Writing at Psychology Today, psychotherapist Amy Morin offers some reasons why teenagers seem more anxious nowadays. But do we actually know teens are more anxious than ever? And more anxious compared to when? Like so many things in print, we can’t take that statement for granted. But my clinical experience suggests that at least some teenagers are indeed anxious, so let’s take a close look at her thoughts on the subject.
- Electronics offer an unhealthy escape. The issue is not electronics. The issue is WHY so many teenagers seek an unhealthy escape. Before smartphones and the Internet, teens could just as easily escape into music, television or shopping malls. Again begging the question: Why?
Escapism, in its unhealthy form, means a desire to escape one’s own thinking. 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 unless you choose the dead-end street of drugs, alcohol or some other form of altering your consciousness. Today’s electronics offer that escape for everyone. And if so, it’s the misuse of the electronics that creates the problems.
- Happiness is all the rage. Don’t blame happiness. Blame the inability or unwillingness to define one’s happiness. Happiness is always 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? The problem is that kids take things literally. Cognitively and emotionally, most are not able to do otherwise. They can easily take it out of context where they believe that the achievement of difficult things ought to be easier than it is.
- Parents are getting caught up in the rat race. 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 indeed need to feel psychologically and emotionally visible to their parents. Their minds and selves need to matter. That can happen no matter what the parents do.
- Kids aren’t learning emotional skills. These skills include the ability to know what you’re feeling and to rationally express one’s feelings. But here’s the most important skill that’s almost always overlooked in today’s feelings-oriented culture: The ability to separate feelings from facts. One of the cornerstones of psychological health.
- Parents view themselves as protectors, rather than guides. In fact, parents should be both. They start out as protectors and gradually become guides. But the point is well-taken: A majority of parents think they’re permanent protectors of their children. When they sense their young adults’ anxiety, they respond by doubling up on the protection role rather than saying, “So what do you think you should do about that problem?”
- Adults don’t know to help kids face their fears. And worse yet, they see it as their job to eradicate the fears, rather than putting their kids on notice that it’s up to them to manage their fears – like the adults they will eventually be.
- Parents are parenting out of guilt and fear. Our politically correct age is carefully designed to cause unearned guilt in just about anyone. That’s how politicians get what they want. People of all ages are made to feel guilty for things they didn’t choose, like their race, their economic status, and/or their genetics. It’s an absurd waste of time and a very sick thing to blame yourself or others. Adults and teens alike have to overcome this dangerous trend.
- Kids aren’t being given enough free time to play. Many families schedule every hour of every day. Sometimes kids are genuinely passionate about activities that require scheduling, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a compulsive component implicit in the need to fill every last hour of otherwise free time. There’s nothing wrong with a little quiet time.
- Family hierarchies are out of whack. It took me a minute to figure this one out, and I think it means that there are few family rules or guidelines. Anything goes. And the lack of objective principles is just as irrational as a fixation on arbitrary or irrationally rigid ones. If anything goes, then we’re left with only our feelings. And with feelings alone, the world can become a pretty unsettling and anxiety-producing place. Just ask our teens.