Dear Extraordinary Teenager,
Yes you, the one whose age is a number plus “teen”. You’re wondering why I’m calling you “extraordinary”? Read on.
First of all, I’m glad you’re reading this. I know, it’s not your style – maybe a meme would be better. You know, I used to write REAL letters at your age. And with a fountain pen, too.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a lecture about “the good old days”.
Neither is it a letter to prove you wrong. (You’re extraordinary, remember?) Maybe you often hear how you’re wrong from adults: “What were you thinking?/How could you be so stupid?/Grow up!”
Ha, ha, that’s a good one. You ARE growing up. Seriously, though, your frontal cortex, that part of the brain that controls reasoning, is still maturing. Your nerve cells and their connections are changing, as is that layer of myelin that helps coordinate thought and action. So if you act brainless, it’s because your brain isn’t totally wired yet. This also accounts for the risk-taking.
But actually, you’re pretty good, as teenagers go. You’re closer to your parents than previous generations. There was a big survey done of teens in many countries last year which found, in general, teens today drink, smoke, go out, and party a lot less than previous generations. And you have less sex and fewer physical fights.
The big reason why? Technology. You love your smartphone! One survey found 15-year-olds in developed countries were spending more than two hours a day online – on a weeknight!
The problem with social media is that it makes people antisocial. Your generation is reclusive. Loneliness and making friends can be an issue. Teens in Japan and South Korea are really struggling with social isolation.
This links to another current problem – a mental health “crisis”. In Britain, one in eight adolescents have a mental health disorder; in the United States, it’s even higher.
Now, teenage years have always been marked by mood swings and emotional roller-coasters. I remember that flat, black hopelessness I felt when I discovered what this world was really like. Frankly I was horrified to discover how much suffering there was. And then there’s all that angst about acceptance, the burden of peer pressure.
But the mental health issues today are different. Monitoring the Future, which has surveyed American teens annually since the 1970s, said since 2013, there was a sudden uptick in teens saying they were experiencing depression and feeling hopeless.
And Universities UK recently reported a five-fold rise in the number of students disclosing mental health conditions since 2007.
The World Health Organisation says half of all mental health conditions appear by 14 years of age, but most cases go undetected and untreated. Some conditions should be treated early. It also said suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15- to 19-year-olds worldwide.
In London, teen suicides have shot up four times the national rate. Experts blame the rise on the “over-pressured” environment teens face, and the feeling there is “no hope” for their job and education prospects, The Independent news portal reported.
Ooh, “no hope” is bad. Don’t go there. If you feel that way, reach out. Get help. You don’t have to carry those feelings by yourself. Secrets are a burden. Find coping strategies. I started to write (to myself) as a teen. Sport and exercise can do wonders.
It’s tough enough being a teen, and now there’s so much more to contend with.
When I was young, if you got a degree, you got a job. That’s not the case now. The biggest fear for the future then was some stupid computer bug called Y2K, or the Year 2000 bug. They said it was going to crash computers everywhere when the year 2000 arrived. Of course, it never happened.
But you have climate change. And that’s real. I’ve seen the beaches in the Maldives that have been lost due to rising sea levels. The studies are grim, the data terrifying. And we’re still acting like we’re in La-La Land.
We live in extraordinary times. That’s why you’re an extraordinary teenager. I applaud you simply for who you are.
Some of you are already creating a storm. Greta Thurnberg, the teenager from Sweden, singlehandedly started a movement by challenging the nonchalance of today’s leaders over climate change. She told off world leaders at Davos for their inaction.
You’re the stars in the next sequel of “The Saga Of The Human Race”. Somehow, I think you’ll be extraordinary. Don’t worry. All you have to do is be yourself. That’s the real learning in being a teenager anyway.
I have hope. I hope you do too.