Top Five Mental Health Issues Facing Today’s Youth
Recently, on the Homeschooling Saints Podcast, we had the opportunity to talk to Tom Weishaar on the important topic of psychological challenges facing today’s youth. Tom is a pastoral counselor with an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. Young people today are stressed more than ever. Reasons for this vary; to some degree, the demands of modern life and the world we live in certainly take a share of the blame. It is also the case that we are more aware and attentive to psychological issues than before, so they receive much greater attention today.
In his interview, Tom Wieshaar identified five common psychological problems today’s children grapple with. In today’s article, we will bring you a synopsis of Tom’s excellent advice from the show. Some of these issues might be difficult to discuss, but they are important to grasp if we want to understand what our kids may be going through.
Anxiety & Emotional Regulation
Anxiety is one of the most common psychological challenges children face today. It encompasses various issues: panic attacks, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and, in extreme cases, self-harm, which is increasingly common. What causes this?
There is certainly a nature component here. If anxiety runs in the family, it is more likely to occur in successive generations. It is helpful to be aware of your family history in this regard.
On the nurture side, there are a lot of things out there that can stress us all out. In children, distant relationships with parents are a leading cause of anxiety. Social and familial connections in general, are tremendously important here. The more connected a child is to his or her parents, the less likely they are to be anxious; conversely, distant relationships really increase the likelihood of anxiety. Problematic issues with friends are also huge, especially among females. If your daughter has ever lost a friend through the unpredictable social dynamics of adolescence, this should be taken seriously as a potential cause of anxiety.
It is not uncommon for teens to grapple with depression. One study suggests that around 15% of teens will experience at least one bout of depression per year (source). So, it should be on every parent’s radar. This can be tricky; Tom notes that depressed teens can look and act much more upbeat than expected. This is especially the case if depression runs in your family and the depressed teen has internalized depression as a regular facet of life, something they manage around or hide.
Depression can be cyclical (coming and going in bouts) or generalized (more of a day-to-day reality). Depressed teens tend to be more mopey and less interested in their favorite things. But even if they are doing a good job hiding the depressive behaviors behind a smiling facade, they often let it slip out in comments that seem depressive. They will say things like, “It’s not worth it anyway,” “Everybody hates me,” and “I’d be better off not trying.” These comments are often slipped in nonchalantly as if there are indisputable facts.
Teen depression has many causes, including family history, negative self-image (sometimes due to comparing oneself to people online), disconnectedness, and distant relations with family and friends. A common reason for depression is when parents struggle with something. Children can “take on” the struggles their parents endure, manifesting itself in depressive behaviors and attitudes.
Body Image / Eating Disorders
How do you recognize if a teen is struggling with a body image issue or eating disorder? As with the other issues we’ve discussed, this can take a variety of forms. In extreme cases, eating disorders can become full-blown anorexia or bulimia, characterized by extremely restricted food intake, bouts of binging and vomiting, and alarming weight loss.
In other cases, your child may become self-obsessive about food. These sorts of problems need not rise to the level of a full-blown eating disorder to be detrimental to your child’s mental health. Teens without an eating disorder may still have a serious negative self-image and unhealthy relationship with food.
Screen time and adolescent social dynamics can play a role in developing body image issues. One major cause of eating disorders, however, is unstable family environments. When a child perceives their home environment to be unstable or characterized by conflict, they start grasping for control. Eating disorders can begin as attempts at exerting control. “I can’t control what’s happening in my house, but at least I can control what I put into my body.” It becomes a means for a child to create some type of regularity in what they perceive to be an irregular home situation.
Gender & Sexuality
Gender and sexuality are hot-button topics today. The wholesale redefinition of long-held concepts about gender and sexuality is causing considerable confusion and psychological issues among young people. What does it look like in children?
Generally, Tom says, these issues are more pronounced and tend to surface of their own accord, especially nowadays, where broad cultural support encourages the exploration of alternate gender identities. Children are self-diagnosing themselves in unhealthy ways with the help of apps like TikTok. They are also exposed to these ideas at secular colleges and institutes, where there are clubs dedicated to promoting these identities.
While we likely won’t send our children off to places with such open promotion of modern gender theory, we should not sit on our laurels. Homeschool families are not immune to these issues cropping up. Access to the Internet (and apps like TikTok), distant relationships with parents (especially fathers), and poor self-image can all be the occasion of gender and sexual dysmorphia. In the first place, homeschooling parents must be aware that this can affect their teen, even if they aren’t engaged in the “woke transgender” movement. Vigilance is needed.
Trauma can be tricky to identify because it comes in so many forms. A child suffering from trauma might be anxious and preoccupied; they may act out or manifest rebellious behavior, make bad life decisions, or seek distraction in unhealthy romantic relationships. What causes this trauma response? In short, any traumatic experience, which is defined as an experience that is deeply disturbing or distressing, that is of such sufficient severity to alter one’s emotional responses to things.
Trauma is often associated with abuse: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and so on. It can also be caused by things such as being catfished on the internet, when a friendship ends dramatically, parental neglect, suffering a catastrophic physical injury, and so on. Children known to have undergone any traumatic experience should be attentively observed for signs of lingering trauma responses, such as those described above.
How to Address These Challenges?
Now that we have identified these challenges commonly faced by young people, what do we do about them? There is a lot that can be said on the subject of treatment, but for that, I recommend you listen to Tom Weishaar’s interview (linked below). He reviews each of these psychological issues in much greater depth and gives valuable kernels of advice about responding to each, both from a psychological and spiritual perspective: