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Anxiety and depression in teens is rising at an alarming rate, and has been since around 2012. It’s become a frightening epidemic over the last several years, but why? What is causing this sudden spike in both anxiety and depression in our teens?
To answer this question, there are a number of factors to consider. If we’re going to do anything to help our teens, we need to look at the multiple contributing factors involved. Some are based on studies and statistics, some are based on personal experience and common sense.
All of this information should be taken into consideration, and I think it’s also important to take our teens seriously.
Basically, there have been studies done to try and understand what may be causing the spike in anxiety and depression in teens, and then there’s my study. I want to share information from both, as they share some common themes.
My study is based on my oldest daughter’s recent struggles. Watching your child suffer in any way is extremely upsetting and difficult. It’s been a long and frustrating journey, and it’s the reason I want to share this with other parents of teens who are struggling with their mental health.
What I’ve been learning
I’ve been talking to my daughter over the last several months, trying to understand how she’s feeling, and what is contributing to her struggles. I’m thankful she’s willing to talk to me about these things. I know a lot of teens have trouble opening up to their parents. What she’s shared with me has given me a lot of insight into the minds of teens and their perceptions of the world and life.
She’s putting a lot of pressure on herself in several aspects of her life. She wants to go to college, so she’s been pushing herself to take IB classes. The workload is heavier and more difficult than basic classes, and her desire to succeed has created extra stress.
Like any other teen, she’s also trying to balance this with her social life and home life as well.
From what I understand, she also worries about the struggles her friends have, whether with themselves or their home lives. She’s very empathetic, and things her friends are going through have a big impact on her emotionally. My daughter wants to be there for her friends and help them when they’re having bad days with their mental health.
Then there are things within our own family dynamics that weigh on her mind, and understandably add additional stress for her. When combined, all of this is very overwhelming for her. Ultimately, it’s causing her to experience symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
Let’s compare what my daughter has shared with some of the studies done on potential causes of anxiety and depression in teens.
What the studies say
I actually did a lot of research on the topic of anxiety and depression and teens. What I found was pretty eye opening. Article after article brought up some of the same contributing factors. Surprisingly, a lot of what I read was fairly similar to what my daughter shared with me.
This is just a small list of what I found that seem to be playing a large role in the rise of both anxiety and depression in teens:
- Technology and social media
- Negative self -talk
- Lack of coping skills, problem solving skills, and healthy thinking
- Lack of being taught resilience
- Increasingly challenging social and political environment
- Skewed perception of success and accomplishment
- No realistic understanding of drive, focus, and practice for achieving goals
- Distracted parents
I’m going to break down each bullet, and go over them one by one in more detail. We really need to understand the importance of what each of these mean for our teens. Once we are able to better understand the impact this list can have, I believe it will help us to better help our teens.
Technology and social media
Ok, so from what I’ve read and understand, technology is playing a large role in the rise of teen anxiety and depression. Honestly, it makes sense. I think to a degree, we’ve all been guilty of zoning out while staring at our phones. We take them everywhere, they’re portable constant access to an overload of stimulation and information.
Toddlers, teens and adults can all be seen out and about, staring at a screen, texting, or scrolling through social media accounts.
Speaking of social media, the unhealthy effects of spending too much time on any of them should be pretty clear. There’s so much drama, disturbing images and posts, and even bullying. It’s really no wonder this is contributing to a rise in anxiety and depression.
Don’t even get me started on how quickly false rumors can be spread, and how far their reach extends.
Too much time spent on phones and tablets can also lead to what’s known as hyper connectivity. It’s actually set up to be addictive, and most of us are oblivious to this, even when we find ourselves constantly checking our own social media accounts, or playing our favorite games.
Ultimately, we can’t blame social media alone, we have to stop and take some personal responsibility in all of this too. There are no limits being set, no limits to our kids having access to these things.
Don’t get me wrong, society doesn’t make it easy. It’s not just hard being a teen in the age of technology, it’s hard being a parent too. As parents, we do need to learn to step up and play a bigger role in our kids lives.
Our teens are engaging in a lot more negative self-talk than we realize, and it can be dangerous. Negative self-talk is extremely damaging to our self-esteem and self-worth. It’s really important for teens to learn healthy and positive self-talk, and how to love themselves.
