns about previous generations (sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll) have been replaced by a new triad: anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

As a parent of a teenager, I see this world every day. That is the message I hear from my colleagues. So I’ve been following the discussion of growing anxiety in adolescence with particular interest – in particular the role of social media, secularization And politics in tormenting our children. But there’s one element that hasn’t been given enough attention in the debate about external factors in teen distress: What if the call also came from inside? What if parents are unwittingly contributing to their child’s pain?

Just as there is a sad familiarity to parents’ conversations about their children, so too children’s conversations about their parents have a similar familiarity. I spend most of my time going to universities, both secular and religious, and I always hear the same refrain: “Something happened to my parents.” Sometimes (especially at elite schools) they share stories of parents obsessed with their children’s education. I often hear about parents who are passionate about politics. And finally, I hear stories about the impact of all kinds of conspiracy theories. Just as parents worry about their children’s anxiety and depression, children also worry about their parents’ mental health.

First, let’s outline the very bleak scene. By 2021, nearly 60 percent of teenage girls reported feeling “persistent sadness,” wrote Azeen Ghorayshi and Roni Caryn Rabin in The Times. Overall, 44 percent of teens said “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” according to The Washington Post, up from 26 percent in 2009. These are familiar numbers — a frightening increase that has sparked sou searches across the length and breadth of this land.

But let’s put them in a grim context. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that same year, 44% of teens said they were suffering from severe sadness. 41.5 percent of adults reported “recent symptoms of an anxiety disorder or depression,” up from an already high baseline of 36.4% just a few months earlier.

Furthermore, while the suicide rate increased among the youngest Americans, they still materially lagging behind suicide rates among their parents and grandparents. Desperate deaths – as they are called deaths from suicide, drug abuse or alcohol poisoning – especially affect white middle-aged manand the overall numbers are simply astounding, especially since they start increased sharply in 2000.

In addition to the self-reported statistics of depression and anxiety or the gruesome numbers of drug abuse and suicide, there are other signs that adults are simply not okay. Partisan hatred, for example, simply keep increasing. Pervasive adult anger and pessimism: A recent study NBC News poll indicates that a take note 58% of registered voters surveyed believe that America’s best days are over.

And when we think about kids and screens, let’s also consider adults’ relationship with their TVs and smartphones. Watch cable news (where grandparents get their news), and you will see a discourse dominated by fear and anger. If you spend any time on political Twitter (or observe the discourse on political posts on Facebook), you’ll quickly see that the level of vicious, personal attack is a little different than bullying. the most extreme personal bullying a person can experience in middle school or high school.

Teenagers don’t exist on an island. The link between parents’ emotional health and their children’s emotional health is Well established. Furthermore, the way parents raise their children can of course directly affect emotional health. As Derek Thompson observed in the Atlantic OceanPlacing children in the “pressure cooker” of high-income schools can be harmful to the health of students.

Parenting styles have changed. Like Peter Grey wrote last year in Psychology Today, the increase in adolescent suffering “has occurred in a time when young people are subject to the supervision, direction, and protection of adults in increasing time.” He argues that “constant pressure, scrutiny, and judgment from adults, coupled with a loss of freedom to pursue their own interests and problem-solve, leads to anxiety, depression, and generally unsatisfied with life.” And if we worry about constant monitoring, then Covid only complicates matters further.

This is not to say that parents are the whole story. I am willing to accept the smartphone argument (and the secularization argument as well as the political one) when it comes to providing a basic explanation for teen unhappiness, but I don’t believe that teenagers Children will be fine as long as their parents endure their unhappiness. deeply personal problems. Helicopter parenting has the potential to be stifling in its own right, but it gets a lot worse when hovering parents are held back by fear and anxiety.

So what is to be done? I don’t mean to make parents feel any more anxious about their own anxiety, but to the extent that our mental health is rooted in factors beyond our immediate control. For us — a particularly prominent feature when considering national politics — it may be worth asking a simple question: How much fear and anxiety should we be importing into our lives and families? Forget teenagers, for the moment. To be we demonstrate any further ability to handle the information age?

That’s a question I honestly ask myself. I know that my experiences online drift into family life. I know that my anxiety can radiate outward and affect my children. Our own addictions — alcohol or drug addiction, yes, but also information and anger addiction — can wreak havoc on our families. I often think of the profound words of a British pastor named Andrew Wilson (that, yes, I saw on Twitter): “One of the things that struck me during the last two visits to the US was how incredibly painful the culture wars have become for so many people. . Online, you see warriors who seem to enjoy the fight (or even make money from it). But on the ground, you see hurt, confusion and fatigue.”

Now is the time to realize that our hurt can turn into our children’s hurt, and if we want to heal our children, that process can begin by seeking forgiveness. the help we need to heal ourselves.

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