Why are the children so sad?

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American children are not doing very well. In August, the New York Times released “The Inner Pandemic,” a multi-part project on teenage mental health that has reached crisis levels. In addition to higher rates of anxiety and depression, suicides have increased since 2007, overtaking homicide as the second leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds.

Because the youth mental health crisis has been concurrent with certain developments in consumer electronics and Internet advertising, commentators have found a convenient scapegoat in technology. In his 2017 book iGen: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy — and totally unprepared for adulthood — and what that means for the rest of usMarketing consultant Jean Twenge has blamed the iPhone and social media for a host of social issues in the post-millennial cohort.

But the technology thesis did not fare well on critical examination, because the Time packaging instructions. What reason could there be that young Americans are particularly unhappy in the 2020s? It’s hard to see the forest for all the fruit at hand: there’s the pandemic that’s trapped children inside with their families, a recipe for doom all around if there ever was one ; the rise of right-wing political extremism and the rapid advance of various hate groups; and global warming, the imminent end of the world as we know it.

When framed as a “youth mental health” crisis, the solutions are individual, one defective brain at a time, even though the problem is obviously social. The scholarship on long-term developments in cohort mental health suggests that it is not individual disasters that matter, but rather lasting social change. America has become an increasingly difficult place to be a happy child, and it’s high time to start treating this as an emergency. Politics problem.

When I researched the emotional tendencies of American youth for my 2017 book, Children Today: Human Capital and the Creation of Generation Y, the negative indicators were already quite evident. Anxiety and depression were up, social trust and happiness were down. I crossed these results with reports from young people about how they spent their days – so-called “time use surveys” – and a clear answer jumped out. Here’s how I said it back then: “American children and teens, regardless of race, gender, and social class, are spending less time doing things that make them happy (like playing with their friends and eating independently – about the only two activities they say they enjoy) and more time doing things that make them particularly unhappy (like homework and listening to lessons). armaments for the enrichment of children in the United States has been childhood itself.

It’s impossible to get an apples-to-apples comparison to the pandemic years, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that kids spent even less time with their friends during this time, while doing things that made them unhappy. , i.e. hanging out with their parents all the time. The use of time thesis might even help explain a bump in their use of technology. If today’s kids have less autonomy when it comes to how and where they spend their time, it’s no wonder they’ve become compulsive multitaskers, using their smartphones as hyper-efficient dreams.

Commentators have also spilled much worried ink in recent years about what they perceive to be a sudden increase in the number of young people experimenting with their gender and sex, although the same media outlets have expressed concern that this cohort of young people seems to have an abnormally low amount of actual sex, calling them “puriteens”. Given how hampered their weeks are by school and extracurricular commitments, expect the balance of their experimentation to shift from the languorous silliness in the basements to the more economical declarations of identity. If the experts are tired of hearing about teens and their gender, maybe we’d all be better off if they managed to spend a little less time monitoring teens.

Autonomy is key to developing what psychologists call an “internal locus of control” — a sense that your choices and actions affect your life, that they matter — and that’s exactly what young people today today do not have. Decades of studies have linked an external locus of control in young people to hopelessness, depression and suicidality, but amid the current crisis, there has been no political electorate to give back. soft to children. Instead, the New York Times suggests dialectical behavior therapy, an effective and resource-intensive way to help patients cope with their lack of true autonomy (and another set of appointments to keep). A therapist for every child might be the best solution we could hope for, but I simply don’t believe that a substantial portion of children should require frequent psychological treatment to cope with life, except in a deeply malformed society. Why is the alternative – increasing the confidence we are willing to place in our country’s youth – so unthinkable?

Photo: Stella Blackmon

Leaving young people alone is a surprisingly radical idea. The upcoming collection, Trust the children! : Stories about youth autonomy and the fight against adult supremacyedited by child liberation specialist carla joy bergman uses the tagline “Solidarity starts at hometo anchor the collection, which involves a commitment “to be curious, to understand and to affirm how adults who inhabit the home and other public and private spaces with children and young people can play a concrete role in co- creating the conditions by which the children in their lives can enjoy justice and thrive. It’s an orientation based on the anarchist ideas of mutualism, and if the concept seems easy to understand at first – who doesn’t want the children around them to enjoy justice and thrive? — trusting children in practice, in a society that refuses to do so, is much more complicated.

Trust the children! has a number of tracks by the kind of people we’re more used to hearing about than from, like parents of trans kids, teens with disabilities, and anarchist educators. (The best-known contributor is author Rebecca Solnit; Bergman has done admirably little work finding polished writers with marketable names.) The volume’s lesson is in form as much as content. For example, Bergman includes an essay by Uilliam Joy Bergman, their own child, and, at age 17, raised by a child release professional, an expert on the subject. “Parents, often, are so cut off from their childhood that they forget what it’s like to be a child,” he writes, “and then some of them treat the kids terribly, and then the patterns continue. .” It’s not only true, it’s extraordinarily well presented, and Trust the children! gets plenty of equally insightful moments trusting the kids.

Perhaps the most interesting selection of Trust the children! is a short conversation between 18-year-old Cindy White and Kitty Sipple, a 30-year-old friend of White’s mother. Sipple identifies as mad – not angry, but hearing voices – and White has microcephaly and a learning disability. They talk about what it’s like to hear things that aren’t there, what it’s like to experience dissociation in public, and what White tentatively calls the “them/them thing.” “. The form is powerful: perhaps having a professional dialectical behavioral therapist on call is less important than having a crazy aunt to answer strange questions without judgment. Some of the book’s concerns are a bit rarefied – a mother’s worry that her goddess-worshipping witchcraft community might feel less than supportive of her transmasculine child, for example – but the mental health crisis is a radical issue. , and I believe there are answers in the national research labs where some brave adults are crossing the age gap.

The good news is that the mainstream media is at least beginning to better understand the crisis in adult mental health. While the Time The health section treated the “domestic pandemic” as a medical issue, the newspaper’s opinion section published a series of articles entitled “It’s not just you”, which states at the outset that ” America’s mental health crisis is not just about our unhappiness as individuals. . It’s about the world we live in: our economy, our culture, our medical establishment. Scholar Danielle Carr opens her essay in the dossier with the sweeping question, “What if the cure for our current mental health crisis isn’t more mental health care?” and clinical psychologist Huw Green suggests that we think of mental health as “one way of looking at our lives among others”. Here, what is good for the gander is good for the goslings; adults don’t deserve junior-level thinking when it comes to their mental health, and neither do kids.

Mental health is political, Carr argues persuasively, and children’s mental health is doubly so. “If someone is driving through a crowd, knocking people over, the right decision is not to declare an epidemic of people with crushed car syndrome and go after the underlying biological mechanism that must be there. cause,” she wrote. . American kids feel like their actions don’t matter and the world is screwed anyway; is it so different from the rest of us? “There have been many times when my friends have told their parents that they are depressed, but the parents are shocked and try to play it down, or ask to know why, and most children cannot respond to this. “, writes the young Bergman. “Most adults can’t either!” The first step in solidarity is recognizing that we have the same problem; the second will fight to solve it on this basis.

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