I found it disheartening that the major topics of discussion among teens as reflected in “Teenagers’ View of the News” (New York Times, October 22, 2018) were Trump (not a surprise!), teen anxiety, N.F.L. kneeling, birth control, Columbus Day, Harvey Weinstein, Puerto Rico and the Boy Scouts. (That last one did surprise me.)
As the author of the upcoming 2nd edition of Dead Serious: Breaking The Cycle of Teen Suicide that includes a major section on anxiety and depression, one on sexual/physical abuse, and another on the disturbing political atmosphere, the letters written by teens in response to the NY Times’ Student Challenge both validated the experts whom I interviewed for the book but, at the same time, reaffirmed the sometimes overwhelming challenges kids face growing up today—challenges that when I was growing up weren’t, for the most part, on our radar screens.
Much of teen anxiety revolves around the pressures of academics: getting good grades, getting in to good colleges, pleasing parents, meeting their own expectations.
If high school is about educating students for a future life, then why is it causing such anxiety that there is an increasing number of hospital admissions for teenage suicide attempts? Why do we have to think about our adult life every day as a teenager? I’m a junior in high school, and sometimes I forget that I’m supposed to have a life as a teenager. I can’t sleep at night; all I do is stay up thinking and planning. Why are more American teenagers than ever suffering from severe anxiety? It’s because we get it into our heads that school is what’s going to make things better; we live for the future instead of actually just living. NATALIE JEW, 16
Growing up a 21st-century overachiever, I’ve constantly heard adults justify my ambition with a “Type A” diagnosis. I was deemed “hardworking” and “competitive” by parents of classmates, who assumed my top marks in fourth-grade spelling were surely associated with “smart-aleck” arrogance. Back then, there were two overarching sorting compartments, Type A and Type B, and you accepted wherever you best fit.
Because of a liberal shift, these broad groupings have divided into numerous specific boxes. Be careful — new personality modifiers can contort your identity like a Twister board. If you spread yourself thin using too many adjectives, the traits lose their meaning. I’m not “smart”; psychoanalysts proclaim I’m an “erudite perfectionist.”
Which is better: asking our next generation of leaders to define themselves given two limited options, or attaching a string of senseless adjectives to them? When can I just be “me? LAUREN HIRSCHMANN, 17
And then there’s sexual/physical abuse:
Along with the onslaught of articles condemning Mr. Weinstein are articles blaming victims for their reactions, expressing shock at the fact that some of the women accepted money settlements. Sexual harassment is not the women’s fault. It is not up to the victims to fix.
I cannot speak for all women of my generation, but I would like for ours to be the last that teaches daughters to be modest rather than sons to be respectful. INES AITSAHALIA, 17
On President Trump:
Mr. Trump’s most keen sense is what is best for him; his cavalier disregard for political norms made him popular as a candidate from the beginning. No matter the damage they cause, Mr. Trump’s divergences from custom are only to support his personal interests.
ELIJAH POMERANTZ, 17
And More Anxiety
I am an American teenager who is neither affluent nor economically disadvantaged. I am your everyday brand of adolescent anxiety caused by more than just social media. My generation is affected by more than just swipes and likes on an app. We were born into an era of fear resulting from knowing only the post-9/11 world of constant “when will the next one be?” We are all afraid for our futures because of the violent political climate we’re in because of the current president. My generation is the most socially liberal in decades and we hope for a more accepting and tolerant future, but still we are anxious about that future because of Mr. Trump. Our anxiety is about more than just Instagram.
CELESTE CHAPMAN, 17
Let our teens speak. Let them tell their truth. And let us adults listen!