Protecting the Mental Health of Teens
By Irene Barton, Cobb Collaborative Executive Director
“And how are the children?” is the traditional greeting of Maasai tribe warriors. The expression connotes that the true strength of a community is determined by the well-being of its children. Unfortunately, recent data shows that our children, and more specifically, our teenagers, are not all that well. A recent article in The Atlantic describes an “extreme teenage mental health crisis.” It references a CDC study where 44% of American high-school students report “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” Additionally, more than 25% of girls reported that they had seriously contemplated attempting suicide over the past two years and nearly half of LGBTQ youth said they had contemplated suicide. Alarmingly, “almost every measure of mental health is getting worse, for every teenage demographic.”
While the pandemic is a contributing factor, increasing rates of teenage depression are not new. The effects of the past two years have broadened and accelerated the issue. The article explores the underlying reasons, and of course, social media is discussed. Some experts note that social media itself might not be the issue, but the activities that social media replaces. Did you know that today’s teens spend more than five hours on social media a day? What have they given up in order to clock that level of screen time? Sleep, for one. Also, going out with friends, getting a job, and playing sports. These are the types of activities that can introduce mild forms of stress, allowing youth to tolerate some discomfort and build emotional resilience.
So, what can we as parents, caregivers or adults that support adolescents do? Without a doubt, the world is incredibly stressful these days. Not only are we anxious about economic pressures, the domestic political environment, international affairs, climate change and more, but also our children are developing their perception of the world from us. Model what you know to be good behavioral health practices by engaging in the following:
- Limit your own screen time
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Engage in a hobby or core pursuit
- Make time for family and friends
- Eat healthy & stay hydrated
- Do not allow phones/devices at the table during meal times.
- Restrict device usage after a certain time each night.
- Re-establish abandoned routines which can provide children of all ages a sense of security.
Additionally, we invite you to explore our classes like Community Resiliency Model and Mindful Self-Compassion which will equip you with tools to manage your own range of emotions as well as the loved ones in your life. And let’s not forget to ask ourselves periodically “And how are the children?”