June 1st of this year will mark 44 years of my working in the behavior health arena. The majority of that time has been working with adolescents in some capacity. I have seen enormous success stories, death, resiliency, trauma, abandonment, miracles. I have also seen the shifts of adolescent culture from punk rock to MTV, to grunge, to the dawning of our current technology driven era. Yet, adolescents for the most part have remained the same; searching for their identity away from the family unit, looking for peer acceptance and validation, looking for a purpose for their life and attempting to navigate the emotions (and hormones) that can easily overwhelm them. I empathize with parents who also must navigate that challenge of letting go of the young adult & the desire to protect their child. None of this is easy.
We live in a time where we hear continuously about the “mental health crisis” of our youth; the anxiety, the depression, the cyber-bullying. I do not deny that there are increased challenges in this ever-evolving world. I do not deny that there are lost connections and stolen focus. BUT, this piece is not about doom and gloom, quite the opposite. What I want to do is take a moment and share what I hear from adolescents today. The hope, the insights, the resiliency.
- They are looking at the world with increasing awareness, sensitivity, and empathy (this does result in periods of anxiety.)
- They have amazing ideas on how to improve infrastructure, transportation, land sustainability. They are quite aware about the need for clean water.
- There is an internal awareness that a consumer driven society that focuses on making money is not the world they want to live in.
- When they are experimenting with alcohol, there is an awareness and commitment to having a sober driver to get them home safely.
- They are connecting to others around the globe through technology and have an increased curiosity about those cultures.
- While they remain curious about sex, they have tapped the brakes on sexual activities, choosing to engage with clearer boundaries and respect.
Now, that isn’t true of all adolescents. Many still suffer from trauma, act out in school, use substances, etc. I am only saying that the shift in the adolescent culture I have the privilege to observe gives me hope.
So, in closing, let me remind parents to give their adolescents some grace, encourage their curiosity, listen deeply when they share, and always affirm your unconditional love for them as they face the challenges life will hand them.