Unpopular opinion ahead:
Sorry US Senate.
Social media is a great scapegoat, but it is not the source of the teen mental health crisis.
Social media is where teens go to communicate and cope. My sole qualification to write this: I have four kids that are either teens or in their early 20s, and one who will be a teen next year. I’ve been living the dystopian dream of being a dad in the 2010s and 2020s.
So, what is the source of the mental health crisis? We’re raising our kids in a grow-up fast pressure cooker:
Kids have little or no slack in their schedule. This means very little freedom and very little time to work things out mentally. School, practice, volunteer, homework, bed, do it all again. This builds up to a very difficult to unwind ball of stress, anger, fear, and despair.
Everything is conflicted and unclear. Schools teach cultural tolerance while enforcing zero-tolerance policies. Diversity is good, but being ____ is bad. So many areas where what we teach and preach are the opposite of what policies and actions actually do.
The stakes are too high. View the wrong website on your Chromebook and get referred to law enforcement. Have a kid send you the wrong selfie and get charged with a sex crime. Get a bad grade and you are off the volleyball team, and you won’t make the team next year – so done forever. Misbehave and you’ll be arrested by the resource officer and face time at juvi, and potentially a conviction that will be held against you for a very long time (in some states juvi convictions count against three-strikes laws).
Kids are targeted. Sexual predators, gangs, cults, fringe and mainstream ideologues looking to recruit followers, sports agents, and talent scouts all have one thing in common: they want to exploit kids or sell them something. Incidentally, the stress we are putting on our kids makes them an easy mark for the opportunists that target them. The result is that kids feel like they are always in danger.
It’s really hard to be a kid right now, and that needs to change. We need to lower the stakes, the stress, and have something that resembles consistency. We also need to actually be ok with people being different than us. People having different religions, beliefs, skin colors, sexual preferences and different goals in life needs to be okay. We also need to be forgiving and understanding as young people learn. The police really have no place in education, and zero-tolerance policies are inconsistent with the very idea of justice and wisdom. Kids notice.