Youth Isn’t What it Used to Be

As a member of the over-60 demographic, I have tended to minimize the often-reported struggles of young people.  After all, as they say, isn’t youth wasted on the young?

But as I am now learning, maybe youth isn’t what it used to be.

A pediatrician friend told me recently that she believes our youth are in crisis. Her appointments are filled with boys and girls who suffer from a range of mental and physical maladies. Some are anxiety-ridden and even suicidal. Others are overweight and already diabetic.

The doctor told me a teenager who is suddenly excluded from a group text chain can feel as though their life is ending because they do not yet have the capacity to process disappointment in a mature way.

Those anecdotes are backed up by a Centers for Disease Control analysis released in March. Here are some of the findings:

–Forty-four percent of high school students reported they “felt sad or hopeless during the past year.”

–Fifty-five percent “reported they experienced emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including swearing at, insulting, or putting down the student.”

–Nearly one in three said a parent or another adult in their home lost a job during the pandemic.

CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Debra Houry said the mental health of students was already a growing problem, and it worsened during the pandemic. “These data echo a cry for help,” she said.

West Virginia legislators heard similar stories during an interim committee meeting in Morgantown Sunday. Dr. T. Anne Hawkins, director of WVU’s Carruth Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, told lawmakers, “The college counseling centers around the state and around the country are one of the most popular places on campus and they have been for the last ten years.”

How did we get here? Are the stresses causing this anxiety overload truly worse than what older generations suffered through?  Or are some parents just trying too hard?

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who co-wrote the best-selling book The Coddling of the American Mind, argues those of us who are raising the children bear some responsibility. We have a culture of over-protective moms and dads who engage in “bulldozer parenting” or “concierge parenting,” clearing an obstacle-free path for our children.

Haidt said on Real Time with Bill Maher that parents who obsess over protecting their children from physical and emotional challenges do more harm than good. “If you protect your kids from being excluded, from being insulted, from being teased, when they grow up… a little tiny thing that they encounter on campus now becomes intolerably painful.”

What Haidt is talking about and what the CDC data show are different; some children are coddled, while others are growing up in broken or troubled homes. Too much guidance vs. not enough. Either way, the children are suffering.



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