The excerpt from a poem titled, I’m Hiding Deep Inside, written by a teenager, is quite unfortunate. It is a shared ache of unsaid words among several teenagers of our time. Teenagers struggle with several issues today. With rising cases of body shaming, drug addictions, cyberbullying, etc. Teen Suicide cases are rising like an epidemic.

National Crime Records Bureau of India recorded 10,159 deaths by suicide in the year 2018. A further spike of 3.4 per cent in the year 2019, with a count of 381 suicides daily. The anxiety and depression among teenagers is a major concern for parents today. If you are parenting or in close contact with teenagers, here is A Guide To Teen Depression.

“Can no one see this smile I’m faking,

See how, inside, I’m constantly shaking?

These people all claim they know me well,

Yet, no one can see through my crumbling shell?

I guess my pretense is just all too real,

No one has to know of the pain that I feel.

The real me inside, where no one can see,

I can fool everyone else, why can’t I fool me?”  

Leave alone the reasons for the spiking epidemic of suicide. To understand a teenager, it is important to able to understand their functioning. Their biological, physical, social, emotional and psychological development.

A teenager experiences changes in every level of their life. They are mostly unprepared or misinformed to handle the changes better. According to psychologist Erik Erikson, the stage of life that occurs between the ages of 12 and 18 causes a psychosocial conflict of Identity versus Confusion. A teenager’s pursuit of self-exploration may seemingly come out as a “teenage rebellion”.

Teenage struggle

This is seen in their efforts to stay independent, explore boundaries, question authority and rules, seek new experiences, friends, etc. A normal teenager is easily influenced by people other than family. For example, new friends’ groups, a popular culture, a music band etc. They are attempting to find or establish an identity of their own, as well as, be part of the social circle of their own to feel belonging.

Oscillating between moods, feelings, friends, changes a teenager is met with demands and expectations from several groups of society beginning from family. Very often than not, a teenager with no healthy home environment succumbs to poor choices, unhealthy friends’ circles, harmful habits, unsafe relationships and so on. Given the increased vulnerability of the teen years, they are the easiest targets for drug peddlers and other forms of problem behaviours. 

Needless to say, the academic competition, familial conflicts, failures, misfortunes, rejections, bullying and other traumatic incidents in their lives increase the struggles of a developing teenager.  The experience of loneliness amidst the struggle for identity, purpose and friendships often result in mental health problems like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, self-harm behaviours, juvenile delinquency etc. 

Unchecked mental health struggles very commonly lead to suicidal tendencies and self-harm behaviours. Cutting oneself, burning one-self, reckless behaviours without consideration for their own safety are just a few examples. Self- harm is one the commonest but the loudest scream for help. A teenager inflicting pain on oneself is expressing pain by inflicting pain.

Teenagers seek acceptance. They learn to mask themselves into two or three separate selves that suit the respective environments. They faced their own hatred and self-harm behaviours when left alone

How can we help teenagers?

Every teenager deserves the space for self-exploration. But also a safe environment to reflect, discuss and talk on different things. There are several harmless and safe experiences that allow self-exploration, which parents and teachers can gently guide them into.

  • Providing helpful options and choices to a teenager is more fruitful than imposing a certain rule. This not only helps them develop into respected adults but also helps them make better decisions. 

There are a million things that are screaming for a teenager’s attention like gadgets, social media, friends, etc. It may seem almost impossible for parents to compete against them. It is essential for parents to establish and maintain a trusting, friendly relationship with their teenagers.

  • Teenagers may comply better with being treated like an accountable adult than being treated like a stupid teenager. It is important to embrace the change in your teenager before they learn to embrace the change in themselves. 

Look out for distress signs.

Is your teenager showing sudden changes in personality – like “they are not their usual self”?

Are they oversleeping, isolating, indicating that the world would be better off without them?

If they have cuts or bruises or are avoiding a formerly favourite activity. they are most likely experiencing distress or even a mental health problem that requires your immediate support and professional help.

Actively engage with your teenagers’ personal interests like sports, books, movies, etc.. Remind them as many times it takes that they are not alone and could talk to you anytime. Assure them of your unconditional support. Show acceptance for who they are and not what you would like them to be. 

Dear Teenager, 

This is not how your story would end. We know that being hopeful, self-love and embracing flaws look like Toxic Positivity. However, remember that you are strong and you are valued.

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