I have been following teen trends for almost three decades. I follow the research. I work with individual teens on an almost daily basis and I talk to groups of teens several times per month. Yes, some of these teens seem fairly at peace with their lives, while others are either fairly quiet or reserved about what is going on in their emotional lives. Yet others openly admit to emotional distress. I am concerned about all of these teens, particularly since the rate of teen suicide has been reportedly rising during the past few years according to a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/1-12-teens-attempted-suicide-report-article-1.1092622 According to this survey, nearly 1 out of 6 high school students acknowledged experiencing suicidal ideation. What is more alarming is that 1 in 12 high school students reported having attempted suicide. We know that individuals are often prone to under-reporting on self-report measures so the actual numbers are probably even higher. That is not a comforting thought.
At the same time there is a simultaneous alarming phenomenon occurring in our culture. Almost every week, we read or hear about school shootings and the death of school shooters by their own weapons or by police weapons. This makes me wonder why our teens have become so violent.
This has me up at night wondering why our teens have become increasingly violent. I am, of course, aware that bullying is more of a problem, particularly since social media has entered our teens' lives in such a ubiquitous manner. I remember when bullying stayed at school or on the bus. Now, it enters homes via social media so it has become increasingly aggressive and there is no escaping it. I also worry that our teens are becoming increasingly socially isolated and lonely and whether or not this might make them more prone to private and even public suicide. It seems almost paradoxical that more contact via social media and a feeling of loneliness and isolation can co-exist. Let me tell you though that connection via social media is not the same as an in-person connection. Connecting online does not allow reading non-verbal cues and we all know that non-verbal language is a major form of communication.
I am proposing that we are raising a generation of teens who feel lonely, disconnected and misunderstood. I know that we are not doing this intentionally. I am simply concerned that in our fast-paced and electronically connected society, we are not sitting down with teens and taking the measure of their mood and emotional well-being. This is one psychologist's hypothesis. We need, however, to consider all hypotheses about why too many of our teens are abbreviating their young lives way too early. We must rise to action. Teens, like everyone else, need to feel attended to and understood. It is the human condition to want to be understood and to live. Why are so many teens giving up so quickly? Let's engage in a dialogue before the problem gets worse.