If you want to offer something absolutely meaningless and unhelpful to young people who struggle, you have plenty of role models to show you the way. Just dish up a serving of platitudes or dismiss their concerns entirely.
This year, we have explored anxiety and its impact on young people, focusing primarily on teens. Research and reputable data sources indicate upwards of one-fourth of teens and adolescents may struggle with anxiety in some form or another, sometimes accompanied by issues like depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. My colleagues and I have interviewed dozens and dozens of kids, parents, teachers, therapists, researchers and others to try to figure out what's going on and what might alleviate what is clearly — if you actually listen — genuine suffering.
Experts offer many good suggestions on how to help the kids whose lives are being made difficult (and in some cases, near impossible) by stressors in their lives and how they react to them. Nowhere in all that advice have I heard anyone reputable say, "Just tell them they're snowflakes and to stop being babies."
Still, that's precisely the unhelpful reaction many young people get when they express concerns — or when they keep them to themselves, but don't perform at the standard they could because they're stalled by turmoil.
Besides being condescending and dismissive, comparing childhood today with previous generations is a lie. It's not the same, and expecting them to react the way a previous generation did is ridiculous. It makes us feel good: I was stressed, too, and I survived it. Buck up.
Yea me. Just do what I did. And ignore everything that's changed since I was a teen, a generation or two ago.
My daughters are 20 and 21. If I'm honest, comparing my childhood to theirs is pretty hard. I can commiserate honestly about a hard breakup. I can tell them I sometimes struggled with a class or didn't like a teacher and offer some advice or help them practice saying no to illegal substances.
But pretending my childhood and its stressors are identical to theirs, the solutions the same, is a sham.
I had different parents and siblings, lived in a different community, different socioeconomics, no internet or cellphones, had my own personality, not theirs, received world news in limited doses, never once worried someone would shoot me at school, did not know what a terrorist was, assumed everyone worshipped God in some faith, and did not know a single kid who killed himself until I was an adult. At college, I worked and could afford rent on a small apartment. If you adjusted for inflation and listed it in 2018 dollars, my tuition was cheap compared to today and housing options were plentiful. Nor was I competing from age 8 to secure enrollment in the college of my parents' dreams. ...
I'm just getting warmed up.
My parents were not helicopters or snowplows. My neighbors weren't poised to call the police if they didn't like how my parents raised me. My brother and I often rode our bikes for hours.
Political views were more hidden, civility was more visible — and I do believe that contributes to youths' woes. If someone said something bad about me, it couldn't travel very far like it can on social media. Kids are now arrested for things we considered pranks.
Granted, I didn't know many of the conveniences they now enjoy and I'm not sure how I survived without a microwave, Google and modern vaccines. But my girls live in a different world than I did at their age, and the challenges young people face today and how they rise or fall in trying to meet them has little to do with how someone else fared in different circumstances a generation or so ago.
Commiserate and coach, but don't condescend — and maybe we can help those who struggle make their way through it.