In March, after nearly two years of telecommuting, AARP employees began returning to the office. I made a point of stopping by several of our locations to greet the returning personnel. I frequently inquired about how everyone was doing at home.
A disturbingly high number of parents reported that their teenagers were having difficulties. Many of them confided in me that their kids and grandkids were struggling with clinical depression. Others reported knowing teens who suffered from severe anxiety. Being a mother of two myself, I can relate to the pressures they face.
These are not unique cases. To illustrate, we’ve written a narrative in which an entire generation of teenagers is depicted as dealing with stresses and strains that are harder for adults to fathom and more severe than those experienced by their parents’ generation.
If you get a group of parents and grandparents together, the topic of the difficulties we face as teenagers is sure to come up. Science backs up their worries. Depression, isolation, and suicide among young people are at historic highs in the United States. Living in a pandemic for several years has made things much worse.
Additionally, technology has introduced brand-new difficulties. Teenagers’ daily lives are intertwined with smartphones in ways that us old fogies can’t begin to fathom. According to researchers, the enormous rise in the teen mental health crisis has coincided with the rise of smartphone technology.
Never before in the history of the United States have teen rates of despair, loneliness, and suicide been so high.
Sure, lots of our young people are succeeding academically, discovering their true calling in life, and generally filling us with pride. Unprecedented cultural phenomena, such as an increase in mass shootings, profound political and cultural turmoil, climate change, a revolution in sexual identity, and, of course, a new world fashioned by technology in which nothing gets erased, are influencing even them. To expect a 14-year-old to understand all of that is unreasonable.
Our analysis also highlights the fact that commercial, public, and educational institutions’ mental health services have been declining at the same time as this crisis has emerged. The average wait period for a new appointment in one state is a startling 13.6 weeks, and parents there are frantic to find counselors and psychiatrists.
When should we expect AARP to act? You’ve told us repeatedly that your family is your first priority, so that’s an easy one. You can only live your greatest life if you have faith that your grandkids, kids, nieces, and nephews will also have the chance to live their best lives.
In light of this, AARP’s editors dove headfirst into the subject of contemporary adolescence. We hope the articles in this issue of the AARP Bulletin, as well as those on our website, in our newsletters, and on our social media platforms, will help you understand the challenges your children or grandkids face and what you can do to help.
Meanwhile, we must urge our legislators to devise measures to safeguard our children from online predators. According to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, “internet adulthood” is set at the age of 13. At that age, firms can begin collecting data on children without parental agreement and target them with advertisements and content tailored to keep them online longer. This can be altered by legislation. Researchers would be able to gain insight into the inner workings of social media algorithms and how they target our children—and us—thanks to the proposed Platform Accountability and Transparency Act.