Angst in America’s Adolescents

Time Magazine’s new edition entitled: “Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent” is a fascinating journey through the angst of this millennial generation. While they are easily stereo-typed as undisciplined and shallow, the story and the psychology behind it are rather complex. The author offers solutions, even helpful ones, but forgets the centrality of internalized religion in the formation of healthy adolescence. One author states that we are “the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all.” Problems range from “hyperconnectedness” to “overexposed.” These are real problems which I have tried to address in other environments. The further dimension to the angst of our age is the excessive expectations placed on our children, the author asserts. The college application process has become more demanding forcing many teens to abandon real face-to-face interactions to virtual relations in order to keep up with the demands of education and the need to qualify for scholarships.

Parents fail to provide the kind of psychological support to provide adolescents the mental assurances that their worth is not found in their grades but in something else. The author, however, fails to incorporate the ultimate rationale for the modern adolesccence angst; namely, the absence of Christ Jesus in their formational years.

As Christians we need to create an environment for our children where proper pressure is placed, but not abused; where grades play a role in their formation, but not the essence of their identity. We need redeemed intellects and beautiful hearts. Therefore, we need to re-analyze the expectations we have for our children and ask if such expectations meet the standard Jesus set for his own disciples: “What profit is there if someone gains the world (academic, athletic, etc.) but lose his own soul?”

Our society is undergoing a general angst. Technology, academic and social pressures exist, but the fundamental angst of our teenagers is a distorted view of their own reality and identity. We need to remind them of who they are daily, continually, lest their problems consume them and they lose sight of whom they serve.

PostScript:

My friend Carmon Friedrich adds this insightful note to my original post:

There was a very sad case here of a young woman whose parents ran a Christian camp. She worked there from childhood, heard many good talks about faith and life. She was gifted and beautiful and got a scholarship to college, where she went to live in a dorm and was under a great deal of pressure to perform, both in sports and in her classes. She was a perfectionist, comparing herself with others and feeling like she needed to live up to the expectations of others, who praised her for her gifts and beauty. The first semester she had a psychotic break, and her parents were so surprised and saddened and went to help her as best they could. Because she was over 18, they were limited in what they could do, but she agreed to go to a treatment center. She went back to school after that for a time, and went as an outpatient for continued work on her mental instability. One day they were to pick her up from an appointment and when they arrived, the center said she had walked away after being dropped off. She disappeared. For weeks, the family and friends searched for her, especially looking around the area of the camp run by the family, suspecting she may have gone there. Finally, the mother discovered her daughter’s body hanging in a tree, where the girl had killed herself.

This Christian girl heard the truth about who she is in Jesus, but somehow those other messages and pressures to perform were so strong and overwhelmed her. Combined with genetic predispositions and environmental factors, some people struggle to make sense of it all and it’s important to address every aspect of their anxiety or depression. Your assessment of the fundamental need for getting priorities straight and removing those pressures to perform and conform to the wrong standard is so important. Augustine talked about a proper ordering of affections, and sending messages to our children about their value coming from what they do rather than who they are in Christ are very destructive.

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