We all admire kids who seem to do it all. The Ivy League-bound star athlete and academic decathlon champ whose valedictorian speech goes viral when it raises millions to kickstart a no-kill shelter for homeless puppies.
“Watch for that kid,” is what we usually say in the presence of precious greatness. But maybe what we should be saying – parents, teachers, administrators and physicians – is “watch that kid.”
Teens report they feel enormous pressure to achieve levels of success that are unrealistic at best – mentally damaging at worst. It is up to the adults in a teen’s life to help them strive for mental health as they vigorously as they seek success.
Pediatric visits to emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts or attempts doubled nationwide between 2008 to 2015. Suicide is the second-leading cause of deaths in 10- to 24-year-olds, with deaths and attempts peaking during the school year and ebbing in the summer.
The pressure teens are feeling academically and socially is crushing for many kids today, and it far exceeds the pressures their parents felt during junior high and high school. As a result, one in five teens are suffering from a diagnosable mental health disorder – but two-thirds of them go undiagnosed and untreated.
If we really want the best for our kids (and if we want our kids to be at their best), we need to learn the warning signs of mental health issues and provide our children with the help and support they need.
Signs of mental health issues include:
- Decline in school function or performance
- Anxiousness or worry
- Refusal to go to school or join any extracurricular activities
- Decreased social interaction
- Aggressive behavior
If the idea of addressing your child’s possible mental health issues seems overwhelming, partner with your pediatrician. At Hoag, we offer youth mental health screenings starting at age 11. Children who could benefit from additional help are referred to appropriate resources, such as the ASPIRE program, which stands for After-School Program: Interventions and Resiliency Education. Offered in Newport Beach and Irvine, ASPIRE incorporates education, training and active participation from teens and their families to promote emotional wellness and to help teens manage stress, make good choices and engage in healthy interpersonal relationships.
Our society is so geared to be successful, that we sometimes forget what success looks like. To compete for the best schools and top scholarships, teens are sacrificing sleep, healthy eating and exercise. And by enabling (and sometimes even encouraging) our kids to devalue their mental and physical health in service of this notion of success, we are setting them up for incredible, debilitating failure.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If you notice your children exhibiting signs of mental health disorders, talk to your pediatrician for access to the resources and interventions they need.
It’s not enough to “watch for that kid.” While they are still young and their brains are still developing, we have to watch over them, too.