The Saddest Generation – Teens are Giving Up: How to Bring Back Hope
The CDC report is clear.
Some of you – a good number – are raising teens or pre-teens who are struggling.
* Almost six out of 10 teen girls (57%) reported “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” That is a clear majority of girls who are not doing okay.
* 30% of teen girls and 13% of teen guys have seriously considered suicide. In girls, that’s three out of every 10!
* Suicide attempts were made by 13% of teen girls and 7% of teenage boys. Nearly one in ten have attempted or succeeded in ending their lives.
* It’s even more extreme for students in the LGBTQ+ community, where 69% of those who have embraced an alternative lifestyle expressed ongoing hopelessness and sadness.
* Among gay, lesbian, transgender, and others in the growing list of sexual and gender identities, 65% admitted suicidal thoughts, 37% made a plan to end their lives, and 22% attempted suicide.
My heart is heavy. How about you?
These aren’t just percentages and data points. Do you see any of your kids in the statistics above?
They represent young lives hanging in the balance at the mercy of a culture long on political correctness and mostly stripped of genuine care for individuals.
These are only a few stats pointing to the current danger facing our teens. For a deeper dive, the link at the bottom of this post will take you to the full report.1
Think of it, mamas, nearly six out of every ten young girls are dealing with persistent sadness and hopelessness – it’s shocking. To put it in more practical terms – in a group of ten teen girls gathered at a school lunchroom table, possibly only four of them are doing okay.
The other six are sad, wondering if life will ever improve, and not seeing hope for their future. And they face that outlook just about every day.
For teens who are in the LGBTQ community, it’s even worse. For all the self-actualization those lifestyles promised these kids, almost seven out of 10 are terribly sad – an overwhelming majority.
While writing this, I imagine some of you may nod your head because you have a teen in this state and don’t know what to do. Mama, our hearts go out to you, and we want to give you a word of hope. This may look like the saddest generation, but we have some ideas about bringing back hope to your kids – nothing’s absolute, but your efforts could turn the tide for your teen. Read on.
Before going further, I should disclose that I am the mom of a daughter who, in 2015, was diagnosed with depression with suicidal ideation. She and our family endured sad, scary, and dangerous days lasting over three years. Where we lived, there was a spike in suicides, which became our county’s most common cause of death for teens.2 We began to seek help for our girl in what was one of our city’s deadliest years for teens.
Years later, it’s disappointing to see that it’s only gotten worse nationwide. Regardless of where you land on a political, social, or faith spectrum – we can agree on this: it’s bad, and we all know it.
Let’s delve into four of the cultural trends that are key to the problem and some hope-filled ideas to help you make a difference for your kids:
Please note: This does not imply that these ideas will exempt your child from disturbing trends. Becoming actively engaged will give them a better chance for a healthy life.
1. Destroy Destructive Isolation
Damaging isolation wasn’t born during the pandemic. The trend actually gathered steam when smartphones became central to American life. When the first iPhone debuted, the whole world changed. We stopped looking each other in the eye.
By 2010 85% of kids between 14-17 had phones.3 With all of the technological wonder, it had a severe downside. The trend was birthed that finds all of us, most notably kids and teens, retreating into a world of videos, chats, likes, and follows. This often replaces human interaction with a shadowy copy of “relationship” via device.
We were already growing apart – glued to our smartphones, often oblivious to the world around us. Then a worldwide pandemic drove us, phones in hand, into complete isolation.
Adults struggled, but teens saw their social world disintegrate. Parents and their peers never experienced this level of alone time during their formative years. The pandemic was brutal for everyone, but it was catastrophic for our kids.
America’s youth lost more than a year of education, sports, and interaction. They lost the fun, mischief, summer jobs, and stuff of life that helps grow a teen into adulthood.
All alone staring into a screen for an entire school day – they began to believe life would never be the same. In some ways, they were right, according to studies revealing that prolonged isolation actually alters the brain.4 That’s not good. As parents, we saw sadness fall across many students like a thick fog.
