Sometimes, teen angst is obvious. It shows up as truancy, poor grades, and sullen or surly attitudes. But sometimes, it’s subtle, and easily missed by parents desperate to feel their child is doing all right. After reading this remarkable article by Dr. Madeline Levine, I was reminded about the elusive nature of teen angst and the parental actions taken to limit pain, sadness, fear, and frankly, some of the pertinent life experiences which are part and parcel to learning about the human condition. Dr. Levine noted how common this is amongst those more privileged when she states, “It would be a stretch to diagnose these kids as emotionally ill. They don’t have the frazzled, disheveled look of kids who know they are in serious trouble.” In these cases, it takes time to really unravel the problem because the outsides are masked so skillfully. Levine notes this as well, “After a few sessions, sometimes more, the extent of distress among these teenagers becomes apparent. Scratch the surface, and many of them are, in fact, depressed, anxious and angry.” She also notes the fact that it’s the kids requesting help, not always the parents recognizing there might be a problem.
Many parents will say, “I just don’t want my child to feel pain or be sad, or get hurt.” While parents are providing tremendous resources and attention to these kids, there is still an internal sense of strife felt in many of them. This additional desire to protect and fix things with materialistic items is just a another way of muffling the reality of whatever it is we’re dealing with. An iPod, or a new pair of Uggs won’t fix the emotional pain and loneliness of social anxiety or lift the spirits of the depressed. Sure, the thrill of getting something new may make us temporarily feel good, but those feel-good moments start to fade and we’re still left with the feelings we were trying to run away from in the first place.
This presents an interesting conundrum when it comes to asking for help. The suffering isn’t as obvious for these teens, and it becomes harder still to determine the root cause when the issues themselves are concealed. In this sense, the “privileged” may find it harder to reach out for help because their ability to acquire bigger and better things is easier, and their academic and social resources are more viable. In this case, the ability to stuff feelings comes at a higher price, both literally and figuratively. And while some may view those who are more privileged as spoiled, I hesitate to think this is entirely the case. In fact, I would venture to say some of this is the manifestation of a larger issue: parental denial, a need to run from feelings and the financial ability to do it in bigger and more aggrandized ways.
Sometimes it’s harder to ask for help when it looks like you have it “together” from the outside. The assumption is that one is doing well because they may not have lost everything, or because they appear fine solely because their outsides are seemingly put together. Unfortunately, the outsides don’t always match the insides. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt low but was complimented on my appearance. It’s a trick we play to hide what’s really going on. That “trick,” however, leaves us lonely and sometimes isolated from the very people who can help us. Our kids need us to be there for them, but we can’t always intervene. In doing so, we teach helplessness, when what we really want to do is provide a safe foundation at home so our kids can develop the tools they need to experience life. As Hodding Carter once said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”
Read the article in its entirety (I highly recommend this).
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