I have had 3 teenagers and hopefully I will soon be emerging out the other side! It has not been an easy ride though and I don´t know many parents these days who would disagree!
As a Complementary health practitioner I have been disturbed by the increasing number of teenagers struggling. Case-taking as a therapist involves looking at things from a slightly different perspective to traditional medical experts. Symptoms are important but also the causations. Sleep issues, Absenteeism, bullying, self-harm, OCD and eating disorders are all symptoms and in the traditional system of analysis one might say that these symptoms are caused by stress, anxiety and possibly depression. But what are stress, anxiety and depression if not symptoms themselves?
Salma Sanchez, 15, pupil at Ribblesdale High School, said:
“There are many stressful parts of being a teenager today. So much can affect our wellbeing: exams, home life, cyberbullying, and the pressures of social media are just a few examples. I’ve found that not many people want to talk about mental health, and this needs to change.” (MIND UK)’
What is it that has triggered this huge mental health crisis in young adults across the UK?
Obviously “when we were young” there was no awareness whatsoever of mental health issues, indeed the word “mental” was used in an extremely derogatory way and the scenario conjured up was that of an asylum such as that in “One flew over the cuckoo´s nest”.
If the words don´t exist we cannot communicate the issues. Just as cave men learned to turn grunts into words, mankind has felt their way through much exploration of their emotions in order to find this new language. I would like to say that this is possibly one of the only positives that has come about as a result of the two World Wars we experienced! Whatever it was we are now more open in our communication and can see the broader spectrum of issues that may lie behind a nervous smile or unusual behaviour.
Perhaps it is also down to a more liberal style of parenting. Again “when we were young” most of us didn´t even need to wait for the words: “Wait til your father gets home….” We were generally fearful of the consequences of bad behaviour and careful to cover our tracks and make sure we were not found out. These days we sometimes allow our children to do stuff that we would never have got away with. As parents should we have taken the slightly more authorative path of not “allowing” the behaviour?
Unfortunately I have no answers on this one. I believe that most parents are honestly doing their absolute best for their kids, with whatever tools they may have in their bag. I am now also aware that most of us are in for a sticky patch with our kids at some point. Whether it is the “Terrible Twos” or the “Tense Teens” – it is all part of growing up, learning who you are, pushing the boundaries and coming out the other side. So, watch out if you are sitting reading this and feeling smug! I don´t want to wish it on anyone but it is pretty much a part of learning to be on this planet that we find life tough at some stage.
One further factor that I feel the need to highlight in the creation of the “Tense Teens” is the school system. How can it be that a little test you take as young as 10 years old can influence how you are seen for the next 6 years?
A teacher friend of mine told me this when my eldest was taking her SATS and I dismissed her as being “over-dramatic”. Years later I can say that she was right and it is shameful. We spent many parents´ evenings questioning why her target grade was lower than the one she was actually achieving. The honest answer? Because no one was looking at her as a person, it was all done by a computer!
The computers put pressure on Teachers too – demanding higher results and “Outstanding” performances. In the past our teachers would quite often see the characters in their class and encourage their strengths. Teachers these days have way too much on their list of things to do and most of it does not include teaching, or encouraging strengths.
So we have the dichotomy of less pressure to perform at home with that of more pressure at school. If we add to that the normal angst of growing up, dealing with hormones, fuelled by social media, extinction rebellion and unemployment figures for graduates with huge student loans is there any wonder our teens are stressed??!!
This generation of teenagers are not just a bunch of “snowflakes” who can´t handle the deal they have been dealt though. Let´s look at the positives:
Fewer millennials drink and more are vegans which changes the way we consume as parents too. The “pester power” that the “Terrible Twos” have is much more beneficial when it is a “Tense Teen” who is a tee-total vegan!! A lot of teenagers tend to hang out at the gym rather than behind the bike sheds after school these days. Whilst their minds are fried their bodies are thriving.
Nature has a way of redressing the balance and I feel that kids these days are learning to express their mental turmoil rather than having to suppress it with alcohol and comforting junk food.
I am the eternal optimist and would like to think that perhaps while the parenting pendulum possibly swung a little too far in the opposite direction with my generation, hopefully it will come to rest somewhere in the middle for future generations.
If you are struggling with the “Tense Teens” you may want to try out my “Integrative Support Programme for Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Teenagers”. Over a 4 week period I use various modalities, including Homeopathy, Craniosacral therapy, Nutrition and a lot of empathy and experience to support teenagers and their parents through a difficult time.