Once upon a time, back in the Stone Age of the early 1990s, I was a teenager—a particularly angsty one. No matter what I did (get good grades, get a fake ID, get a job, get tattooed, get into yoga), I could never quite shake the anger, depression, and sense of isolation that lived inside me.
As I made my way through high school, I often felt like a lone surfer braving 50-foot waves in an endless storm of emotions. Then, one day, something started to shift: the waves were still big, but they became less scary. I noticed other surfers riding alongside me. In the lulls between swells, I could actually see the shore. Perhaps this was simply a function of growing older and more secure, but whatever the reason, it was a relief. This was before cell phones grafted themselves to our hands like an extra appendage and before social media hijacked all our free time. The news covered plenty of wars, injustices, and tragedies, but words like school shooter and global pandemic weren’t in our lexicon. Although I’d never categorize this time in my life, or in society, as idyllic, in retrospect, I had space and quiet to dream my own dreams.
What about young people today? When I think about my toddler growing into a teenager, I’m a little unsettled. What will his world look like? Feel like? These days, when I pick him up from daycare near the neighborhood high school, I watch teens in the local park do many of the same things I did—smoke pot, laugh uncontrollably, flirt relentlessly. But while my generation was indisputably social, kids today are in nonstop communication with each other and with strangers via Snapchat and TikTok and a million other channels I’ll never fully grasp until they’re passé. We all know social media inundates teens with images of “perfect” bodies and glittering social lives, while spewing comparisons and judgments like so much toxic confetti. How much does this play into rising rates of teen anxiety and depression, or the unprecedented rates of suicide and suicidal ideation? Dare I even ask that question? It seems too simple to place all the blame on social media, which, after all, has a salutary side.
In this issue, we grapple with the question of why so many young people are suffering so deeply—and what we can do about it. We offer no pat answers, but rather a conversation among thoughtful people, including a therapist who explores how the bans on gender-affirming care for minors are affecting trans and nonbinary youth, a clinician who specializes in treating suicidal teens, a mother who issues a witty report on her family’s five-day digital detox, and an actual teenager—a 17-year-old who makes a passionate case for greater teen-to-teen emotional honesty.
We hope you’ll join the discussion. Together, maybe we can keep making—and protecting—the spaces that today’s kids need to dream their own dreams.
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