Helping our Teenagers

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

The CDC released a report on their survey of 17,000 teenagers. There was some good news and some not-good news. Most surprisingly, it came with no recommendations for parents, so let’s share some here.

Good News:

  • Less risky sexual behavior.
  • Decreased use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Decrease in the number of kids being bullied at school.

Bad News

  • Increase in physical and sexual violence (especially for girls, people of color, and LGBTQ youth)
  • Girls experiencing higher levels of sadness and depression (60% of girls reported persistent sadness, with 1 in 4 contemplating suicide.)
  • Girls manifested their mental health issues with depressive symptoms, while boys manifested theirs with irritability and aggression.

The element of this report that bothers me is not the absolute number of young people having trouble as measured by the intensity of symptoms which is increasing. This is demonstrated by the level of suicidal thinking and actions along with the tendency for disagreements to become violent episodes.  

The past three years have been difficult on everyone’s mental health. This report emphasizes that the Pandemic and its aftermath (the recognition that there is a ”no-normal” kind of status) continue to wreak havoc especially for teenagers.

Here are some things that parents and adults can do to help teenagers and families:

  1. Foster supportive relationships: Having trusted friends and family members is one of the critical elements of resilience. Knowing that a peer or helpful adult (my Aunt Toby did that for me) is available to talk provides emotional support and a sense of connection.
  2. Encourage a positive outlook: While teens may be having a difficult time, they are also having success, whether it is in school, the athletic field, or helping others. Acknowledge and praise their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
  3. Strengthen problem-solving skills: I always tell people there may be three or four options for solving a challenge, and we want to consider all these contingencies. For teenagers, it is equally essential to understand problem-solving approaches as they work to solve a specific situation.
  4. Help find meaning: I was lucky to discover, thanks to my parents, that I was good at helping people when I was just a teenager. Assisting your daughter or son to find out their strengths and passions contributes to finding a purpose in their lives.
  5. Build self-care: When I work out at the gym in the later afternoon, it is packed with local high school students doing strenuous workouts. Good health habits, especially getting sufficient sleep, set a lifetime pattern of good self-care behaviors.
  6. Discuss resilience as a strategy: Resilience frames a discussion about stress and personal difficulties.  Consider some resilience tools, such as my 28-Day Resilience Gratitude Journal, which provides an approach to building that habit.
  7. Professional help: If your son or daughter’s mental health is not improving, speak to their physician and engage them in a discussion about getting help. Securing mental health care is tricky right now due to high demand and there are actions to take to get your teen to the right professional.

This mental health crisis is built on the notion that our children do not have the resources to address the rapid changes. I don’t believe it as I think this generation of young people is intelligent, capable, and more worldly than any generation before. Their potential is enormous and helping them strengthen their coping and resilience skills is within their capability to develop and our responsibility to teach.

Let me know your thoughts on this crisis. Post your comments on my Linkedin page where this will be posted later today

© Richard Citrin 2023

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