Derek Thompsn, a staff writer for The Atlantic magazine, recently wrote a piece for the magazine entitled, “Why American Teens Are So Sad.” In his article, Thompson put forth four reasons why he thinks today’s teenagers are struggling more intensely with issues of sadness and depression:
- Social Media Use: Thompson shared that more than ever teenagers are sensitive to the judgment of others, and that they obsess with what others may be thinking of them. I think we can agree that the world of social media is a highly judgmental place. Thompson shared that in and of itself, social media is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the use of social media must be kept in balance with the rest of the life of teenagers.
- Sociality is Down: According to Thompson, this may go hand-in-hand with number one. If social media is replacing teenagers actively engaging with others, then it is a potentially destructive tool. When social contact is down, teenagers feel more alone and sad.
- The World is a Stressful Place: Thompson shared that modern-day teenagers feel greater stress about what is going on in the world. This has been exacerbated by living through a deadly pandemic, and then exiting the tougher parts of the pandemic and being met by a crisis situation like the one that is playing out in Ukraine and Russia. Students also feel stress from others, like their family members and friends, in their reaction to stressful world events.
- Modern Parenting Strategies: Thompson shared that in an attempt to protect their children from a stressful world, some parents insulate them from the world. In many cases, parents may accommodate their children by dealing with difficult situations through removing them from the difficult situations. Thompson argues this keeps teenagers from learning how to navigate through tough times. In one of my former districts, one of the principals had one simple message for parents with regard to their children: “Don’t steal their struggle.”
Thompson provides us with a good starting point from which to try to figure out why some of our teenagers may be struggling with feelings of sadness and depression. It has been over four decades since I was a teenager, and I agree that the life of teenagers today is more difficult than when I was their age. Part of meeting the social and emotional needs of today’s teenagers is to be aware of factors like those outlined by Thompson, and to figure out how we balance keeping them safe from harm while also not taking away their struggle to grow and work through challenges.