Family Talk: Teens need someone to listen
When you hear about a subject several times in the course of a week, it gets your attention. When you hear it from unexpected sources, it sits up and demands your attention.
This happened to me recently on the subject of teens and depression.
First, I read about it in The Wall Street Journal. An unlikely source for a column about teen depression. But there it was. Journalist Elizabeth Bernstein reported that in the last decade teen depression has almost doubled, and 60 percent of those suffering never receive treatment. Bernstein said the trend was deeply troubling to both parents and professionals.
Then I read an article in Business Insider (another unlikely source) about seven young adults who disguised themselves as teenagers to see what was really going on in high schools. It was part of an A&E television series called “Undercover High” and it revealed these things about today's teens:
• Social media has changed the game.
• Teachers have less control than ever.
• Bullying doesn't stop at the end of the school day.
• Girls are constantly pressured to share sexual images of themselves.
• Depression and suicide are skyrocketing.
• More than anything, teens want someone to talk to.
Shane Feldman, one of those who went undercover, said, "What I saw going back to high school was an alarming disconnect between teenagers and adults today. Most adults don't have any clue what teenagers are going through today. Teens are craving for adults to understand them and see them for who they are and the struggles they are facing.”
I remember being a teen. No, it wasn't during World War I or II. I remember my dad had a talk with me one time about suicide. To my knowledge, dad never read a book on parenting. He never attended a seminar or read an advice column about how to parent teens. But he had keen insight about preventing problems before they burst into flames. So, dad said to me once, very conversationally, “I think sometimes people commit suicide because they feel like they don't have anyone to talk to.” (Here he paused, for effect). “I want you to know you can always talk to me about anything, and I'll always listen.”
I was a little taken aback by this out-of-nowhere visit about suicide. But I stammered a “Thanks, Dad” and filed away his offer in my teen(y) brain. I didn't ever need to have that kind of talk with Dad, but it was a comfort to know I could.
I think that's one of the conclusions I'm led to by these diverse sourced articles. Teen depression and suicide are significant, scary and often the result of teens feeling like they have no one to talk to. They feel bullied, pressured sexually, frozen out on social media and they want someone to listen. But there's this “alarming disconnect,” as Shane Feldman observed. Teens want to talk, but who is listening?
Next week, we'll look at some tips for parents and other adults who want to be able to distinguish between run-of-the-mill teen moodiness and teen depression. But the first step was what my dad did for me during my teen years: Be there and listen.
Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.