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Susan Parmelee
Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

In a recent TIME magazine article, “Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright,” Susan Schrobbsdorff writes, “In my dozens of conversations with teens, parents, clinicians and school counselors across the country, there was a pervasive sense that being a teenager today is a draining full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism—you name it. Every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident. It’s exhausting.”

As teens shift from parental to peer approval as a guiding force in their life, they face a certain amount of anxiety over the possibility of being misinterpreted or disliked. Youth spend hours perfecting their online image and then may develop mental health symptoms when their social media profile does not match their inner reality. This alternate reality is demanding to maintain and can lead to a teen not feeling good about who they truly are.

What can you do?

Parents can help and should persist in calming adolescent concerns, validating them and agreeing that growing up is scary. When our kids are pushing us away, they need our unconditional support even more, and it can be easier to minimize these feelings when a teen seems to be ignoring us and disregarding our advice. Give it anyway; you would be surprised how much they take in and appreciate.

Encourage non-electronics time. Turn off the TV, get outdoors, read a real book and follow passions outside of technology. Make sure your kids observe you engaging in other activities and witness you modeling appropriate technology use: do not bring the phone to the dinner table and put the phone to charge at 8 p.m. And, if your child seems to be so stressed that it is interfering with their ability to attend school, participate in activities with the family or peers, or isolating from others, please seek professional help. Your pediatrician, health care provider or the Wellness & Prevention Center can provide you with resources.

Perhaps you and your child can learn more about mindfulness meditation. Medical professionals are recommending mindfulness strategies to help people of every age reduce stress, depression and anxiety. Mindfulness practices encourage you to be present in the here and now. Most of us spend about 47 percent of our time thinking about something other than what we are doing. When our mind wanders, we tend to get stuck on judgmental thoughts and lose sight of what is important to our core values, and we perform poorly on the task at hand. This inner tension and reduced performance results in stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The Wellness & Prevention Center is partnering with Mission Hospital to provide a six-week series on “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for Teens” with Dr. Stacie Cooper. This course is recommended for teens from ages 12 to 16 and builds skills to help kids deal with the stresses of growing up in a complicated world. This workshop is an evidence-based curriculum that helps young people recognize and manage their emotions, handle challenging situations, and lay the foundation for positive relationships and academic success. The course starts on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at San Clemente High School and weekly for five more Tuesdays. There is a $40 fee plus a $20 materials fee and you can register by calling 877.459.3627 (scholarships available).

Want to know more about the teen brain and anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the earliest developing mental health diagnoses simply due to brain development. The area of the brain that process fear develops much sooner than the pre-frontal cortex, the area that controls reasoning and logic. Teens have an increased capacity for fear and panic without the ability to process the threat. In fact, researchers are finding that it is harder for teens to regulate fear and panic than children or adults. As parents, we have all spent time calming the fears of our young children and sometimes we forget that our adolescents still need soothing as well.

Scientists at Michigan State University define this as a move from an internal sense of control to an external sense of control as more parts of the teen identity are validated by sources the child cannot self-regulate. Today’ teens and young adults feel like they have little control over their fate compared to youth in past decades. In addition to being told they need to take advanced high school classes and apply to top-level colleges, that may not guarantee a well-paying career, they also face the pervasive intrusion of social media and never being disconnected from the bad news and injustices of the world.

Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at susan@wellnessandpreventionsanclemente.com.

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