Human InterestInjuriesMental Health

TEEN VIOLENCE AT RECORD LEVELS

Adolescents and teenagers today aren’t the “happy-go-lucky” youth of my generation. I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s and don’t remember all the turmoil, violence, and mental health issues so prevalent among today’s youth. Yes, we had bullies, fights, and jealous rage, but things like depression, drug use/abuse, violence, and suicide were unheard of. Or maybe I should say, if they happened, I never heard about them. Knowledge of mental health wasn’t as sophisticated then as it is now. I buzzed along through school unscathed by bad influences, bad behaviors, and without being bullied, a situation that rarely exists today.

The Center for Disease Control and Management, the CDC, recently published a brochure titled, “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary and Trends Report 2011-2021,” which contained some statistics that should make us very worried about today’s generation and those to come. Overall, the state of adolescent and teen mental health has worsened over the decade of the report. An astounding 57% of teen girls said they experienced sadness or hopelessness during the past year when they were surveyed. To a lesser extent, teen boys expressed the same feelings. Thirty percent of teen girls have seriously considered suicide and 18% have experienced sexual violence. 

In the U.S., 360 times a day, a young person is treated in the ER for an assault injury. Any thing from bruises, to black eyes, broken bones, sexual violence, concussions, lacerations, coma and death are seen. Among teenagers, the third leading cause of death is homicide—the intentional taking of another person’s life. That’s very alarming. The value of life has been severely diminished by gang violence, and the ritualistic killing of another to be part of a gang!

My how times have changed! In the 1950’s and ‘60’s acronyms such as LGBTQ+ did not exist. Same sex relationships didn’t have the public awareness that is now so common. Most homosexual relationships were secret, hidden, or disguised to avoid public condemnation and even physical harm. Now, these relationships begin at a young age and are given the attention that can result in mental health challenges and place the individuals at risk of violence.

Of teens who say they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, uncertain, or otherwise non heterosexual, half of them reported mental health challenges in the past year—70% of them are persistently sad or hopeless, and 22% attempted suicide. LGBTQ+ individuals have their own sets of issues to deal with in the first place, but adding teen and adolescent factors and conflicts to the unstable substrate, significantly increases the chances of mental imbalance and instability.

The CDC further breaks their statistics into gender, racial, and ethnic factors to delineate populations prone to certain mental health issues. The mental health issues addressed were sexual behavior, substance abuse, experiencing violence, suicide, and sexual and gender identity. The brochure contained a great amount detail which will not be discussed because of its complexity. 

General trends, however, give us an overview of the mental health issues all teens and adolescents deal with. The following brief statements, excerpted from this report, are an example of the many mental health issues faced by teens and adolescents:

     30% of female students drank alcohol in the past 30 days

     20% of female students experienced sexual violence in the past year

     LGBTQ+ students are more likely to use illicit substances, experience violence, and be sad

        and hopeless

     Asian students are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors than peers from other

        racial or ethnic groups

     White students are more likely to use certain illicit drugs than Asian or Black peers

     Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to use drugs than Asians

     Asians, Whites, Hispanics use alcohol more than Blacks

     Blacks and Hispanics are exposed to greater threats of violence than all others

     Blacks are less likely to report and seek help for mental health issues

     Black students are less likely to be bullied than all other groups

     White students are more likely to be victims of sexual violence

     Black students were less likely to report mental health problems but were significantly more

        likely than Asian, White, and Hispanic students to have attempted suicide

“School connectedness,” which means feeling close to people at school and feeling protected from the dangers that plague their lives, is one of the strong deterrents to the feelings of hopelessness. School is the “safe harbor” because home life for many of these teens is dysfunctional, abusive, chaotic, and not directed by a responsible parent. Parents are addicted, negligent, or completely absent from these teens’ lives. Without direction, teens and adolescents have no compass, no guide, no sense of right or wrong and sink into the behaviors that accompany mental health issues.

This information says that many kids have terribly unhappy lives. Solutions for these problems, they say, fall into three areas.

     1. School Connectedness—61% of high school students felt close to someone in their

           school and thus had peers they bond with and gain emotional support.

     2. Parental Monitoring—86% of teens has parents who know at all times where they

           were and who they are with.

     3. Stable housing—3% of students do not have a regular place or home to sleep

           making a more stable home environment

What a world teens today live in! Sex, drugs, immorality, meanness, dysfunctional families, bullying, violence; where is the influence for good—for responsibility, accountability. Teens live in a confusing world that no long emphasizes right and wrong. It’s whatever feels good or right to you. It’s no wonder such a high percentage feel hopeless or sad. I don’t pretend to have a solution, but it starts with a stable family led by two parents who love and respect one another and who jointly invest themselves in their children’s lives. Parents who are loving and caring, teach self-control, and provide direction and example to their children. 

I think that’s a good start, but a lot more is necessary. When we see reports such as the one cited here, we know society is headed the wrong way and a course correction is needed ASAP.

References: MEDICAL NEWS IN BRIEF “Teens Report Record Levels of Violence, Mental Health Challenges” JAMA 2023 March14;329(10):788.

CDC “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary and Trends Report, 2011-2021.

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