Why are teens experiencing mental health issues at higher rates? It’s TMI Times 5!
May 22,2021 / Jeff Long, Co-founder of Teens4Teens Help, author of "A Parent's Guide to Anorexia"
Teens, they’re great aren’t they?
Your beautiful child has a birthday and is suddenly a teen. Your compliant darling child is starting to change. They can be more emotional, sarcastic, hungry, horny, and well, just difficult invaders in our households, right? They’re bouncing off us and boundaries to find their identity, just like we did.
How many of us were teens? Oh, yeah, all of us.
Do you remember how stupid you thought your parents were and that only other teens really knew what was going on?
Teens are in a life stage of rejecting their parents and authority figures and discovering their own identity by testing it with their peers and the world.
All the while their brains are under construction, that’s right, from tween to 25 it's under construction, super powered with new hormones and uncontrolled by the lack of a fully developed frontal lobe - where impulse control resides.
Have you ever lived in a house where your kitchen was being remodeled? It’s like that, only it’s in your head, during the time you are having the most intense feelings you’ll experience in your life.
When we were teens we were told things like, “just suck it up,” “just tough it out,” “that’s how life is.” Can you think of another golden oldie you were told?
So why are teens experiencing mental health issues at rates never seen before in our country’s history? Well, our teens today are really growing up in a very different world than we did.
Why? It’s TMI, times 5!
It’s Too Much information, Too Much isolation, Too much internet, Too Much indoors, and Too Much intensity. Let’s break this down a little further.
TMI - Too Much information, the 24/7 news, too many channels, websites, games, FOMO, just too much for young developing brains. Do you remember hearing, “just go outside and play”?
TMI - Too Much isolation, lack of tribe & community, not just because of the pandemic, we humans are tribes people, you’ve heard - “it takes a village”, it does, but now families are transient for work and education and most often not with extended families and tight knit communities. All our screens further isolate us, teens interact less in person and more on screens which actually reduces learning social skills and recognizing facial and emotional cues and thus increases anxiety.
TMI - Too much internet, again with the too much screen time, news, information, the addiction of social media and its many negative outcomes, cyber bullying, too much sitting/lack of movement which can lead to depression, the blue screen light disrupts sleep, causing lack of sleep, and teens need 9-11 hours of sleep for their brains to refresh and develop.
TMI - Too Much indoors, lack of nature, connection to the natural world, sunshine, vitamin-d, literal grounding, get your feet in the sand and your eyes in the sky, exercise, outdoor activity helps you get better sleep. The lack of whole foods, too many processed foods (snacks foods) that have been established to have many negative physical and emotional effects. It has been shown that treatment with nutrition can be as effective as prescription meds for many mental health issues.
TMI - Too Much intensity, stress for college acceptance, job competition, the future, climate change and all the implications, the Texas size island of plastics floating in the pacific ocean, the political, racial, and economic divides. This generation was born after 911, with terrorist’s killing citizens on US soil, mass and school shootings, the greatest depression since the great depression – the economic mortgage meltdown, and now the pandemic! It's just too much.
So is it any wonder our teens are experiencing a mental health crisis, and that some of the most sensitive among them will end up being our creative innovators, our artists, our empathetic leaders, teachers, and healers.
They need your support, become a force of hope, help, inspiration, and recovery.
Go to www.teens4teenshelp.org
Connecting or not Connecting...this is the question!
Prior to the COVID pandemic, new research came out on Loneliness. It showed how prevalent it is, with a 40% increase from the 1980s and…who knows how much more since we have been in quarantine. The data states that people who suffer from loneliness appear to have shorter lifespans comparing their mortality rate to be equivalent to the mortality rate of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and greater than the mortality impact of obesity and sedentary living. This information leads to many implications that would be helpful to us as both adults and parents of tweens, teens and young adults…we are all struggling.
A new book was published in April of this year called “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” by Dr. Vivek Murthy, Former US Surgeon General. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at a conference called Wisdom 2.0 on March 5th, 2020 in San Francisco, one week before quarantine. He explored how loneliness is a key factor in many mental and physical illnesses.
There are many contributing factors to Loneliness and today we will look at 3 of them with a few solutions. They are: 1.One’s Perceptions, 2.Interaction with Technology and 3.COVID.
One’s perceptions are key. Does one perceive having enough connections? Are those connections meaningful? Is there a desire for certain people or types of relationships and is that desire or need not being met…from a family member or special friends? Our society states that success is based on work rather than deep emotional connection in relationships. We know that value not to be the case. A remarkable study led by Naomi Eisenberger, an associate professor of social psychology at UCLA, found that feeling excluded, triggered activity in some of the same regions of the brain that register physical pain. This can be a real or even perceived exclusion.
