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).
Many of these teenagers are struggling with their sexuality. Some teenagers are struggling with the feelings of being homosexual, bisexual or Transgender. For many of them these are feelings they have had for a long time. However, they have people in their lives telling them they are too young to know for sure. Maybe some may change their minds, however given the violence and discrimination they face with this decision, who would put themselves through all of that pain if they were not sure?
If you look around the Country, many states are passing laws making difficult for LGBTQ+ teenagers to live and go to school and be honest about their feelings. Violence against LGBTQ+ teenagers has significantly increased over the last two years. LGBTQ+ teenagers are five times more likely to commit suicide and to use drugs (CDC). They are also more likely to become prostitutes. They are making these choices because they feel they have no other options. They are afraid of being rejected by their families and many are rejected and are thrown out of their homes to survive on the streets.
So what are they to do when they don’t fit into the “normal” teenage stereotypes? What if they suffer from depression? If they have a learning disability too? What do these LGBTQ+ 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, as I stated above. These teenagers are in a very scary and sad place.
The CDC found one in five teenagers are dealing with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or stress. Some LGBTQ+ teenagers may think about psychotherapy but often quickly block that option. They are afraid that their parents are sending them to therapy, so the therapist will “fix” them. They do not feel broken and they don’t want someone trying to convince them that their feelings are wrong. Psychotherapists are not supposed to try to “fix” LGBT+ teenagers, but there are some who still do. The American Psychological Association has removed homosexuality as a psychiatric diagnosis so know therapist should be trying to fix a teenager.
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. Teenagers who identify as LGBTQ+ only want they same thing. Is this too much to ask for? June is dedicated to Gay Pride. If you have a teenager who is identifying as LGBTQ+, before you say it is a phase, maybe you can do some research so you have a better understanding of your teenagers feelings.
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.