Helping Our Anxious, Depressed Kids

Studies and polls tell us a huge percentage of kids are anxious, depressed, or just downright miserable – that millions struggle just to make it through the day. The adult world’s answer to managing these gaping psychic wounds? To apply more of the same cultural and parental teachings that are creating the mess in the first place.

A few months ago Time magazine published a lengthy cover story titled, “Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright.” The article was an admixture of personal anecdotes (kids harming themselves, attempting suicide, self-medicating, etc.), likely culprits (social media overload, cultural pressures for perfection, peer pressure, etc.), and prospective salves and solutions (creative pursuits, self-help groups, etc.).

The authors also warned that anxiety in kids is trending younger. Oh, and most of the ‘therapies’ don’t actually work. Kids merely learn to hang on, wolf down some meds, and recognize that misery is and always will be a big part of life.

If you look at the causes of death by age, you’ll note that by the age of 10 suicide mades a sudden, abrupt appearance at #2 on the list (accidents are #1). And suicide remains in that position until the age of 35, at which point our poor regard for the body takes over in the form of heart disease, cancer, etc.

What this tells us is that by age 10 – when kids are becoming truly sentient not just of their world but the adult world they’re soon to inherit – they become depressed as hell. Little wonder, given what we’re teaching them and telling them to expect.

So what’s missing from this picture?

How about god?

No, I don’t mean Allah or Jesus or Yahweh or Krishna, nor the mind-made interpretations (aka religions) that sprang up around their teachings. The last thing kids need is for adults to jam still more baggage into their already overburdened brains. Eat your veggies, do your math, and recite your prayers lest you burn in hell!

No, I’m talking about the silent, omnipresent intelligence that lies at the source of life itself. The intelligence that is reading these words. Not YOUR intelligence but rather, the intelligence that allows for your intelligence even to exist; the intelligence that created and sustains you and enables you even to consider these words and their meaning.

And please, don’t let the ‘god’ word get in the way. Choose another – source, creator, whatever. Hell, make one up. I mean, ALL words were invented by someone so why not create your own little code word for god?

It’s difficult not to pity kids today. Their parents are busy teaching them to build their lives around material pursuits (good grades, the best job, the right mate, the perfect home), their bodies, achievement, recognition, success.

Mom can’t just exercise or eat right as an expression of appreciation and gratitude for the body she calls hers – she’s got to track and record all of that ‘progress’ with a digital device and later primp or fret in front of the mirror dependent on how she judges that physicality (and by extension, teaching her daughter to do the same with herself and the girls around her).

Dad can’t be bothered with life as it is – he’s too busy creating a better one for some vague future where, apparently, every need will be instantly met, all will be right with the world, and I guess even the mosquitoes won’t bite. His son quickly grasps that now is never sufficient and builds his life accordingly.

And nobody has time to care for and tend to the ‘little things’ in life, like cleaning one’s own home or doing yard work – that’s best left to the immigrants – at least the ones we don’t wall away as ‘threats.’

How many kids today are encouraged to marvel at the wonder of simply being alive? Who among us encourages our kids to inquire into this aliveness – their own and that of the life around them? Which of us speaks to that silent awareness that makes this whole experience possible?

Might the world be a better place if our kids were encouraged to look at themselves and the surrounding world with wonder, appreciation, respect?

What if a girl was encouraged to marvel as much about the invisible energy and atoms and DNA and molecules intelligently building a body as the curves our culture tells her are ‘sexy’ (or that she is insufficient without)?

What if a boy was encouraged to consider that there is no actual separation between him and the tree in the front yard, a star system at the other end of the galaxy, or every human who ever lived? That the opponent he wishes to vanquish isn’t merely made up of the same mysterious building blocks – that he actually shares it?

When it comes to god, kids today face substantial hurdles. If she comes of age in a religious home, she’s going to be fed heaping servings of dogma rather than encouraged to look for herself – dogma the parents themselves learned and never think to question or altogether release.

If he comes of age in a ‘progressive,’ secular or atheistic home, he’ll be taught that science (aka, the human mind) will figure it all out – that ‘god’ is a fantasy, the stuff of simpletons who don’t know any better.

It’s worth noting how often Jesus is said to have urged his adult followers to be as children, to look to children for the important lessons, to recognize in their innocence that they are closer to their source than those older folks who claim to teach them.

So maybe next time, skip the all-knowing lecture – the one made up of stuff you yourself were taught. Instead, encourage (don’t tell) your kids to open their minds to the silent wonder around and in them, that all-pervasive ‘spirit’ that is behind the whole production. Encourage them to inquire into it, and see what comes of that inquiry, just for themselves.



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