I began working with children in my 20s’ while teaching for the Dallas Children’s Theatre. I helped children create characters, and write plays, that they would then perform at their school. While I had once thought of becoming a teacher, I decided to explore the field of natural healing instead. After I received my graduate degree I worked in a children’s psych ward (ages 5 to 13) then an adolescent drug rehabilitation center (ages 13 – 18). Both experiences showed me that many of today’s children, and adolescents, are struggling with the pace and complexity of our society. We are seeing the side-effects of this struggle play out in many ways; anger management issues, self medication, lack of motivation, depression, anxiety, and so on.
From Biological To Structured Maturation
Since the 1930s, the pace and direction of our life, which used to be determined by the maturation of our physical body, became determined by milestones marked by a numerical concept of aging. We coined the term “childhood” in the 1800s, “adolescent” in the early 1900’s, and “teenager” in the 1940s. Since the 1950s’ our development between birth and age eighteen became pre-packaged, labeled, and organized by numbers. Overtime the pressure of assimilating to this new paradigm created a myriad of side effects that are just now being seen by those who were born in the decades after it was created. It doesn’t help that the maturation of our biology does not run parallel with our numerical social structure. If it did run parallel we would be going through puberty when we were eighteen or twenty-one, instead of ages nine through thirteen.
The Medicated Generation
Because most adults are just trying to get by, they do not take the time to consider that they are the first of our species to be lawfully separated from their families then placed into a building and “educated” with generalized information (the memory and understanding of which was graded to determine the level of their intelligence and the level of opportunity they would have once they left the building). Instead, most see it as “normal” and “just a part of growing up”. I am not saying that our society should abandon socialized schooling, I am simply saying that depression, anxiety, worry, low-self-esteem, self loathing and other psychological issues are created by the social structure into which we were born, and the same social structure into which our children are being born. Experiencing these psychological issues does not make you weak, it makes you normal… which is why having a negative experience in middle school (and often high school) has become expected. This is partly why (as of October 2011) one in twenty-five adolescents are on antidepressants, that’s not including the number adolescents using ADHD, Bi-Polar, anti anxiety medications, or those who are self medicating with illegal drugs. What many of us don’t know is that most children are on antidepressants, and other mood altering drugs, without receiving counseling.
The Side Effects Of Modern Adolescents
Many of you transitioned into adulthood without realizing that it was completely normal for you to have difficulty sitting in an uncomfortable chair for seven hours a day, five days a week, with little to no exercise, in a highly stressful environment, where obedience and attention was demanded at all times. Situational depression, anxiety, worry, suicidality, and a number of other mental and physical issues proved to be side-effects of this experience and you grew up thinking that something was wrong with you rather than thinking the experience you went through was difficult in different ways for everyone. Many of you even continued using the mood-altering medications prescribed to you for your anxiety, depression, ADHD, and whatever else kept you focused and sitting still well into your adulthood. Between 1988 and 2008, the use of antidepressants increased nearly 400 percent. Today, eleven percent of the American population takes antidepressants. Forty-three percent of Americans are prescribed medications that alter their mood. This isn’t counting the number of Americans self-medicating with non-prescription drugs, which is often confused with addiction.
No Light At The End Of The Tunnel
The main issue you experience when you are young is not having experience. You have not had enough life experience to understand the term; “time heals all wounds”. You haven’t had enough life experience yet to know that there is something waiting for you on the other side of a difficult moment. You cannot see an end to the issue because you have never dealt with an issue like that before. That is the main cause of chronic depression, cutting, and suicidality; when a person is unable to see an end to the pain. Loss, heartbreak, stress, and confusion are fare more intense for those who have yet to discover the tools for how to work though such experiences. Many of you were prescribed medication to deal with it, and that became how you dealt with it. The world is now filled with an older generation that never learned how to deal with their emotions, and they are unable to pass that knowledge onto their children. Their children then face the confusion of our modern society without the tools necessary to do so.
The Good news… You’re Completely Normal
Many of you believe that something is wrong with you. You’ll be happy to know that it simply isn’t true. You were born into a world that is not, in any way, designed to coincide with your biological maturation. Because of this you are bound to experience side effects. The side effects of your social structure may include; confusion, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, feelings of listlessness, addiction, anger, and the list goes on. Relationships also suffer from these side effects, as does parenting. What’s real? What’s not real? What’s good? What’s bad? These questions surround you with conflicting answers coming from every side. So, of course there will be times that you find yourself having difficulty knowing what to do and which direction to go. This is normal, and part of this wonderful, amazing, and often confusing experience we call “modern life.” So go easy on yourself. Let go of the judge inside your head. Avoid beating yourself up. Congratulate yourself on getting this far. If you suffered side effects along the way, know that you were bound to experience them at some point, no matter which direction you went or what choices you made. Most importantly, make sure the younger generations understands that the difficulties they are experiencing are normal, a side effect of living in a world that’s as natural to them as a habitrail is to a hamster. Perhaps, by understanding what they were born into, and the side effects it can cause, additional side effects like shame, guilt, regret, and insecurity can be alleviated.