This takes us to the 2nd contributing factor, which is one’s interaction with technology. Technology can either connect or isolate. People might see themselves as excluded through social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram…for example, when a picture shows a group getting together and others can then see that they weren’t included. This can be painful and cause someone to feel lonely or left out. People who feel lonely may see that they have 500 “friends” but don’t feel like they have a real connection, a real friend. Someone whom they can call up if they’re sick and need a meal delivered. According to Dr. Delaney Ruston in her 2016 documentary “Screenagers” she says teens spend 6.5 hours a day on screens and in 2019 when her documentary “Screenagers Next Chapter” came out, experts at Common Sense Media reported the screen time to have increased to 9 hours per day. With so much time on screens, no wonder we feel lonely. And then there is the quality of time with others…are we texting and emailing? Or are we calling people? Are we present? Or distracted and multi-tasking while connecting? Often these are not satisfying connections…and speaking about satisfying connections…
The last factor, which is COVID puts the idea of connection into a whole other arena. We are mandated to “socially isolate”. This term and forced condition of life can present strong feelings of separation and loneliness. We aren’t able to have personal, one on one, satisfying connections with friends and outside family members, no hugs or touches which is an important factor when it comes to connection and squelching feelings of loneliness.
So given these real and perceived daily factors, they may feel the scope and value of their lives are shrinking. Here are some ways to help them expand, rebuild, find purpose and most importantly form meaningful connections.
In regards to how one perceives their life, focus can be given to prioritize how they want to live their lives, who they want to spend their virtual time and energy with, how they can connect with others in meaningful ways and what they want to do with their time. This is where we can discuss healthy choices like exercise, meditation, nutrition, social skills to connect with others and creating schedules of when to achieve these goals, which I have found to be especially useful with tweens and teens.
Technology, just 12 months ago was of big concern. Now it’s the lifeline to friends, family, work, education, therapy, social interactions and so much more. The way screens are designed, the brain finds many apps and interactions highly stimulating and potentially addicting so there needs to be a balance.
There are many lectures and classes, Virtual Meetups, meetings on Zoom, Book clubs and so much more. But also due to screen fatigue and dependence on electronics, Cooper Anderson and Jon Kabat Zin, in an interview, shared that meditation can be a wonderful break from devices and good for our mental health … and physical health as well.
Finally, some positive options during COVID and social distancing can be intentional personal development…spending more time in nature, trying new things, implementing art and home projects (thanks to YouTube and Pinterest) and doing community service. There are food banks that offer drive thru pick up, like West Valley Food Pantry or making calls to the elderly with an organization called Uplifting Today. This can facilitate a sense of purpose and connections.
Let’s help our loved ones’ physical and emotional health, by sharing with them the importance of connection and the liabilities of loneliness and disconnection. This is crucial now more than ever before. We could be adding years to one’s life by guiding them to connect…REALLY CONNECT!
by Stephanie Bien, LMFT, LPCC
HELP! My kid is driving me crazy because she…
• Is disorganized
• Never cleans her room
• Is always late
• Avoids getting started on homework
• Puts school projects off until the last minute
• Has no sense of time
• Refuses to write down her assignments in her planner
• Doesn’t care about her work and just rushes to get it done
• Forgets to submit schoolwork
• Resists my help
Executive Function has become the current buzzword and more and more parents are reporting that their children have executive function problems and an inability to monitor and control their own behavior and impulses.
Executive functions are the mental processes that we all use to regulate our own attention and behavior and to manage our everyday lives through organization, time and space management, evaluating, prioritizing, strategizing, and reasoning.
There are three main processes involved in Executive Function:
• Working Memory – the ability to hold information on a mental sketchpad while thinking about it and working with it
• Inhibitory Control – the ability to determine when to act and when not to
• Cognitive Flexibility – the ability to see and weigh alternatives
These processes work together to look at the current situation, consider courses of action, integrate past experience, and avoid impulsive reactions.
They allow us to choose what to focus on and hold that as a priority in order to maintain that focus.
The Verbalization Key
The mind reasons through verbalization. Teaching childrento use their inner language to question and guide themselves brings executive function to a conscious level. Putting memories, past experience, choices, and strategies into words, helps students make sense of the information or situation in order to look at possibilities and come up with solutions.
Language gives us a tool for evaluating actions before they happen and helps curb impulsiveness. While there are times, when action happens instinctively, such as when a parent keeps a small child from running in front of a car, much of the time, actions that happen without giving language time to mediate, turn out to be poor choices.
Helping Children/Teens Develop Self-Talk
Metacognition is literally thinking about thinking. Parents and teachers can help stimulate metacognition in students by asking questions that cause them to reflect on how they are learning or approaching a task.
