Troubles of young people deserve attention, action

Uniontown Herald-Standard (AP)

The kids are alright, The Who once sang.

Well, actually, they might not be.

Some recent studies have shown that young people, particularly teenage girls, are experiencing disturbingly high levels of stress and distress. Granted, teens have been experiencing their share of angst since the whole concept of “teenagers” as a discrete age cohort came into being. Think about James Dean bellowing “You’re tearing me apart!” in “Rebel Without a Cause” almost 70 years ago. The slings and arrows of being a teen are, to an extent, part of growing up.

Wellspan Health Dr. Maria Lusso, back left, leads a discussion with a group of teenagers as one of the rotating Human Library stations during York County Libraries’ annual Part of the Story event at Martin Library in York City, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The day-long event would focus on teen mental wellness. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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But 1 in 3 high school girls having suicidal thoughts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is not something that should be shrugged off as a phase. The CDC also recently reported that girls in high school are experiencing levels of sexual violence, sadness and hopelessness higher than those previous generations reported. There is the possibility, researchers admit, that there is a greater sense of openness and awareness about mental-health challenges among young people than in their parents’ or grandparents’ time. They also say that girls are likely more inclined to disclose feelings of despondency while boys are more likely to bottle it up and act out aggressively. Nevertheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry called for a “national state of emergency” in children’s mental health in 2021 and 2022, and that call should be heeded.

The causes of the problems? The stresses of the pandemic and the necessary disconnection from attending school in person when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its depths almost certainly has been a contributor, along with rampant bullying, social media and, like it or not, what students find at home – all too many young people are living in situations where they are neglected or mistreated, or they are dealing with parents or guardians who have problems with substance abuse, violence or mental health.

In other words, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault may not be in the stars, but in ourselves.

Kate Woodsome, a Washington Post columnist, put it this way: “Solutions start with compassionate, radical honesty: American kids are unwell because American society is unwell. The systems and social media making teenagers sad, angry and afraid today were shaped in part by adults who grew up sad, angry and afraid themselves.”

What can be done to ameliorate this? Limiting screen time is a place to start. Making sure young people have access to substance abuse and mental health services is also important. Classes where students can learn about their emotions and setting boundaries could help.

It’s a problem that shouldn’t simply be ignored.

— From the Uniontown Herald-Standard (AP).