We don’t always realize this negative thinking is happening, and as parents, we’re always trying to ensure our kids feel great about themselves. Sometimes this just isn’t enough.
If you start to notice your teen saying negative things about themselves, pay attention. Ask them why they feel that way, and talk to them about the damage negative self-talk can cause.
If your teen has trouble opening up, a counselor or even a life coach may help. There are so many valuable life skills they can teach them. A lot of people don’t realize what a huge difference a counselor can make.
Lack of necessary life skills
Coping skills, problem solving, and healthy ways of thinking are so important. They’re not something we always think about or consider, but they can make a huge difference in how we handle things. Each of these skills are important, and we use them regularly in our everyday lives.
All of these can always be improved upon. They are learned skills, and there are several ways we can teach ourselves. This is another area in which a counselor or a life coach is beneficial. Both have the resources to help us work on and improve all of these skills.
Typically these skills are learned as kids. We watch and observe our parents and caregivers, and pick up on their behaviors. What we observe has such a powerful impact on us, so much more than we realize. Even if we’ve learned few or poor coping skills and problem solving habits, they can always be relearned and improved.
Resilience is the ability to accept, and be willing and able to live with the things in life that can’t or shouldn’t be changed. It’s shocking to me to see such a lack of resilience among the younger generations. It’s an extremely necessary and paramount part of living.
Our society is always changing, and unfortunately it’s not always in a positive way. Less and less, the younger generations and our teens are given no realistic glimpse of drive, focus, or the understanding of the hard work it takes to achieve goals.
Without this, they’re walking around blind and vulnerable.
I know as parents, our first instinct is to protect and shield our children from the ugly truths and dangers of the world. What we have to realize is if we take this to an extreme, we are actually doing much more harm. We have good intentions, but good intentions don’t always equate to doing what is truly best for our kids.
What I mean by this is allowing our kids to experience failure. By allowing them to fall sometimes, we’re teaching them that it’s ok, and the world isn’t going to end. It teaches them to get back up and try again. It also means not always giving in to their wants.
Growing up, I was always told, “It’s good to want for things. If you’re always getting what you want, you’ll never have anything to look forward to.”
I know we want our kids to be happy, and we want to give our kids the best we’re able to give them. We have to be careful though, it’s so easy to overdo the giving. This is obviously something we have to look at within our own situations.
As parents, we have to take responsibility and be honest with ourselves about the choices we make regarding our kids. We are so much more of an influence than we realize, and we have to remember our kids are only learning what we do or don’t teach them.
The increasingly challenging social and political environment
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. I think we’re all feeling the stress and pressure of the huge and ever-changing social and political tensions going on in the world. What we may not realize, is how much this environment is affecting our teens.
Because of technology and social media, teens are much more exposed to this environment. I’ve noticed they are also much more involved than ever. I’m not quite sure how they’re being sucked into all of this so easily, except to acknowledge the fact that it’s constantly thrown in everyone’s faces.
I don’t know how many of you notice how much attention negativity gets, and how much more often it spreads. No wonder the number of teens (and adults, honestly) experiencing anxiety and depression is rising so quickly.
There’s good news here. We can choose not to allow all of this negativity to suck us in and pull us down. We can choose to teach this same practice to our teens. Let’s teach them to choose to focus on the positive things in the world, and share the positive stories instead.
The skewed perception of success and accomplishment
Perception is a powerful thing. But did you know perception does not always equal reality? If you didn’t know, now you do. Perception has a few definitions, so let’s start there.
- The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
- The state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
- A way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
As humans, we each perceive the same situations differently. We all grow up having different life experiences, in different cultures, beliefs, etc. Our brains also process things differently. All of these things influence us, shape us, and make us who we are.
They also shape the perception of the world, society, other people and experiences.
Unfortunately society itself has a skewed sense of perception. Throw in technology, such as television, radios, and good old social media, and it’s no wonder we feel so much pressure. We are bombarded by ads telling us if we want to be happy, we must have certain material things.
From what we wear to the car we drive, we’re led to believe these things define how successful we are, or how accomplished we are. I’m here to tell you, we’re all being fed a load of shit, and we open our mouths and beg for more.
I don’t say that to be rude or ugly, I say it because quite simply, it’s the truth.
