April 20, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello, MindSite News readers! The mental crises of teenage girls are frequently in the news, but the very real mental health crisis involving teen boys receives far less attention. In other news, you’ll find advice on how to help your tweens navigate romantic relationships, our review of Lisa Damour’s The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, and living on toddler time.

And, news on a California bill that makes clear how crucial it is to maintain a relationship with a parent who’s locked up. Plus, Sesame Street Workshop’s new destination.

We’re missing a major health crisis with teen boys, the Washington Post warns

Here’s a startling fact: The biggest risk factor for suicide is being male, said Richard V. Reeves, author and senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution. It’s a reality that’s lesser known, so much so that “I’ve had members of Congress tell me I’ve got this the wrong way around,” Reeves told the Washington Post

High-level officials are definitely aware of the severe level of mental distress that teen girls face. Just 8 weeks ago, the CDC published a report highlighting the unprecedented levels of violence, sexual assault, and trauma teen girls are navigating, causing them to feel sad and hopeless. However, teen boys are also in great need of support. CDC data shows suicide rates for males age 15 to 24 increased 8 percent from 2020 to 2021 alone. 

Society’s expectations are failing young men, said Michael C. Reichert, founding director of the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives at the University of Pennsylvania. We expect them to always be strong, stoic, and independent, which hampers any will they have to ask for help. Worse, social norms discourage any display of sadness or vulnerability in boys and men. That’s left room for depression to go undetected, under the guise of isolation, irritability and anger. (Our earlier piece on “Boys Will Be Bugs” by Cavetown explores this dynamic.) Reichert advises parents to “locate the place in your heart where you can be delighted with your son” and dedicate some time to him with no scolding or lecturing.

“If your kid lashes out at you, don’t be so quick to ground them or take their phone away,” said Sheila Hedstrom-Pelger. Let them walk away and a little bit later, check in and say, ‘What was that all about? Is something wrong?’” It’s advice she offers to parents since the suicide of her teenage son, Tyler, She never knew anything was wrong.

How to help your tweens navigate romantic relationships

Whether the thought makes them cringe or feel giddy, every parent I know wants to influence their kids’ love lives. If you’re waiting for the right moment to sneak in a tip or two, author, therapist and professor Terri Orbuch says you can start right away by healing your own triggers—romantic or not. “We have our own emotional baggage from our own breakups and struggles that don’t necessarily go away,” she explained to Greater Good Magazine. “It’s important to separate your feelings from what your child is feeling so that you can really hear and understand what they are telling you,” Orbuch said.

Doing so lays the foundation for a trusting relationship between parent and child. Good relationships leave room for conversation about most things, from mundane to juicy. Parents who consistently have age-appropriate, honest, and vulnerable conversations with their children can look forward to those extending into talks about romance.

More than anything, though, Orbuch reminds parents that children are always learning from what parents do. Modeling healthy, loving relationships, including how to work through conflict, is a powerful way to help kids prepare for healthy romances themselves. 

Is parenting your teen difficult? Read our review of Lisa Damour’s The Emotional Lives of Teenagers

“Today’s teen whisperer Lisa Damour, like everyone else, knows that the kids are not alright.

“But instead of pushing for greater happiness, or mental ease, the Cleveland clinical psychologist thinks we could all benefit from more sadness. In her new book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, Damour is also promoting stress, angst, danger-seeking, irritation, and disappointment— the whole rainbow of whacked-out adolescent emotions. Damour is here to broadcast that for teens, ‘powerful emotions are a feature, not a bug.’”

So begins the engrossing review by MindSite News writer Diana Kapp, herself a mom of three teenagers, who found the book’s advice helpful and gratifying – if not always surprising. Besides the message that it’s normal and okay for teens to experience the full range of human emotion, she appreciated Damour’s clear scripts on how to help teens manage tough life situations. “She doesn’t just tell me to be empathetic when my daughter is teased about her height, she shows me how,” Kapp wrote. Read her review here.

Living on toddler time

Wanna etch joy into your child’s memory? Slow down and live like a toddler. They expect something new each day, encountering joys by paying attention to the little details we’ve either forgotten or taken for granted. “While walking my son to his daycare, I noticed that the grass on the sidewalk and the field across the street were covered with the first frost of winter,” Rhitu Chatterjee recalled to NPR. “I was so excited to show this to my son, that I forgot we were running late. We stopped so he could touch and feel the thin silvery layer of ice crystals on the grass and dried leaves beneath our feet. It was his first time encountering frost and he was awe-struck. I don’t remember how long we stood there…but I do remember that, for me, everything else zoomed out, and I felt as though time stood still.”

In other news….

California’s children of incarcerated parents may soon get good news from the state assembly. Lawmakers there told KQED they’re debating a bill that would place imprisoned people with children in facilities as close as possible to home. Asm. Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), the bill’s sponsor, says it’s good for kids.  “There’s a lot of research on the mental or emotional toll that incarcerating a parent has on a child,” he said. “If we incarcerate a mother or father all the way on the other side from where a child lives, it makes it a lot harder for that child to visit the parent, to maintain a relationship with them, and to keep connected with them when they come out.” (For more on the child’s point of view, see MindSite News’ earlier story “Roadblocks to Prison Visits Cause Despair.”)

Sesame Workshop’s new look: Even Oscar The Grouch approves. Sesame Street burst onto the screen in 1969 and is one of the best known television shows of all time. “What’s a bit lesser known is the Sesame Workshop, the show’s affiliated nonprofit that’s committed to providing support for kids beyond the lessons learned from the likes of Elmo and Big Bird,” writes Charlotte Beach in Print Magazine. Now Trollbäck+Company has redesigned the website for Sesame Workshop’s outreach program to 150 countries, including the U.S., with a fun new look that features its remarkable tools, games and resources for parents and children around the world.

COVID left nearly a quarter million U.S. children who lost parents or caregivers to navigate systems ill-equipped to offer them vital support. After Elashia Hall-Jeannis lost her husband, Pharish, to COVID days into the start of the 2021 school year, quarantining her children for 14 days put her in trouble with truancy officers. She especially struggled to find counseling for her 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.  “I found myself fighting with the school clinician,” Hall-Jeannis told The Guardian. “They were unprepared. They told me to call their pediatrician. They thought my son had a learning disability, and wanted to make an [Individualized Education Program for special education services]. I said, ‘He just lost his father!’ He was grieving.” Fortunately, Hall-Jeannis found an Atlanta nonprofit called Kate’s Club, which connected her children with other Covid orphans, including some classmates, and helped them grieve.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

Recent MindSite News Stories

Teen Expert Lisa Damour Wants Us All to Embrace Sadness

Damour wants us to realize that stress, irritability and unhappiness are as normal in teens as joy.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...