By modeling self-talk and intentionally discussing and teaching students to ask themselves questions, students can become more active thinkers, better comprehenders, and more independent learners.
Many parents express frustration over their student’s lack of organization, listening, and following directions. Here are some examples of self-questioning to increase organization
• Are my materials altogether and ready for tomorrow?
• What materials do I need to bring home from school in order to complete my homework? Do I have them?
• What order will work best for me to complete these assignments?
• How does this paper need to look when it’s finished?
• How long will this project / report take? What steps are involved?
• How many pages do I need to read each day in order to finish this book for my test?
• What is my first step in getting started?
• Where am I most focused for doing my homework?
• Where do I put my completed homework?
• When is the test?
• What kind of questions does the teacher usually ask?
• What are my best strategies for studying?
Examples of Self-Questioning to Increase Listening and Following Directions
• Am I listening carefully or is my attention drifting?
• What can I do to tune-in better?
• How do I know when the teacher or my parent is giving directions?
• Did I read and understand the directions?
• Are there any key words in the directions?
• Did I answer every question?
• How many parts are there to this question/assignment/job? Did I complete them all?
Intentionally teaching students how to self-question takes time and monitoring, but brings self-control and self-management to a more conscious level and hopefully brings more ownership on the part of the student. Metacognition is how we naturally guide our choices and behaviors, and training in this area can be applied to almost anything.
Thinking about thinking is a powerful support to learning, attention, and behavior.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Founder: Stowell Learning Centers
Author: At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Do you remember your New Year’s Resolutions? Because of the pandemic, many of our goals seemed unattainable, and in some cases, they were. Just getting out of bed or changing out of our pajamas into regular clothes has been a challenge. This year, everything seemed more difficult and the mountain we hoped to climb appeared much steeper.
Yet there were many individuals that did push forward and were able to achieve and even surpass their goals. Yes, even in 2020.
In years past, did you achieve the goals you set for yourself? If not, why? What stopped you? In many cases, the answer is in the technique you used to reach your destination. Instead of trying to reach the summit in one day, many successful individuals reach their goals by climbing one step at a time.
One of the reasons we do not achieve our goals is because we cannot just tell our brain to make something happen and expect it to magically appear. You need to create a detailed plan and think it through ahead of time. For example, if you want to start jogging, you need to make it easy for your body to follow through. When and where will you be running? How many days a week? What time? For how long? What clothes will you be wearing? What music will you be listening to? Make these decisions ahead of time and leave your running shoes by the door so when the pre-assigned time arises, you are ready to sprint out the door. If you leave these questions until the time you are supposed to start running, you will easily convince yourself to just skip it and go back to bed.
Want to lose weight? Create a plan with bite-sized goals that soon become healthy habits. What one junk food can you cut out this week and replace with a healthy choice? What one healthy recipe can you try this week? Can you replace one coffee drink or soda for water? Taking small steps towards your goal will lead to big wins.
Want to read more or finish an assignment? Start by opening the task and working on it for only twenty minutes a day for four days. You can always increase the time but start with quick targets. Once you achieve them you will start to feel the momentum and that will increase your productivity. The important thing is to get started!
Creating an environment of success is also essential. Do you see your favorite snacks when you open the pantry or fridge? If you want to lose weight, leave cut fruit and vegetables in your fridge so they are the first things you see, and make the unhealthy snacks harder to reach. You may still want them, but it will make you pause and give you a moment to reconsider as you get a step stool to reach the top of the pantry. If you are ordering from a restaurant, look at the menu ahead of time so that when you order, you have already made your healthy selection and you are not making an impulsive choice.
Here is a great recipe to achieve your goals. Write it all down to track your progress:
1. Choose your goal.
2. Write down why you want to achieve this goal and how you will you feel when you reach it.
3. When do you want to complete your goal? (date and time)
4. What small steps can you do today to start working towards your goal?
5. Create an environment that aligns with your goals.
6. Find a Life Coach or trusted friend or relative to hold you accountable every week and make sure you stay on track.
7. Surround yourself with others who have already achieved similar goals or have parallel aspirations. Once you are around those who have found success, you will learn from them, find inspiration, and realize that your goals are indeed attainable.
Most goals are not met because they seem out of reach and we become paralyzed with fear not knowing how to get started. This year change your perspective and look at your goal in measurable increments. Try creating small wins every day that move you in the right direction. Get one inch closer to your goals and after one month you will not believe your progress. Once you get the momentum going, not only will you be able to advance faster, but you will gain the confidence and strength to succeed.
Don’t wait until year-end to start making great changes in your life. Be ahead of the game. Identify your goals today and create tiny steps to get the ball rolling so when the New Year comes, you will have already started your progress to finally making your goals a reality.
By Gina Eckstein, ACC
Certified Life Coach
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.