In this second article looking at helping our troubled youth, we recognize the importance of a caring adult in their lives. Our youth are the leaders of the tomorrow. They need help coping with a changing world.
Studies show that children who have a caring adult in their lives adjust better. They need positive and strong decision-makers. Every child must be emotionally connected to parents or, in their absence, another adult. At school, positive relationships with teachers are key to a student’s success. Teacher connections are more important than class size or any other factor in a student’s learning.
Children who are abandoned by parents, either physically or emotionally, or who are ridiculed by peers for being different need to know they are loved and that they are lovable just the way they are. Every child needs such an advantage.
Children tend to feel alone in their suffering. They are living in a world very different from the one in which many of us grew up, so we may have trouble relating to their feelings. They are faced with a world of violence and sex portrayed each night on television and on social media. They are growing up in a society in which roles are confused. Boys are told to be caring, while girls are told to be independent. The messages around them, however, don’t always agree. The media shows that girls must be attractive to males, so too many are bulimic, anorexic or on a diet. Boys feel pressured to make sexual conquests to prove their manhood. They are told to share emotions and be “strong,” yet are not shown how to do either. They know the difference between right and wrong but often choose incorrectly to fulfill misplaced expectations.
Depression among our youth is rising. Suicide is increasing. The number of abused children has jumped sharply. Depression is a serious concern and, if unchecked, can lead to drugs, violence or suicide. Drugs are often an effect, not a cause. More children spend too much time alone at home, and before and after school are the prime times for alcohol and drug abuse. We might want to change some of our own habits and question the excessive use of alcohol and other numbing substances that kids emulate.
Depression does not always require medication. Fewer prescriptions and more love might have amazing results. What if we put less emphasis on conforming and more emphasis on allowing and encouraging individuality. Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul explains that melancholy is a part of who we are. We might want to allow sadness to surface at times and not try to medicate it away.
Most teenagers who commit suicide have previously talked about it. We must listen and take their comments seriously. A mention of suicide does not mean it is a reality but it does mean that the teen needs someone to acknowledge her or his pain. Many see suicide as a possible solution. Too many are resorting to violence, even if it is self-inflicted.
Some of our brightest youth are questioning the purpose of their lives. Most of us weren’t that aware until college or beyond. Kids can accept that we don’t know and that we may also be struggling. They will not accept our dishonest and flippant responses. We can learn to listen without judgement and to communicate honestly. We can admit that perhaps as adults we do not have all of the answers. We can be a caring adult and let them know that we love them unconditionally.
This material is revised from Chapter 2 of my book, Don’t Fall Off the Bicycle: Balancing Chaos and Order in our Lives (2002)