Being a teenager in today’s world is very difficult. Besides dealing with mass school shootings and now the uncertainty of life due to the Coronavirus, they face other daily challenges. Many teenagers believe they must grow up and have jobs with fancy titles, make a lot of money and drive fancy cars to be a success as an adult. They face stereotypes about how boys must act if they want to be men and girls face stereotypes about how they must act to be considered women. I hear teens tell me everyday how overwhelmed and confused they are trying to fit into all the necessary stereotypes. They feel overwhelmed because at times they are not sure how to act and confused because at times they don’t agree with the stereotype. If they don’t, they are not sure what to do. This is a lot of pressure for a 13 year old child to be trying to cope with on a daily basis. It’s no surprise that many teens turn to drugs as a way to cope. It is also not a surprise that Cutting is at epidemic rates for teens and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for teens (CDC)
Now what if you don’t fit into the stereotypes? What if you suffer from depression? If you have a learning disability? Or if you are homosexual or bisexual? What do these teenagers do? This is how they were born and they cannot change that fact. Many of these teens will struggle trying to fit the stereotypes and also try desperately to hide from friends and family that they do not fit the teenage stereotypes. Some are lucky and parents or a teacher intervene helping them to get the help they need. Many are not so lucky and often choose suicide. Teenagers who are homosexual or questioning their sexuality are five times more likely than the average teen to think about and attempt suicide (CDC). These are very scary and sad facts.
The CDC found one in five teenagers are dealing with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or stress. Many may think about psychotherapy but quickly block that option. Only “crazy people” need psychotherapy. If they had to go to therapy they are really a “loser.” For teenagers who are willing to try therapy, they often cannot find a therapist who treats teenagers or their family cannot afford it. Also for many cultures such as Latin or Asian, they believe that personal issues need to be resolved within the family and you would never share intimate family issues with strangers. Therefore, for these teens psychotherapy is not an option.
However, as a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers, I hear daily from teens that all they want is to be accepted for who they are and they don’t want to have to always hide. The teen with depression or the learning disabilities wants to be considered just as important as the star quarterback on the football team. They want this from their school, their friends, society and finally from their families. Is this too much to ask for?
These teenagers are not stealing or doing anything to be ashamed of, they are being themselves just the way they were born. Why can’t they be accepted and celebrated? The answer is they can! It is something I teach them in every session we have together. There are organizations such as Alive and Free in San Francisco and Challenge Day in the San Francisco Bay Area who work with teens and society so these teens can feel accepted being themselves.
Another organization addressing this issue is called Born This Way. It was started by Lady Gaga and her organization works with teens and society so all teens feel accepted for who they are just the way they were born. Lady Gaga explains the mission of her foundation this way, “Safety, skills, and opportunity. Number one, I want everyone to feel safe in their community: school, home, whatever city you live in. Two: developing the skills that are needed to be a loving, accepting, and tolerant person, and to also inject that sentiment into all the people around you, being a supportive human being. And the third is opportunity. I believe once you feel safe in your environment and you acquire the skills to be a loving and accepting person, the opportunities for you are endless to become a great functioning human in society.”
For people who do better by hearing something or seeing it, I have included a link to a YouTube video where Lady Gaga explains Born This Way, https://youtu.be/
The concept really is very simple. Why can’t we accept children and teenagers just the way they were born. Every person is unique and everyone has talents to contribute to the world. So why do we pressure boys into the stereotype the must have big muscles and play sports to be a man? Why do we tell girls that boys are smarter and if someone touches them in a way they do not like it is their fault because of the clothes they are wearing. This is insane!
If we do away with the stereotypes and focus on teenagers liking their own personalities and bodies, we would have less cutting, suicide and drug use. We would also have many more teenagers who are happy and successful at life. Being happy is a successful life not a big bank account. Therefore, let’s get started on helping teens. We need people to support more organizations like the ones I named above. If we do we can eliminate the stereotypes and stigma of not fitting a stereotype. We also need to make psychotherapy more accessible to all teenagers and remove the negative stigma associated with mental health care. Now some people may think what I am proposing is impossible and just a dream. However, you are seeing more groups like the ones I mentioned open every year. We are seeing teenagers and parents being attracted to them. It is possible to improve the lives of children and teenagers. It may need to start with a dream. Dreams do come true look at what Walt Disney created with his dream.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience working with children and teenagers. He is on the nations advisory board for Alive and Free. For more information about his work and private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.