what are our kids thinking?
The recently published Pew Research Center survey of 13 to 17-year-olds gives us an interesting glimpse into the perceptions of our teens’ worlds. Here are the three most significant findings.
- Teens are not a homogeneous group. Be cautious of broad generalizations about an age group that is composed of several subgroups. For example, issues of teen pregnancy, gangs, and poverty were not significant concerns for kids from higher income families ($75,000) but were for lower-income kids. Fifty-five percent of the latter kids characterized teen pregnancy as a major problem, compared with only 22 percent of higher income kids.
There were also significant gender differences, with girls reporting that they were more likely to feel a lot of pressure to look good (35 percent vs. 23 percent for boys), and were tense or nervous (36 percent vs. 23 percent for boys).
The sample sizes were too small to report racial and ethnic differences, although I suspect those were significant as well.
- Teens agree on one thing----anxiety and depression are serious problems. Regardless of gender or income, anxiety and depression were identified as the most significant problems confronting our kids. Seventy percent of kids viewed these mood disorders as a major problem, and 26 percent as a minor problem.
These results are perplexing to many parents, and professionals as well. At a time when most kids (with notable exceptions in some groups) are growing up in the most privileged of times, why are they so anxious and depressed?
Mood disorders are based upon perceptions, not reality. Technology magnifies bad events such as school shootings, leaving many teens fearful about their welfare. We are also raising a generation of kids who are grappling with technologies that are both addictive and isolating.
There’s an interesting psychological phenomenon called “prospection” wherein we anticipate future events as a function of our current experiences. Many teens expect and get anxious about their future based upon misperceptions of the dangers in their current lives.
- Parents are doing a pretty good job. About an equal number of girls and boys reported getting a hug or kiss from their parents almost every day (59 percent) or sometimes (27 percent). Parents help out with homework or school projects almost every day about 31 percent of the time, with 46 percent of teens reporting they often get help.
The take away from this report is the need to focus on our kids’ mental health. It makes more sense to allocate resources on preventing these problems rather just treating them after they develop. We need to understand the underlying causes of this epidemic better and intervene earlier to help our kids develop into mentally healthy people.