Do we — here in the USA, that is — or do we not have a child and teen mental health crisis and if the answer is yes, we do, then what should be done about it?
Without doubt, the answer is yes, we do have a child and teen mental health crisis. Today’s child, by age 16, is five to ten times — depending on the source — more likely to experience a prolonged emotional crisis than was a child raised in the 1950s. For example, I do not remember, nor have I ever run into a person my age who remembers a high school classmate committing suicide. (No jokes about our memories, please.) Teen suicide happened, but it was rare. In 50 years, it has become the second-leading cause of teenage death.
So, given the undeniable reality of a large and growing problem, the second question: what should be done? The answer — or, more specifically, my answer: Nothing that involves any form of mental health treatment. We have some 50 years of evidence to the effect that neither therapy nor medication has mitigated the deterioration of child and teen mental health. No surprises there, given that the general efficacy of therapy is unverified and no psychiatric medication has ever consistently outperformed placebos in clinical trials.
Point of fact: As the percentage of children and teens receiving therapy and psychiatric medications (A) has increased exponentially, the child and teen mental health crisis (B) has increased likewise. Common sense says that more of A is not going to result in less of B.
The crux of good mental/emotional health is a quality known as “emotional resilience” — the ability to withstand and keep moving forward, chin up, in the face of disappointment, deprivation, prolonged frustration, crisis, setback, loss, and failure. The fact is that what I call “postmodern psychological parenting,” the pig in a poke that mental health professionals sold to America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, turned child rearing into never-ending enabling. Fifty years of PPP have generated lots of business for mental health professionals and greatly increased the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin, while simultaneously rendering a significant percentage of young people incapable of dealing, chin up, with disappointment, deprivation, etc.
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The obvious solution, therefore, to the ongoing child and teen mental health crisis is for parents to stop enabling, coddling, pampering, indulging, and cocooning children. My mother, a single parent for most of the first seven years of my life, would serve as an excellent role model in that regard. She refused to help me with my homework, for example (and she eventually obtained a Ph.D. in the life sciences!). My responsibilities were mine, as hers were hers. She expected me to entertain myself (without — gasp! — even so much as a television set), fight my own battles, lie in the beds I’d made, stew in my own juices, stand on my own two feet, and other equally character-building things. I was never lacking in her love, but my mother was not my friend. She had a life separate and apart from being a parent.
In the final analysis, whether parenting weakens or strengthens is largely a matter of physical and emotional boundaries, the lack or presence thereof. Along that line, I had no permission to interrupt my mother at anything she was doing, nor did my emotional state define hers. It appeared that my peers enjoyed — and enjoy it was — similar relationships with their moms.
By contrast, today’s all-too-typical mother is enmeshed in a co-dependent relationship with her kids. For some odd reason, that state of mutually-assured-destruction is now, according to the culture, the quintessence of good mommying. Given that ubiquitous state of affairs, it is no surprise that more psychiatric drugs are consumed by women with children than any other demographic.
After all, living one life is complicated enough these days. Trying to live one’s own life as well as someone else’s, well, I can only imagine the level of stress incurred … by both parties.