I am not just a mom of a depressed teen, I am the 504 coordinator for our middle school which means I help determine whether or not a child qualifies for an accommodation plan due to a disability or impairment. It used to be that you’d see mostly kids with severe allergies or physical impairments or ADHD come across your desk. Now it’s all anxiety and depression with more and more kids being hospitalized. And my question is always why, it is the researcher and more accurately the searcher of the truth in me.
There are many things that come up in the process of discussing anxiety and depression in our teens. One is instant gratfiication. Middle schoolers have very little if any forward thinking. They are stuck in the moment and if the moment doesn’t feel good or doesn’t yield them the desired result they need to act immediately. This could mean they use mind altering substances, restrict or change eating habits, or self harm to name a few. In our new world, our kids’ need for instant gratification is huge. Everything is given to them in a lightening flash. They don’t have to wait for a phone to ring, or a connection to dial up or for a letter to arrive. They live so fast that they don’t even see the moments that make up a minute. And instead of making them work for what they want or wait for what they want we all too often pave the way for them. Instead of giving them the tools for life, we build it for them. We need to let them develop coping skills by letting them fuck up and fail and pick themselves back up and try again. Because the reality is that achievements and wants and needs do not happen in a second, they are built and satisfied over time. Our kids become anxious when they don’t get a perfect grade or have the perfect pitching record or get the lead in the play every single time and it becomes a vicious cycle.
But this isn’t even the half of it. Their brains are growing and developing at rapid and erratic speeds. Their hormones are raging causing them to go berserk on a daily basis. They don’t know whether they are coming or going. Are they children or are they adults? They are looking for some meaning in a life that they’re unsure will ever truly be their life. They want everything taken care of for them but they want everyone to leave them alone. They are navigating peer pressure and media and societal norms for which they don’t understand or buy into. They want their independence yet they can’t even put their socks in the hamper or a dish in the dish washer. They are growing and developing physically and the change can come as a shock. The girls who have breasts are self conscious and the girls who don’t are jealous of the girls who do. Their clothes don’t fit right anymore and they can no longer shop at justice. They want to do adult things but don’t have adult brains to be able to weigh the pros and cons, the dos and don’ts, the right from the wrong. They are about as mixed up as one of those gross kale smoothies I see people posting about telling me I must drink every morning. NO I want to scream, NO KALE IN MY SMOOTHIE! Shit I got distracted.
And then there’s this. Some people are depressed. Some people are anxious. Some people have intense mood swings. Some people have distorted thoughts. Including teens. And maybe, just maybe we are opening our eyes to it earlier and with more sensitivity than we did in the past. Maybe we want to be proactive and be in tune with how to make our kids feel better just as we would if they broke a bone or got mono or had diabetes. I like to think that this is the case; that we are recognizing it earlier and more often so that we can prevent more destructive and sometimes deadly behavior. So maybe the question is not why but what or how. What do we do? How do we make it better? What do they need? How can we give it to them? Because these kids will become adults god willing and they will have to learn how to manage whatever comes their way. The hallways are important places to learn the skills you need to go through the doors. Let’s light up and enrich the hallways so they aren’t so dark for our kids.