And when that fog had lifted, anxiety attacked many who no longer felt brave enough to engage after a long, painful year stuck at home. Destroy destructive isolation by taking intentional steps to change your family’s trajectory.
What You Can Do:
Many of us have brought our kids back full-steam into activity and interaction. Thank God, school’s in, football games returned, and graduation marches played. Now, we must ensure our kids don’t fall back into the familiar solace of isolation.
Limit “alone time”: Take note of how much time your teen spends alone. Isolation is a hallmark of depression4, so note the balance of downtime to activity.
Foster Family Fun: Plan regular fun for your family. How about a trip to your local rock-climbing wall, museum, or water park? Laugh together at home over a family round of Mario Cart – (yes, it’s a screen, but when everyone’s involved- it gets loud and hilarious!) Take walks, ride bikes, or fly a kite. Fire up the family’s creative activity and pump up the energy. You may spot the elusive teen smile and hear that laugh you’ve missed. An added bonus when you foster family fun are casual conversations that will help you gauge your child’s stress level.
Engage Everyone: Talk with your family – engage everyone from oldest to youngest, brainstorming ideas to help your family break long-held isolationist practices. (Some alone time is healthy – but many of us would admit we got into some pretty bad habits in recent years, right?)
2. Shatter Soul-Sucking Screen Addiction
Screens ruled supreme when high school students lost all in-person connection early in 2020.
No prom, church, or sports – just home… and unending screen time. Cell phones had arguably already become a concern before the pandemic. Still, in March 2020, when the whole world shut down, screen time went from problematic – to disastrous. Students routinely spent nearly all day online doing remote school. Then, when the virtual school bell rang, relegated to the home, free time was also dedicated to gaming, tv, and social media. Boredom was banned by a non-stop stream of Tik Tok dances, challenges, and viral sludge.
John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital reports that teens average nine hours each day glued to one screen or another.5 We’ve got to shatter soul-sucking screen addiction in our families.
What You Can Do:
Our devices are often a substitute for living life. Think of ideas unique to your family that will bring activity and meaning to your kids. Try some simple strategies to improve your family’s quality of life –
Cell Phone Curfew: Create a regular time in the evening when all of the cell phones are gathered in a basket – to be left until morning. It can free up minds and hearts for family interaction and fun.
Add an Activity: Regularly add family activities to the schedule. Plan a family hike, home improvement project, craft day, or visit a local museum. Leave the screens in the car – except for one to capture family pics!
Serve Together: Add monthly family service to the calendar. Volunteer at a food outreach, your church, or a local charity. Watch your teens appreciate and learn to love helping others. It can become a lasting family value to serve together.
Learn Together: Consider our Healing of America free online series – discuss what you’ve learned after each session. Take a family cooking or art class. The laughs and memories will never end!
Return to Reading: Read a classic aloud as a family. Ensure it’s an engaging story that your family will love. You may rekindle your teen’s interest in books and literature. Adding cookies and hot chocolate to the evening together gets you extra credit!
3. Liquidate Learned Hopelessness
Back in the day, we got on our banana seat bikes and headed out for a day of adventure. We ran the neighborhood with our friends until the streetlights flicked on, and mom yelled from the porch to come to dinner. It’s startling to think of those times. Now, kids grow up needing protection and the constant involvement of vigilant parents.
Today’s dangers – some are real, and others are imagined.
The New York Times published an opinion piece by Dr. Jamieson Webster, a clinical psychologist, and psychoanalyst. She shared the account of a 13-year-old girl struggling with suicidal thoughts. According to the doctor, the cause of the youngster’s troubling feelings boiled down to three things: climate change, racism, and inequality.6
What caused a young girl barely into her teen years to be so focused on these “existential” concerns instead of her own life and potential?
There’s a systematic attempt to teach our children to live without hope. It’s weird – and scary. Dennis Prager reacted to the article, “It shows you the power of society to make people miserable over things it makes up.” 7
In the article, Webster revealed her own views of our nation. “What happens when we realize the escalator – so crucial to the American dream – didn’t go anywhere (and maybe never really worked, at least not for many)?”
