Teenage girls are in crisis. A recent survey of more than 17,000 high school students found that 30 percent of the girls had considered suicide. 30%! That rate is double that of boys. What’s also worrisome is that rate is about 60 percent higher than ten years ago.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, the pandemic took a harsh toll teen girls’ mental health. The stats are real – nearly 3 in 5 (57%) U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless.
I had an opportunity to speak with David Magee, who lost his son to an accidental drug overdose and wrote the best-selling book, “Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, Love, and Loss”.
His upcoming book, “Things Have Changed: What Every Parent (and Educator) Should Know About the Student Mental Health and Substance Misuse Crisis” gives parents a clear road map for navigating painful struggles that many students face, including mental health issues, substance abuse, and more.
Our teenage girls are in crisis now – what can parents do to help?
Tell me what is going on with our teenagers?
Teens today are struggling like we’ve never seen before in this country. For a lot of reasons that we don’t yet fully understand, young women are being disproportionately impacted. I’ve seen the CDC report that says that there’s higher a suicidal ideation and depression that young women are feeling. When I’m in schools, I tell you Maria, I see that in real time because I’ll be talking to students about mental health and substance misuse and I’ll look across the audience sometimes in middle school and early high school, young women are just wiping tears streaming down their face. It’s time that we realize things have changed and we’ve really got to help them get out of this.
How much of social media do you think is to blame?
I think social media has a huge role in it. I can tell you that in my in my family, for instance including a dog why he says every single female in my immediate family has shared that at one time or another there has been some level of social media I don’t need this I can’t do it anymore impacted in their life. I’m not saying it doesn’t impact men and young men as well but specifically talking about what’s happening with young women today. Social media clearly has a role. It sets them up for both being objectified comparisons. There’s something real happening there, and studies show it but we have to take those studies in better, reach out to the to students and teens today to meet them where they are not to just say hey this study says it’s a problem, but also how can we help you?
What signs should a parents should parents be looking for?
I always tell parents, look, teens are teens and sometimes it’s hard for them to make eye contact. But if your teen just is at a point to where over a prolonged period they cannot and are not making eye contact with you, that that’s a warning sign. Maybe it’s not a mega crisis but like maybe you want to try to help figure out what’s going on, and maybe they need some counseling.
Mood changes – that’s what I always tell parents. We need to quit telling teens and young women in this instance, how they should feel…everything’s great, cheerleading them on…They don’t need cheerleading as much as they need us to ask them – how are you doing? They need us to ask them open-ended questions, to be able to let them explain to us where they are how they’re doing.
Those are some good tips on how parents can reach their teens – are there any other short tips that you have?
Let them be seen and heard.
The number one thing is they need to be seen and heard. My daughter battled an eating disorder and I’m proud to say she’s years in successful recovery now, but I remember her at one point standing in front of my wife and I and saying, “I need you to see me and I need you to hear me, what I am facing is real.” It’s as real as our boys. My sons battled with substance use disorder and being seen and heard is so critical.
Let them be who they are.
We want to tell our children what they should do – you should go star on the soccer team and make A’s and don’t you want to have this many friends? But the reality is, we need to find out what they want and who are they and how are they? And then, when we can get them having those conversations, it often can point us down the road of do they really need some counseling or therapy right now to help them manage these feelings?
Get them help.
What I would say to parents is, we know suicidal ideation and depression is spiking in teens today and, young teen women – get them help. It works. Counseling and therapy work. Don’t be afraid of the stigma get them in counseling and it will help them process feelings in a way that parents just can’t always do.
Why are you so passionate about all this?
Thank you, I’m so passionate I think because my family was broken in every way. When I got married and my wife and I thought we were chasing this American dream. We would have children… we had three. We wanted our children we just like all parents we wanted our children to have it better than we had it. What I didn’t understand though is that things had changed, and we ended up with two sons and substance use disorder, battling anxiety. They made a start in sports; I taught young adult Sunday school class… on paper we looked so great. But in truth, our sons were struggling with substances our daughter struggling with an eating disorder and I was struggling with substances. Ended up in divorce though I did ultimately turn my life around and remarry my wife. That just helped us understand this is a family issue Our children feel our stress and they feel our pains and often they’ll live that out. So my role I feel like is being called to help families and students normalize this and know, it’s okay – you’re not alone and we can do something about it.
Find David at https://www.daviddmagee.com/