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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teen angst is normal: 'Wellness' may backfire

Photo: Flavio Jose Pantera/Pixabay

Mental health doesn't mean feeling good all the time, writes psychologist Lisa Damour in The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents. Teenagers shouldn't see themselves as "failing at wellness" if they are sad, anxious or, perhaps a little angsty.

Growing up is challenging, writes reviewer Elaine Griffin, head of a Milwaukee middle school. "If a teen fails a math test, they should feel disappointment. If they score a winning goal, they should feel a sense of pride." Healthy people have highs and lows, good days and bad.

Damour fears that “the wellness movement has left parents and their teens unduly frightened of garden variety adversity” and therefore unable to appreciate how much we grow through failure and hardship.

Parents shouldn't try to hold themselves to the standards set in Damour's scripted accounts of dealing with teenagers, advises Griffin. That calm and logic may be unattainable. Just remember despising Mom and Dad is "a short and necessary stage through which teens pass on the road to independence."

The therapy industry is trying to persuade teenage girls that they're "broken," writes Freya India. Instead of getting together with friends, they're encouraged to see "uncomfortable emotions" and "daily stressors” as signs they need to pay money to an online stranger.

"Teens today hang out less than ever with friends," she writes. "They are detached from their local communities. Some spend more than 10 hours a day on screens."

That’s why we’re seeing all these AI therapy chatbots that feel like a real human being and are ready for conversation at any time of day. That’s why using Talkspace is like text messaging with a trusted friend! . . . much of the demand for therapy now is not because we are an increasingly mentally ill generation but a desperately lonely one.

Exposing teenagers to therapy, wellness, mindfulness and other mental-health interventions don't seem to work, writes Olga Khazan in The Atlantic. An Australian experiment, which combined behavioral therapy, mindfulness and life skills, made middle schoolers more anxious and depressed, less emotionally regulated and worsened relationships with parents.

Similar "universal" (large group) interventions for teens have failed too, she writes.

The behavioral therapy used in the Australian study is normally used intensively, one on one, to help people who are suicidal. A watered-down, group version for teens -- most were not anxious or depressed -- seems to have backfired, writes Khazan.

"Teaching kids to notice their negative thoughts" may reinforce those thoughts, she speculates.

“Maybe everybody thinking about how anxious or hurt they are might not be the best idea,” says Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generations. “We might be taking people who are doing just fine and trying to teach them these techniques, which may actually call attention to their distress.”

1 Comment

Nov 12, 2023

The issue with education from kindergarten to graduate.professional school is that it functions in a very Darwinian manner. Students fall behind or lose opportunities all the way through. From all of the children who started kindergarten this year, there are still very few opportunities to be a graduate student at Cal Tech or get an MBA at Harvard. The issue is that getting those few opportunities gets harder every year. Yet, many of those involved in discussing or studying education refuse to acknowledge the Darwinian aspects of education.

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