Prager shot back at this notion in his “Fireside Chat” video commentary on the piece, clarifying that “the American dream is not built on an escalator. It’s built on a staircase. Big difference. The escalator takes you up to the American dream. (On) the staircase you walk up, you make the effort to get the American dream. There is no escalator in life. There are only staircases and ladders.”
That’s good news. Targeted efforts can yield results – we don’t have to be at the mercy of whether an escalator is “working.” As moms, we must introduce our families to hard work and endeavors leading toward a hope-filled future.
What You Can Do:
Teach About America: We know by now that schools cannot be trusted to teach American history. They are no longer proficient or motivated to teach the truth. Use stories from our extraordinary national legacy as part of your everyday table discussion. Tap into story books, videos, and history-centric family getaways with our Liberty Trips Map. Don’t forget to roll out the red, white, and blue to celebrate patriotic holidays.
Dream Together: Take time as a family to discuss what your kids dream of for their future. What are their interests? Does your teen hope to go into nursing? What sort of volunteer opportunities might support that dream? Is there an educational path you can discuss and plan? Do you have an artist in the bunch? Why not spend time in museums and summer art camps. We have a child who dreamed of a career as an animal behaviorist. So, we went to dog shows, got a zoo membership, and let that dream simmer throughout her childhood. She’s now in the career she dreamed of. The Bible reminds us, “Without vision, the people perish,” 8 so keep dreaming and scheming as a fun part of family life. “Seeing” future possibilities can help dispel hopelessness in a teen’s life.
Celebrate Often: Has something good happened? Throw a family party. Birthdays, promotions, holidays, academic achievements, and baptisms. Look for any reason to kick up your heels with your kids. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate or pricey occasion. Why not have a special dinner with your teen’s favorite food – followed by a family movie night with a hot chocolate bar? That’s a party! Celebrations will give your family wonderful loving moments to look forward to – and to tuck away as treasured memories. They’ll also learn that their accomplishments matter.
4. Magnify Meaning in Life
Those who identify as Christians know a life of hope and purpose. That’s not to say that we don’t have problems – we have the hope of a God who cares about us and what we go through. Purpose is critical to helping a person find meaning in life. When life has meaning, it will likely be arm-in-arm with hope. Here are some ways to magnify meaning in their lives.
What You Can Do:
Practice Your Faith: A Pew Research Study found that people who are active in religious practices are more likely to describe themselves as “very happy.” They were compared to those with no religion or only marginally involved in church.9 So jump in as a family – attend church weekly and get to know other families who share your values. At home, pray together daily, read the Bible, and grow your faith together.
Pump Up Patriotism: This was mentioned above, but your kids must thrive as Americans. Celebrate patriotic holidays, visit historic sites, and learn about this great and blessed nation. Consider our free online video lessons, The Healing of America, for a story-filled, eye-opening crash course in our history and Constitution. Yes, we repeated it! Check out our blog about that series.
Create Family Belonging: No matter what’s going on in school, at work, or in the world, make your family a safe, loving home base for your kids. Attending their sports events, dinners together, and sleepy conversations at bedtime. Making time to pray and laugh together can give your kids a place to come home to – a family that fits like a glove.
Care for Others: Cultivate a culture of caring for others in need. As a family, bring meals, mow lawns, shovel snow, and give financial help to those in need. This practice will benefit others and build the strength of purpose and meaning in your lives.
If anyone can turn the tide of hopelessness, it’s American moms. There are other ways to counter the younger generation’s downward mental health spiral. You have the creativity and courage, mamas.
If your family is struggling right now with a teen who is hurting. Reach out for help. Don’t go it alone. From this mom who knows this path well – whatever you do, don’t give up.
Stay tuned as next week we’ll look again at The Saddest Generation: 5 Clues to Spot Depression and 5 Ways You Can Help.
1 CDC Report: Youth Risk Behavior Survey
2 El Paso County Public Health