About ten years ago, I speculated that teenagers devoured dystopian novels, like The Hunger Games, because they found post-apocalyptic hellscapes preferable to their over-scheduled, high pressured, isolated, sanitized worlds. Teenagers, I believed, would rather run through the woods with a sword than fill out another college application. While I never finished that essay, I continued being worried about teenagers and mental health.
In an article that I published for the Atlantic in 2016, I touched on the stress that my son felt around grades. Later, Edutopia asked me to do an article that focused on mental health and boys, and I got an earful from psychologists and academics about the unprecedented levels of alienation in America’s youth. While the problems definitely started before the pandemic, school shutdowns didn’t help things, for sure.
Spurred on by record high rates of depression among teenage girls, the punditry has been writing about their theories for the causes of teenage depression. While it makes for a catchier opinion article to focus on one pet cause to explain a big problem, there’s probably a multitude of causes behind teenage sadness— decreased family time, social media, video games, economic shifts, and online access to disturbing material. To meet those challenges, we need to make big changes within our families and in the wider world.