A list of things I’m sure you have heard being said:
- “He’s just a kid, he doesn’t have any real problems.”
- “She’s not really depressed, she’s just being a normal teen.”
- “Kids cry over spilled milk, when we’re the ones who should really be crying.”
- “Teens have nothing real to worry about like adults do.”
And so on.
I never liked this. I didn’t like this when I was eleven and I spent five hours a night checking doors and locks and burners to make sure everyone was safe and then crying when I lost count of it and had to start over. I didn’t like it when I was twelve and had to go to a new school with no friends and suddenly my noon hours were spent in complete isolation, with periods of dissociation. I didn’t like it when I was thirteen and my dad died from cancer.
I don’t like it now, when I’m studying to be a teacher and have learned of all the atrocities that kids have to go through on a regular basis.
Because the myth of the carefree childhood is a lie. Sure, some might make it out with only minor scratches and bandages to cover it up. But let’s look at these myths, shall we?
- “He’s just a kid, he doesn’t have any real problems.” An incomplete list of problems that kid might actually face: poverty, illness, loss, abuse, bullying, etc. Just because you had a lovely childhood that was all daisies and scarlet coloured crayons, that doesn’t mean all of youth is carefree.
- “She’s not really depressed, she’s just being a normal teen.” I want you to think about this one: oftentimes, teens are misdiagnosed with depression because their hormonal changes cause the exact same symptoms. Translation: teenagers are going through what anyone with depression might be going through except that it has a different source. How does that make it different? People constantly like to act like teens are petty and upset for no reason but I know, at least for myself, regardless of the cause teenage hormones caused some of the worst misery in my life. You don’t get to say it’s not suffering because they’ll grow out of it eventually.
- “Kids cry over spilled milk, when we’re the ones who should really be crying.” Again, I will point you to the list above. Sure, adults have lots of things to worry about that most kids don’t… taxes. Um… taxes? But just because we have taxes to worry about, that doesn’t mean that we are on a completely different level of suffering as children.
- “Teens have nothing real to worry about like adults do.” Things I had to worry about as a teen: “What’s this symptom? Does it mean cancer? Will I die? Also, how will I get through this presentation when I have panic attacks in front of the class? Will I get bullied at noon hour? How do I respond if I do?” Okay, so sure, I have three anxiety disorders, I may have worried more than the average teen but EVERYONE has something to worry about and everything can seem like the and of the world when you’refacing it in the moment.
So why am I writing all this? Well, in addition to being passionate about mental health awareness, I’m also passionate about empathy towards youth. Going through eighteen years of your life with your problems dismissed just because you can’t legally vote is a terrible thing. Parents assume they know everything their children are going through because they live with them but, chances are, they’ve only scratched the surface. Age twelve was the worst year of my life, yet I remember after hours and hours of obsessions and compulsions, I would see another comment on the internet saying “teens don’t go through mental illness, it’s just normal hormones” until I convinced myself that I what I was doing was normal and the fact that every day I prayed and prayed that I would die was just the everyday life of the Canadian teenager.
Children, for the most part, cannot go solving their problems on their own. They’re not going to book an appointment with a therapist because they’ve been worrying more than usual and initiate a conversation about coping techniques with their parents. And as long as we ignore children because they couldn’t possibly suffer real pain, we are denying them help and treatment for a treatable problem. We wouldn’t do that for a child’s broken leg, is it any more ethical to do so for a child’s emotional or psychological problems?