The most recent data from a decade-long CDC study has worrying news for parents: data show a severe uptick in sadness and violence levels reported by teen girls and LGBTQ+ youth.
These findings, released by researchers that began collecting data in 2011, suggests that major health disparities exist between different groups, namely LGBTQ+ youth and teen girls.
Eric Herman, a psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, says the overall health of all teens is worrying.
“Parents can look at the fact that kids are having a hard time, then ask why and get involved,” Hammon says. “Sometimes that means doing hard things like making sure they go to bed on time, looking at what they’re looking at online; the basics — sleeping, eating, doing their homework.”
Hammon adds that if parents are addressing stressors they have control over but are still worried, it’s better to have your teen get evaluated than it is to hope that things are okay.
Many of the findings from this most recent batch of data indicate serious health concerns. Nearly 60 percent of female students and nearly 70 percent of LGBTQ+ youth experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.”
Another category, “seriously considering suicide,” moved to 30 percent this year for teen girls — a steep increase from 2019. Also worrying was the fact 24 percent of teen girls had made a suicide plan in 2021.
“If there’s anything in your gut saying ‘I need support helping my child through this phase,’ I would always err on the side of caution,” says Kimber Lubert, a licensed counselor and owner of bWELL Counseling in Mokena, Illinois. “If anything, just have an intake consultation, because there’s no harm that can come from reaching out to a licensed professional.”
Signs your teen may be in distress
Anytime a teen’s behavior changes dramatically, parents should take notice, says Lubert. This can include changing friend groups over night or drastic changes in appearance.
Signs your teen might be experiencing an increase in sadness may include withdrawal, isolation and a lack of interest in things that were once hobbies, she says. Conversely, while sadness is a “low” feeling, a teen may start to exhibit risk taking behaviors like promiscuity or trying substances like alcohol, vapes or marijuana.
The latest CDC data also show an increase in exposure to violence: Female students, LGBTQ+ students, and students who had any same-sex partners were more likely than their peers to experience violence. In 2011, nearly 20 percent of female students experienced sexual violence; 15 percent had been forced to have sex.
Signs a teenager might be exposed to violence, especially sexual violence, include hiding devices or being secretive.
“There can be feelings of shame when violence is experienced,” Lubert says. Those feelings of shame may make a teen want to conceal what’s happening.
What to do to help
The COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in cell phone usage are two big factors in the well being of children, says Hammon. Paying closer attention to what kids are doing day-to-day can have a big impact.
Teens aren’t typically going to come to parents and say “I’m sad,” says Lubert. But if your child has unlimited access to the internet and is showing signs of changed behavior, it could help to step in and have a conversation about setting boundaries online.
“Kids are always connected — they can never escape it,” she says. “When I went to school I had a landline and dial-up internet, so you had 12 hours before you had to face those people again.”
“Try to disconnect them and create some time to connect without technology,” she adds. “That would be my number one thing to recommend.”
With her own patients experiencing sadness, Lubert guides them to identify those feelings and pointing out how they manifest in the body. As for navigating situations with kids experiencing violence, she says advocating for them to empower themselves to find justice for the crime while ensuring their safety throughout, making sure it doesn’t happen again and collaborating with the family are some of her main objectives with clients.
Parents who want to study these topics on their own can find helpful information in three books Lubert recommends: “Brainstorm” by Dan Siegel, “The Teenage Brain” by Amy Ellis Nutt and Frances E. Jensen and “Boundaries With Teens” by John Townsend.
But for parents seeking help to guide kids through difficult times, and certainly whenever the safety of a child is at risk, reaching out to a licensed professional is always the first piece of advice.
Follow Metro Parent on Instagram.