Adults love to remind children of how easy they supposedly have it these days. "When I was your age, we had to scream Morse code at our VCRs to record Frasier," they might yell at their spoiled, iPhone-clutching offspring, smirking at the baffled and hurt expressions they get in return. But as is the case with so many things, it turns out that adults have no idea what they're talking about. It's always been rough being a teenager, and there's at least some evidence it's now rougher than ever. Did you know that the suicide rate for teens doubled between 2007 and 2014? That probably wasn't because of iPhones.
So what's going on here? Well ...
As of 2015, 17.1 million teenagers in the U.S. have or have had a mental disorder -- more than the number of kids suffering from cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. And knowing what you know about the state of medical care in this country, do you think these kids are receiving the care they desperately need to become functioning adults?
"God! I'm so tired of these rhetorical questions!"
No, of course they're not. The U.S. has a major shortage of child mental health professionals, which means that school counselors, pediatricians, and probation officers are the ones picking up the slack. And while these people often do heroic work under very difficult circumstances, in many cases, what's most needed is professional mental health care. Which never arrives.
Many of these teens will then carry their mental illnesses through to adulthood. It's estimated that half of all mental illness begin by the age of 14, with up 75 percent of them occurring by the age of 24. Which means that by the time your daughter's on her third divorce or has lost her job thanks to her habit of pooping on people's desks, she might have been suffering from mental illness for decades.
Which isn't to say that parents are that great at catching and dealing with mental illnesses ...
One of the great tragedies here is that when a teenager acts out due to mental disorders, it often looks no different from everyday teenage drama. And because almost every adult experienced some stress and difficulty navigating their own teenage years, they dismiss it when they see it in other teens, even their own children. "Just a normal part of growing up," or "Walk it off, tiger."
Should we ignore our natural inclination to laugh at this girl? Surprisingly, the answer may be "Yes."
In the case of suicide, what sparks a teenager to attempt to take their life is often wildly unpredictable. While "obvious" things like depression or drug use can serve as catalysts for a suicide attempt, everyday setbacks like a breakup or even a bad grade can do the same thing. Even something as explicit as cutting or other self-harming behavior isn't a solid indicator, because teens, being the impressionable little mimickers that they are, have been known to harm themselves not out of their own distress but because they're emulating their troubled counterparts. What would be a great sign of severe emotional distress becomes maddeningly useless.
Also, many teens are clumsy as fuck.
This is a problem which appears again and again: Mental illness is tough enough to identify in adults, but in teenagers, the difficulty is amplified many times over. Is your child slamming a door one of the 3.2 percent of youth with borderline personality disorder, or one of the 96.8 percent of healthy teenagers who do exactly that anyway?
Oh, and speaking of self-harm ...
So we've got a bunch of kids with serious mental health issues, and we're letting them go untreated. The adults around them don't recognize they need help because they're disinterested (or just dumb), and their friends may be as fucked up as they are, so not much help to be found there. So what DIY option are these troubled teens turning to to manage their mental state? Self-harm.
Not a licensed mental health professional.
What's craziest about this is that it actually works. Studies have shown that the infliction of pain can help regulate emotional responses in people. Even if these kids don't understand why cutting or burning makes them feel better, it really is helping them manage their feelings. Combine that with the fact that self-harm releases endorphins which makes the sufferer feel rad, and you can see how easy it is for someone to fall into an addictive and dangerous cycle. And if you understand some of the side effects of scissors and open flames, that's a little bit terrifying.
Hint: They both end up with a trip to this place.
Gee, it's almost like we should treat troubled "emo" children instead of making jokes about them. How weird is that?
Hey, speaking of harassing vulnerable children, let's turn a chair around backwards here and have a little rap session about bullying. Did you know that aside from the psychological toll that bullying can take on a teen, there are significant physical effects it can have as well?
And not just noogie-related bruising.
For example, studies have shown that bullying is strongly linked to adulthood obesity, and while there may be a bit of a chicken-and-egg kind of question about what's causing what, it doesn't stretch the imagination to think that the loss of self-confidence and isolation caused by bullying might not lead to the healthiest of lifestyles. Meanwhile, students who experience racial discrimination show negative physical effects, like higher levels of blood pressure and stress-related hormones. And there are a myriad of other health issues that go hand-in-hand with childhood bullying, like headaches, dizziness, and abdominal pain.
They can't "stop hitting themselves" for long after you'd expect.
So if by some chance you needed one more reason not to be racist and emotionally abusive to children, you're in luck. And a piece of shit.
Kids' brains still aren't fully developed well into their teen years. That's not an insult, but science. The nerve cells that connect the frontal lobes to the rest of the brain still aren't fully attached, which slows down the analytical process and prevents teens from fully considering the consequences of their actions. You know, consequences like "If I do this, will I die?" or "If I do this, will I get kicked out of school?"
"If I do this, will the living envy the dead?"
And, OK, teens are dumb and reckless. That's hardly surprising. But that's what parents are for, right? To tell their kids when they're screwing up? Unfortunately, a similar effect means the teenage brain is hardwired to ignore everything that comes out of a well-meaning adult's mouth, with every sound effectively being reduced to a Peanuts-style "Wah wah wah."
When examining teenagers' brain activity while they listened to their mothers, researchers found that their brains shut down the portion responsible for emotional control and social processing. In other words, when you try to correct your child's mistakes, their brain forces them to tune you out.
No matter how tight your rhymes are.
Fortunately, not every teenager has to suffer from mental illnesses, or being bullied, or uncool moms. Some of them even manage to overcome their biological constraints and listen to their parents. Yet even these seemingly perfect, healthy teens will find themselves betrayed by something even more permanent and unrelenting: the Sun.
"DO DRUGS. DO THEM NOW." -- The Sun
The problem is that teenagers' bodies don't release melatonin (the hormone which makes us sleepy) until a couple hours later than what's typical for an adult body. This makes it nearly impossible for teens to get to bed at a reasonable time, which in turn makes an 8 or 9 a.m. start to the school day incredibly punishing. As a consequence, teens are chronically afflicted with sleep deprivation, which leads to a whole mess of negative impacts on their learning abilities and general health. Our schools are literally making them dumber.
So if you are a parent, maybe let your kid sleep in as late as they want this weekend. And stop bullying them.
And rapping at them.
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