Teens’ Journey to Adulthood Changed Dramatically in March

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en Español / em Português

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I am at the beach as I write this article considering a recent workshop I attended. Since exercise is a valid coping mechanism for defending physical and mental health, I went for a walk on the beach. On my walk I found several collectible shells but in more abundance were broken shells. I remembered when my daughters would collect them, wash them, paint them, and finally display them proudly. In the beginning, I would always question why they wanted what I thought were the worst shells on the beach. Didn’t they want to look for perfectly configured specimens? The truth is we are all like broken shells in some way, a timely idea to ruminate on especially now when our brokenness is exacerbated by our isolation and loss of so much. Our children might be suffering and we don’t even realize it. Isn’t it nice to consider how beautiful broken shells can become?

Many of us are currently living in unprecedented isolation, uncertainty, and varying home environments and our teen’s journey to adulthood changed dramatically in March. There are repercussions to these drastic changes. The National 4-H Council and The Harris Poll sought the perspective of 1500 teens between 13 and 19 years old about mental health issues during this Covid-19 crisis. The survey also asked questions with a goal of exploring the role of resilience in mental health, and discovering what kind of help teens want so they can successfully move forward.

It is striking to learn that 61% of teens said that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their feeling of loneliness, and teens today report spending 75% of their waking hours on screens. Striking but not surprising. A majority of these same teens believe that these experiences will have a lasting impact on their generation’s mental health and that older people just don’t understand their struggles. They recognize that families are stressed and our society overall has been negatively impacted. Unfortunately, they feel that mental health issues are to be hidden from adults and peers and this is a bigger issue to them than alcohol or drug abuse.

The study made a hypothesis that resilience will significantly decrease a young person’s likelihood of coping by engaging in negative health behaviors or experiencing mental health issues; and resilience will significantly increase their likelihood of speaking with peers about mental health issues and seeking out positive coping mechanisms.

68% of teens surveyed stated, “I consider myself to be resilient.” Children who have developed an ability to recover well from adverse experiences are considered resilient. Now let us look at what that means to their future. 72% of resilient teens are confident in providing advice to others, helping with mental health struggles, 57% of non-resilient teens could claim the same. 63% of resilient teens are confident they have healthy coping skills, 48% of non-resilient teens claimed the same. Consider healthy coping mechanisms like doing something creative, exercising, and talking to someone. Resilient teens will use these methods and the statistics from this study decrease approximately 10% for non-resilient teens. Before COVID-19 mandates these teens reported spending six hours on screens and that screen time has now increased to nine hours. 

Resilience is our light at the end of the tunnel. There is a great need for educators to empower kids with leadership skills and self-reliance. We need to make sure teens have enough healthy outlets to find help for mental care now in our crisis and in the future. We know through the ACE’s study, Adverse Childhood Experiences study, that having one positive adult in a young person’s life can build resilience. 

7 in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health, today, during this Covid-19 crisis. I am reminded of the story of the little boy who came upon a mass of starfish washed up on the beach. As he was throwing them back in the ocean the companion became impatient to keep walking,  Why are you doing this? There are so many, can it even matter? “It matters to this one,” the boy replied as he tossed the one he was holding. The task may seem insurmountable but to reach even one – it matters to that one. We have the ability to make a difference.

See the full report