Do we have a child and teen mental health crisis, and if the answer is yes, 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 10 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. 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.
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” turned child-rearing into never-ending enabling. Fifty years of PPP have rendered a significant percentage of young people incapable of dealing, chin up, with disappointment, deprivation, etc.
The obvious solution, therefore, to the 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, refused to help me with my homework, for example. My responsibilities were mine, as hers were hers. 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.