*By Julie Barrett, Founder, Conservative Ladies of Washington
I recently wrote a piece called Connection is Essential, describing just how much we, as humans, need community and in-person connections with each other. As a mother of five, four of them teenagers still in the public school system, I have had to watch with a heavy heart as they have attempted to navigate this past year in isolation. Connection is essential for all humans, but I would say it is even more critical for our youth. It is imperative to their development into healthy adults.
Let’s face it, most teenagers will tell you their favorite thing about school is seeing their friends, or maybe it’s playing sports or participating in a club. These young people are social beings and in their teenage years socializing is a big part of their development. As schools have been shut down this last year, teenagers across our nation, but particularly here in Washington state have closed themselves into their bedrooms with their laptops. It’s not unusual for teenagers to attend zoom classes from their comforts of their bed.
When schools first shut down, the teenagers in my home were excited for “two weeks” to do school in their pajamas and not have to wake up at 5am to get ready to go to school in the dark. Before the two weeks was up, my kids were really ready for some structure and routine and had had their fill of Netflix. Kids were ready for sports to resume, to try out for the spring play at school and just be their peers. In our school district, we have now surpassed the one year “anniversary” of remote learning, with a possible return next month in a hybrid style as ordered by our governor.
Meanwhile, a year has gone by. One year…lost. One year isolated from peers and glued to a screen. We have watched across as it has been reported all across our country that youth are committing suicide or attempting to commit suicide at alarming rates. The mental toll this has taken on our youth is incalculable. Research shows that adolescents depend on their friendships to maintain a sense of self-worth and to manage anxiety and depression. Being stuck at home for months on end leaves teens with minimal distractions, leaving them very susceptible to depression and anxiety.
I’ve watched this with my own children. I’ve cried out for help to the school district. The response I got was that they would have a mental health provider from the school Zoom with my student once a week. This is not a solution. Pairing a teenager with an adult they have never even met in person, who doesn’t know them or anything about them, is a terrible idea. I’m not sure what they expect to accomplish over Zoom with a teen in crisis. I would laugh if it didn’t make me so angry and sad.
It’s no surprise that Seattle Children’s Hospital is seeing one to two children admitted every night for attempted suicide. This is a heartbreaking headline that made local news yesterday. I’m sad to say, this headline was very much reality in our own family. One of my children was part of this statistic just last week. I’ve watched her mental health decline over the past year, but I will be honest; I did not expect this.
We are watching these kids suffer in isolation and silence. They have nowhere to go and very limited places to reach out. In their isolation they seek connection on social media through means like SnapChat and TikTok and Instagram. These platforms offer up our children seeking validation and purpose to a plethora of predators. These platforms fill our children’s minds with unhealthy ideas – from drugs to sex, ways to harm themselves and eating disorders. Our young people are sitting on their devices filling their brains with garbage.
Our government has done this. Make no mistake. This was intentional and continues to be. “But schools don’t have funding to provide resources for these students.” Interesting, our school district found $1 million this year to staff a 3 person Equity & Diversity department. They have the funding and they have options. They chose isolation.
It can be hard for parents and loved ones to recognize the signs of a depressed teen. Here are a few common signs as noted by the Cleveland Clinic:
- Emotional changes, such as feelings of hopelessness or emptiness.
- Trouble thinking or concentrating.
- Changes in eating habits or weight.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Sudden contact with a friend who’s a known troublemaker.
If a teen begins isolating to the point that they’re taking all their meals alone, that can be a sign of disordered eating, or that the family dynamic has become toxic.
If your child makes any mention of suicide, take those words seriously and take action immediately. “If kids use the magic words ‘I want to kill myself,’ that’s time for a psychiatrist and a therapist,”
Please watch your children, talk to your children and engage with your children. I would also encourage you to make sure your child has other trusted adults and mentors in their lives as they may be willing to reach out to someone other than a parent.