Imagine the pressure our teens are feeling to “keep up with the Jones’s”, and how they are made to feel if they can’t keep up. There is way too much emphasis placed on all the wrong things. It’s a huge problem, and it is not ok.
No realistic understanding of drive, focus, and practice for achieving goals
This basically goes back to some of what I’ve already gone over. This unrealistic understanding all ties in with resilience, coping skills, problem solving skills, and even the technology and social media influence.
Let’s not forget about that skewed sense of success and accomplishment. We seem to be straying farther and farther from reality in so many ways. The further we stray, the more we see a rise in the prevalence of mental illness.
I am in no way saying these things are the cause of all mental illness. There are clearly other biological factors involved, such as genetics, brain defects, prenatal damage, substance abuse and trauma.
What I am trying to say is that not everyone who experiences anxiety and depression fits into any of those categories. Regardless, all of the above do contribute to an extent. Even if they’re not the root cause, they most definitely contribute in a negative way.
It’s important to understand especially when mental illness already exists, all of these factors can make it much worse. Ultimately, the combination can lead to very dangerous situations.
Look, being a distracted parent does not mean we’re bad parents. Nor does it mean we aren’t engaged or involved with our kids. As adults in this crazy world, it’s almost impossible not to be distracted.
We have to work and provide for our families, keep the house and the laundry clean, and run our kids around from one extra curricular activity after another. Add the stress and worry that goes along with being a parent, it’s a wonder we can still function.
We’re exhausted and worn out, and when we do get a moment to ourselves, it’s usually short lived. I get it, I do. I’m one of them, and it’s hard. So what do we do, how do we learn to be less distracted and more aware?
This is the one I honestly can’t answer for everyone, as each of us has our own unique set of circumstances. What I can do, is tell you what I’ve been working on to improve my awareness when it comes to my teens and their mental health. I can also share with you resources that can help you and your teen.
How I’m helping my teen
First and foremost, the most important thing I’m doing to help my teen daughter is listening and taking her thoughts and feelings seriously. I’m letting her know I’m here to help, and that I understand what she’s experiencing is not easy.
I’m allowing her to have some control with deciding on a counselor. Together we researched counselors online until we found one to best suit her needs. We’re focusing on the anxiety since that’s what she’s having the most trouble with. There are so many resources available for finding anxiety help online.
I’ve also gone over some tips with her to help in the moments when her anxiety starts rising, and she’s been learning how to meditate to relax. I’m very proud of her willingness to actively work on calming herself. It can be hard to learn how to do this.
I also bought a writing journal at her request, and she’s been using it to write down her thoughts and feelings. She’s also keeping track of things that seem to cause her anxiety to worsen, which is great. This can help her identify what she’s struggling with more specifically so she can learn better coping skills to deal with them.
She loves constellations, so this is the writing journal she chose.
We came up with a few more ideas together as well.
Together, we’re both going to spend less time on our phones and social media, and spend more time hanging out. I also had her write down hobby ideas and other interests to help keep her busy doing something fun.
Hiding in her room every night is not a good habit. By finding creative ways to keep herself busy, there will be less idle time on her hands. She’ll be old enough to work in a few months, and we’re already getting her set up for her first part time job.
We’re also working on creating healthier habits together. Both of us have a fitbit fitness tracker, and we compete with each other to see who can get the most steps. This makes it fun, and has also been a great bonding experience with my daughter.
After taking a look at what contributes to anxiety and depression in teens, there are definitive solutions that can help. We just have to be willing to engage with our teens more. Then we have to put in the work to guide them. They have some accountability in their mental health as well, and they should.
It’s important to identify why your teen is struggling, and then sit down with them and come up with solutions that work. Let them know you hear them, you understand, and you’re there to help. We all want to be heard, especially when we’re struggling, and teens are no different.
I’m hoping by sharing this information, it will give you a better understanding of why our teens are struggling with their mental health. The sooner we identify the problem, and start working on solutions, the better the chances our teens have to navigate life in healthier ways.
- Time – Teen anxiety and depression – Why the kids are not alright
- Psychology Today – The real reason behind teen anxiety and depression
- Johns Hopkins Health Review – The rise of teen depression
More awesome journals & life planners –