Our teens are in crisis – anxiety, depression and drug abuse are all on the rise.
Yesterday a young friend alerted me to a teen ‘support’ group that she belongs to. The group is mostly Aussie girls – a few boys, some kids from other countries, but mostly Australian teen girls. The group is a place for them to ask the kinds of questions they are not comfortable asking their friends, and most definitely not their parents.
Our teens are in crisis
What my friend told me about this group kept me up most of last night. I can’t stop worrying about these girls. Our teens are in crisis, and we’re simply not doing enough.
Here are just a few examples of the kind of problems these girls are anonymously posting via the admins of the group. I know I’m probably crossing a line by outlining things shared in a closed group, but I’m going to step over that line. I think it’s important.
TRIGGER WARNING – domestic violence, self-harm, general fuckedupery…
• I’m meeting a potential sugar daddy in a public place. I could use the money. Is this risky/sketchy? Has anyone been a sugar baby before?
• My partner pulled me along by my shirt like a dog, what should I do?
• I had unprotected sex while drinking and he didn’t pull out, do you think I’m pregnant because I feel really sick, or is just stress from worrying about it?
But wait, there’s more
• My bf can boss me around in bed all he likes but he better not tell me what to do in regular life.
• I’m pregnant and have a son with my bf, who regularly cheats on me and beats me up. Now he tells me he’s in love with someone else and is leaving me. I’m so scared of being alone, I don’t know what to do.
• I’ve been self-harming for years and I hate the scars, but seeing them makes me want to hurt myself more. Please help me before they get worse.
• I’m in high school and pregnant with my ex-bf’s baby. I left him because he would get drunk and hurt me. His family want nothing to do with me or the baby because they say it isn’t his. It’s 100% his and he knows it. Should I get a DNA test?
• My bf choked me, slapped me and hit me in the stomach and told me it was my fault. He’s always been really jealous and aggressive and angry. His parents got involved and they dropped me home. My question is: should I go talk to him, or should I give him space?
• There’s a guy who is the most charming guy that ever existed but every time I ask for help about something at school, he always says, “Kiss me first” and it’s really annoying.
These are teen girls with big problems, with nowhere to turn but to an anonymous group of other teen girls. There are hundreds and hundreds of posts just like these ones. Outlining domestic violence, sexual assault, self-harm, suicide ideation, eating disorders, and general rock-bottom self-esteem.
Blind leading the blind
The advice these young girls have for each other is about what you’d expect. Should she talk to him or should she give him space? She should talk to him, yes indeed. No one is advising her to run as fast as she can away from this violent man-child. There’s no one advising her to let her own parents or another trusted adult know what he’s done and what his family is complicit in covering up. No one.
Many of the posts have a ‘voting’ function attached to them – hit ❤️ for talk, for give him space. The girls frequently take sides with the boys – preserving relationships at any cost seems critical. It’s pretty clear that what the boys think of them and what the boys want to do is the dominating factor in these girls’ young lives.
Boys are suffering too
We can’t blame the boys for this mess, either. Our boys are suffering through this ugly teen culture (and, let’s get real, general culture) they are wading their way through too. They probably aren’t posting about their overwhelming issues in Facebook groups, through. Instead they are drinking themselves into aggressive oblivion, driving their cars off roads and quietly hanging themselves in trees.
Instead they are drinking themselves into aggressive oblivion, driving their cars off roads and quietly hanging themselves in trees.
It’s a mess and a lot of it has to do with access to things they aren’t mature enough to understand. Overwhelmingly, our boys are getting their sex education from porn films and images – it’s the new norm, the new way to ‘fit in’. The Australian Institute of Family Studies suggests that this is increasing stereotypes about gender, sexism, sexual objectification and supportive attitudes towards sexual violence and violence against women. I mean, fuuuuuck, that’s a terrifying list! This is playing out in real life in the relationships our boys are struggling to have with our girls.
It starts young: We need to start talking to our tweens about the risks of porn
Kids don’t really “grow up faster these days”
I’m so heartbroken to have seen all of this first hand via my young friend, but I realise I’m not surprised. Our teens are in crisis, they have been for a long time, and we’ve been pretending it’s someone else’s problem for a very long time. We’re all guilty of burying our heads in the sand and saying, “Thank god it’s not my kid!”
Well, it’s someone’s kid. A parent who might not know what’s going on in their own kid’s life. Who might know, but doesn’t know how to help them. A parent who is just as in over their head as their teen is.
We’ve collectively been saying things like, “Kids grow up so much faster these days” for a long time. We read about it in the media and we shrug and shake our head. Fact is, kids are growing up faster because we let them.
Our online culture might be shoving our kids into adult worlds, but their brains are still teeny-tiny brains. They don’t have the capacity to make good decisions or to see what the consequences of their actions will be long-term.
Teens need guidance, whether they like it or not. It’s just that, for many reasons, sometimes they might not be able to get that guidance from their own parents.
It takes a village – so let’s be the goddamn village!!!
Step up and be the village
If you see anything, hear of anything or even just suspect something, talk to your kid, then talk to the kid. Or talk to the kid’s parents. It might be excruciatingly awkward. And hideously embarrassing. It might be entirely unwanted. The parents might dismiss you, they might not want to know. They might even get aggressive and hate you for opening their eyes.
But we have to have the talk anyway.
Our kids are in crisis, their lives are at risk, and they need their village to stand by them. They deserve for every adult around to have their backs: I see you, I hear you, I understand, I want to help you, I won’t judge.
There is professional help out there for them (see list at the end of this article), but getting them there might just take a friendly adult face who cares. It might take YOU.
How to get your own kid on board
Make no mistake, your own kid will probably be your biggest hurdle when contacting their friend and their family. I’ve been in this situation, and this is what I told my kid:
“I want you to know that you can come to me and tell me anything. If you are worried about your friend and you don’t know how to help them, talk to me and we’ll work out a plan together. I will never judge you or your friends. I’ll never be angry when you need my help, not mater what the situation, no matter what you have or haven’t done. Just come and let me know so we can start solving the problem.”
I will never judge you or your friends. I’ll never be angry when you need my help, not mater what the situation, no matter what you have or haven’t done.
When it was clear one time that the child my teen was telling me about was in danger, I had to pull the card I’d set up years ago:
“I will never do anything without your permission. You can talk to me about everything and anything and I will always let you decide what you want to do about it. UNLESS, and this is very, very important, unless I think one of your friends is in danger. If I think they are mentally or physically desperately needing help, I will let you know and we can talk about who we need to contact on their behalf together. It’s not a maybe, we will be seeking help.”
Don’t look the other way
We need to do this. There is now way we can keep looking the other way. We might have an open and trusting relationship with our own teens, but it’s clear that’s not the case for others. Kids don’t talk to their parents out of fear of punishment, judgement, letting their parents’ down, or just because a wall went up years ago and no one tried hard enough to climb it.
So, please, let’s be the parents of all the teens, all of us, together. Please don’t let the hurting ones get away from us. They are right in front of us and they desperately need us to see them.
Helpful resources for teens
Please click here for a list of organisations to contact for help in any situation.
Please always just ask for help – people are there for you!