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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Anxiety is way up for teens: Why?

Severe anxiety afflicts more U.S. teens than ever, writes Benoit Denizet-Lewis in the New York Times Magazine. What’s going on?

Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services. In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a significant increase — to 62 percent in 2016 from 50 percent in 2011 — of undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. Surveys that look at symptoms related to anxiety are also telling. In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent. Those numbers — combined with a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers over the last 10 years, with the highest rates occurring soon after they return to school each fall — come as little surprise to high school administrators across the country, who increasingly report a glut of anxious, overwhelmed students.

Some blame overprotective parents who haven’t let their kids cope with adversity, while others think social media is intensifying the pressures of adolescence.

More and more students aren’t “equipped to problem-solve or advocate for themselves effectively,” a school counselor in suburban Oregon told Denizet-Lewis.

Teens from affluent families, who seem to have fewer problems to face, “are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America,” he writes.

“These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,” says Suniya Luthar, an Arizona State psychology professor. “There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college.”

Psychotherapist Lynn Lyons think young people need to face their fears and learn coping skills.

Lyons sees a connection between how some schools deal with anxious students and what she worries is a generation of young people increasingly insistent on safe spaces — and who believe their feelings should be protected at all costs. “Kids are being given some really dangerous messages these days about the fact that they can’t handle being triggered, that they shouldn’t have to bear witness to anything that makes them uncomfortable and that their external environments should bend to and accommodate their needs,” she told me.

The story includes two teens sent to a $910-a-day therapy camp. One is now doing well in college. The other dropped out of high school.

An increasing number of young Americans fear freedom, writes Clay Routledge. He blames helicopter parents who shield children “from stressors and uncertainties (such as having to solve everyday problems, like getting lost, on one’s own) that are critical for developing personal independence.”

Researchers have linked helicopter parenting to college students’ having a lower degree of self-confidence. Relatedly, a study released last month found that today’s teenagers and young adults are less likely than those of past generations to engage in a range of activities that involve personal independence, such as working for pay, driving, dating and spending time with friends without adult supervision.

Colleges and universities have made it worse, writes Routledge. “American college students (who are some of the safest and most privileged people on the planet)” are encourage to report “any behavior that could cause emotional distress.”

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