Culture Current: Teenagers Are Hosed, Here’s What We Can Do
Culture Current: Teenagers Are Hosed, Here’s What We Can Do
April 7, 2019
Parenting a teen is not easy. Parenting a teen in these times is even harder. Being a parent on the opposite side of popular opinion can be overwhelming sometimes.
The Washington Free Beacon published an article yesterday tying teenage depression to several factors: changes in socialization, technology, education, mainly.
A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of teenagers think anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers, easily outpacing bullying or drug addiction.”
–Charles Fain Lehman, The Washington Free Beacon
A recent survey, from Children’s Hospital Association, reported the number of children 5 to 17 being admitted to hospitals for self-harm and suicide attempts doubled between 2008 and 2015.
Lehman goes on to cite several factors for this spike-social interaction, the use of electronic devices, the demands of academia and political climate within to name a few.
As a parent of a teenager, I first started seeing this impact on my son in 5th grade. Kids in his class were starting to hop on social media sites like Musical.ly (now TikTok). They were lip-syncing to rap songs with questionable lyrics, acting like wanna-be thugs (who live in an upper-middle-class neighborhood) and making videos for their “girlfriends”. Those who weren’t part of this little trend were “uncool”. This time was also when I started feeling a disconnect with some parents I have been friends with since our kids were in Kindergarten. Parents who were somehow not fine with their kids running around the neighborhood with wooden swords (or even possessing them) but okay with their kids dropping the perfectly orchestrated, lip-synced f-bomb from the confines of their own home. It was perplexing, to say the least.
My now thirteen year-old recalled the feelings he had when he watched these interactions between his classmates on social media a few weeks ago. He described an uneasy feeling in his chest, an anger. Anxiety. This was also around the same time he got his first taste of politics. Actually, scratch that, classroom indoctrination. The year was 2016 and we all know what happened in November of that year. Mock elections were happening in his classroom. The mob for Hillary Clinton attacked the few who “voted” for Donald Trump. Their teacher, who let this happen, on several occasions, was in full-on aneurysm mode on her political rants. He fell behind in his reading and math with the only saving grace being our help and tutoring (“child abuse”, as he called it) twice a week.
In 6th grade, our son began pulling out his hair and uttered the words NO parent wants to hear:
“I feel like I don’t belong and when I see my friends on social media, I want to hurt myself”.
In an attempt to get him plugged in with the “right” people, I sent him to church youth group. I arranged some therapy sessions with a counselor. I grasped at straws and cried daily. What came out of this roller coaster ride was his sadness of simpler times gone by, an identity crisis, the angry phase peppered with some choice words from our son I didn’t even know were in his vocabulary, a weird wanna-be-rapper phase where he bought a gold chain and then…normalcy once again. All through these times, we talked to him and never stopped the dialogue. His hair grew back, he started junior high, he and his best friend (who dropped him briefly for the “cool” crowd) reconciled their differences, he started to wrestle, he gets good grades (still needs a gentle nudge here), he found his “group” and he has come to accept that he is who he is. He embraces this and really doesn’t give a crap about what others think of him.
What also came out of him was a questioning spirit. He still hates social media with a passion. He doesn’t lash out at his friends anymore who are on it and understands giving them the dignity to make their own mistakes. He sees the correlation of this with regard to their moods, behaviors in class and their grades. He wants to challenge the status quo but the current is still strong. The fight is still very real with our teenagers.
Some teenagers, believe it or not, do not want to constantly have an earbud in one ear and be on their phones. They want to go to the corner store and buy a Mountain Dew and a candy bar. But, thanks to the political climate of certain regions like ours, going out to the corner store even in our neighborhood means finding heroin needles and crack pipes. Taking the short cut through the woods to the store means possibly running into a tent encampment. We have our liberal lawmakers to thank for this in the great state of Washington. As a result, some of these kids don’t go out, they get on SnapChat and say stupid things and make threats to other classmates from behind their phones and then start fights when at school. Thankfully, my kid, being anti-social media is not part of this but he’s seen it first-hand. These fights disrupt whatever educational process happens in the classroom. Discipline for these kids wavers between a slap on the wrist or a suspension. Administrators tip-toe around this because of upset parents and legal complications. Most of the time, these parents don’t really give a damn. But if their child threatens another with a gun and runs the risk of expulsion, they, all of a sudden, grow the stones to advocate for their child and school districts HAVE TO comply. They have to give EVERY child an equal opportunity at an education. Sadly, it is at the expense of some of the others.
Identity politics creeps in, too. With a great desire to be social and to belong, teenagers will go to great lengths. Who wants to be on the wrong side of popularity? As a result, more and more teenagers (who are still trying to figure out WHO they are) are changing genders, names and an utterly confusing time has become even more confusing for these young people and their peers. Confusion leads to-you guessed it-depression, isolation and in some cases, suicide. Those who don’t agree with these identity politics or not in the “popular group” can also feel ostracized and isolated. And some kids, seeing both sides of the coin, are fatigued and want to stay out of politics altogether claiming disinterest. Yet another dangerous place for our future generations.
But it is not just our schools where our teenagers face this current-it is in our churches, too. The megachurch youth groups of today are mainly focused on posturing and social media and “winning the world for Jesus”. The tricked-out, rock-concert worship sessions and pictures of hip, cool youngsters trumps service in the community and relationships built while doing God’s work and making this world a better place. I know this because I am struggling with this at present time. These hip, young establishments are using “role models” like Cardi B to get kids to church! They want our kids to challenge the status quo but are conforming to the ways of the world and pop culture with Twitter and Instagram images. All of a sudden, Sunday night youth group becomes more about the SHOES the youth pastor is wearing and things being “lit” (while he posts a pic of himself on stage and hashtags the name brand and store where he dropped a few Benjamins on said shoes) than kids actually talking to and engaging one other. This is not how this works. This is not how any of this works!
With all of these factors at play, we could just throw up our hands and call our future generations FUBAR (f-ed up beyond all recognition, excuse the acronym). Life is busy. We work, we’re tired, I get it. But, as a parent of a teen, I am going down swinging and if you are a parent of a teenager, you should, too. Keep that dialogue with them going. They will get surly but you can handle it. Encourage them to be themselves and be okay with it. Get to know their friends by having them in your home. Go out on a limb with some of these friends because sometimes, their family life at home sucks and you can make a difference in that. Make them have accountability for their actions-do “commissions” based on work and not “allowances”. Plan times away from video games and electronics and enjoy those car conversations-you can learn a lot about your child during those short rides to and from sporting events and practices. If you have Faith, pray hard. Find other opportunities to serve with them if your church leadership is pig-headed and refuses to change. Don’t ram your ideals down their throat but encourage free thought. This will hopefully get them interested enough in politics and life OFF screen to ensure others won’t be making their decisions for them down the road-another scary concept to say the least. The culture current is strong. We need to make our teenagers even stronger.
Photo Credit: FlickR/Creative Commons/Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
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