By Zachary J. Thieneman, Psy.D., CGP
Did you know that May is one of our busiest months here at Groupworks? It wouldn’t be obvious given Louisville’s Derby festivities and the distractions of warming weather, but May is routinely one of our heaviest referral months. Think about it this way: finals are happening, there is a lull from spring break leading to the end of the year, and academic stress is at an all-time high. On top of it all, the weather is becoming increasingly warmer and some of those with the winter blues are wondering why they can’t quite shake them off. Spring is a time of growth and transition, and with growth and transition can come grief and anxiety.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), for children ages 6-17 anxiety and depression have increased over the past fifteen years from 5.3% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2012 (www.cdc.gov). Those numbers continue to rise. More pointedly, children ages 12-17 have the highest prevalence of depression and anxiety amongst children. Why do those rates continue to rise? What cultural shifts are happening in our youth? From my clinical practice and perspective, it’s pretty evident they hold the answers.
Before I came to Groupworks, I worked in several different settings. I remember an elementary-age child I worked with during my graduate education. He verbalized one session that he had to get good grades so that he could get into the middle school he wanted so he could get into the high school he wanted so he could get into the college he wanted so he could get the job he wanted. He didn’t even know what that job was. But the anxiety accompanying those thoughts? That was very real. I think he inadvertently spoke volumes to the culture surrounding kids today. It’s no wonder depression and anxiety are on the rise- children are put into the adult world on a daily basis in large and small ways. This adult world slowly erodes the fragility of childhood at a time when children are not developmentally able to handle such stress.
Think about it: children today are faced with the stress of school and technology in a way no other generation have been before. Schools can give children hours of homework every night and there are prep schools for preschoolers (which, to my point, on average tend to increase anxiety while not promoting increased academic success). With Instagram, Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, TikTok, and a million other ways to connect, children are faced with a dilemma: open your eyes to the adult world the internet provides and be exposed to violence, sex, prejudice, hate speech, and adult language or be left behind socially in a technological world where the average age of getting a cell phone is eleven.
I’m going to make a bold statement: generations growing up today have some of the most emotional stress of any previous generation. Yikes! It’s here in the numbers- children growing up today are stressed out. The point of all this is not to be fatalistic or negative, it’s to open up the dialogue about parenting with new generations and their new challenges. If we in the adult world can provide anything to our youth, it’s to provide understanding and emotional nourishment while encouraging children to be successful through all of their obligations. The job of children is to learn how to manage themselves within an ever-widening, growing world. And it’s our job as adults to guide them, step by step, so that children can be children.