Recently I was doing my thing on social media, like we all do, scrolling through during a moment of boredom and wanted to see what the latest was in the world when I came across an article that was making the assertion that people have turned childhood into a mental health disorder. As I’ve thought about this, I hate to admit it but I don’t have a counter argument. In a lot of ways, I agree that we have turned normal child and teen behavior into mental health disorders. In light of our ever growing suicide crisis, I believe that it’s crucial to take a critical look at what is going on in all areas of our society so that we can reverse this disturbing trend. Before I give more of my thoughts on this, I want to first emphasize that I understand that most parents mean well for their children and wouldn’t ever do anything that was deliberately harmful but I think it’s important to consider that perhaps some parents are doing things that are indeliberately harmful but here are some of my thoughts.
We are Intolerant of Mistakes, Problems and Issues
This is one of the main things that I keep coming up against. I continually encounter parents that seem to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to their kids falling short of the various expectations set for them. It’s almost as though parents view their children and teens like a computer that you got out of the box that already has all the firmware and program files downloaded and working. You just start it up and it does what it’s supposed to do. Kids are not like this but sometimes it’s almost as though we look at them this way.
I frequently encounter parents that are really upset that their child is falling short of the standards that they set while lacking the understanding that it’s normal for all of us to fall short during our entire lifespan and yet many parents seem to be besides themselves that their kid is having issues at school, was disrespectful to an adult or is having problems with their grades. Again, I don’t think parents are conscious of their paradigms and reactions but are more so falling into an existing parenting culture and following the widely practiced norms.
My response to this is that I believe it’s really important for parents to know that problems, mistakes and issues are normal. Virtually every parent that I encounter will freely admit that they are far from perfect but they seem to hold a different standard for their kids. The bottom line is that kids have problems and issues. If you have had a child that has few or no issues, consider yourself exceptionally lucky. And yet, I don’t think kids with problems are problemed kids. I love kids with problems, for many reasons, but that is a separate article. My advice is to expect them to have problems and know that it’s normal.
Kids Aren’t Built to sit Through Long Hours of School
Along with the rates of suicide spiking, I have noticed an unsurprising spike in the levels of anxiety and depression in teens. Obviously teens who are more chronically depressed as well as paralyzed with anxiety, are the ones who are more likely to attempt suicide. Okay, no duh but the kids who I find to be the most anxious and depressed are the kids that are the most physically stationary. They are the ones that spend the most time, holding still, staying indoors and staring at their phones. But how can we blame them when they have been told that to hold completely still and silent their whole lives when they are at school. Ask any kid who has struggled to hold still for long hours and has been labeled with ADHD.
Movement is a natural way to relieve anxiety and depression. People who make a habit out of getting movement and exercise are people who are less anxious and depressed. But I think some kids are getting mixed messages. When they are at school they are being told to sit down, don’t move and stay quiet and when they get home, parents are telling them to do things.
There’s also a mountain of research that shows that children learn, grow and develop through movement and play. But it sees as though we have placed some strict parameters on what is acceptable movement and play instead of letting it take its course. It’s normal and healthy for kids to get up and move. I think we need to make a shift and look at this behavior as normal instead of turning it into a pathology.
As Children Age Their Emotional Experience Changes
The brain develops and changes rapidly before the age of 25. The teen years are especially challenging because not only are kids developing emotionally and mentally, they are also changing physically. Kids go through rapid changes in a short amount of time. Treating a 12 year old is drastically different than treating a kid who is 15 which is quite different from treating someone who 18. As kids grow older, different parts of their brain are turning on which is why we see such drastic changes in behavior. Their experience of life changes as well as their perceptions of events and situations. They experience new emotions and because emotions are the result of different chemicals in the brain, the experience of new emotions is strong. Like an exposure to any new chemical, the body isn’t used to it so it’s highly potent. Teens are dramatic because these are new experiences and new emotions, all of which seem exaggerated because they just haven’t done it before. Yes, teens are dramatic. Yes, they exaggerate. Yes, they do engage in attention seeking. All of these are normal behavior, not mental health disorders. I really do think we should be cautious to label certain behaviors as disorders simply because they are behaviors that we don’t like.
Kids are supposed to show sadness, anger, irritability, annoyance and sadness. This is normal. Negative emotions aren’t an indicator that something is wrong and needs to be fixed, they are an indicator that things are normal. But in my professional opinion, too many people have gotten into the mindset that somehow life is supposed to be smooth and easy and an effective parent is a parent that has successfully made life easy, smooth and happy. I have to be honest, this is so far removed from reality, I truly wonder how we got here.
Who is Doing the Diagnosing?
I’ve talked about this in the past and it bears repeating. A lot of kids are being labeled as having behavior problems or mental health diagnosis by individuals who are not qualified to do so. I have a lot of love and respect for public school teachers but they are the biggest offenders with this. They honestly have no business attempting to diagnose a kid with something like ADHD. I also believe that many general practitioners and family doctors are not always the best person to be making this diagnosis either. Frankly, it’s just not what they specialize in. A good therapist or psychologist is much more qualified to pin down problems or even if the child actually does have a mental health problem. I believe that when it comes to behavior and mental health, a good therapist or psychologist should always be the first person that we go to. But I talk more about this in my article about whether or not ADHD is fake so go check it out.