How to Arm Teenagers Against Despair and Anxiety

Search online for “anxiety and depression in teens,” and a boatload of sites pops up. Many are bearers of dire news. One 2021 report, for example, informs us that that 42 percent of adolescents in 2021 were experiencing deep feelings of sadness and hopelessness compared to 28 percent just 10 years earlier. 

Many of these articles offer help for parents and their children ages 13-18. Restricting social media, spending more time together, and making allowances for the lightning-fast shifts in mood typical of this transition from adolescence to adulthood are some of the common suggestions for battling anxiety and the blues in teenagers. Certainly these nuggets of advice, when put into action, can help young people by at least letting them know they are valued and love.

But what if, instead of being surprised by these afflictions, we anticipated them? Forewarned is forearmed, as the proverb goes. Why not try and inoculate our young people against the pessimism infecting our age when they are in elementary school, or even earlier?  

Here are four suggestions that may help stave off the present-day maladies of negativity blighting the spirits of our children.

“Stifle Yourself”

In the ’70s sitcom All in the Family, Archie Bunker would say “stifle yourself” to shut down his wife or anything else he didn’t want to hear.

We adults often need to stifle ourselves in the presence of young children. Constant rants about the country going to hell in a handbasket or the extinction of the human race from climate change are poison to the innocence of childhood.

In this annus horribilis of the upcoming elections, it’s especially important that we bring hope to our children, not despair.  

Cut the Electronic Umbilical Cord

In his recent book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, Jonathan Haidt recommends no smart phones until high school and no social media at all before the age of 16. Massive amounts of research back up his claim that screens, particularly social media and games, have beguiled, captured, and enslaved today’s young people.

If you want to enrich the childhood of your daughters and sons while bolstering a healthy optimism, keep them away from the alluring sinkhole of social media.

Other electronic entertainments should be fenced off and regulated as well. In 1961, Newton N. Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, called television “a vast wasteland.” Most of today’s shows, movies, and other entertainments make Minow’s wasteland look like an oasis.

In an emergency, you may need to resort to the screen as a babysitter, but otherwise restrict the time when kids can watch movies and sports. Supply them instead with the commonplace staples of childhood imagination, like backyard free play, books, puzzles, games, and manipulative toys like Legos.

Give the Kids Real Heroes

Our children need exemplars, figures from the past they can admire and emulate. In her article “Why Your Children Need Heroes,” Marilyn Boyer explains why this is important: “Kids need heroes. Not immortals like Superman who never fail because they are indestructible. But real people with real weaknesses and fears. People who sometimes rise above those fears and win seemingly impossible victories. People of real virtue like Robert E. Lee, so noble in defeat that he was admired by friend and foe alike.”

Resources are readily at hand. Our libraries and bookstores, for instance, abound with good biographies and historical novels aimed at the young. Series books like “The Childhood of Famous Americans” or “Dear America,” give kids insight not only into the past struggles of our nation, but into the minds and hearts of those who struggled and triumphed in the midst of those trials. From their example, our children can learn virtues worthy of imitation and which in turn will act as a shield against despair as they grow older.

Give Them Work

This one is simple. Involve kids in household chores from an early age—pulling up weeds in the flower beds, dusting the living room furniture, folding up laundry—and you build up your family. Your children become members of a team. Taking responsibility, knowing that what they do has contributes to the welfare of their family, and learning to perform a task well are other byproducts that come from this work.

Plus, one day they’ll go out into the world knowing how to cook a meal and run load of wash.

Equip kids with these tools, and you better the chances that they’ll become mentally and spiritually strong teenagers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.