by Ricky Chelette, Executive Director
This week, the CDC came out with a new study about the condition of teens in the United States. To say that the report is frightening is an understatement. Though the information is a self-disclosed accounting of teens’ current condition, it gives us incredible insight into how youth in the U.S. feel. Girls are faring much more poorly than boys, but both groups are suffering from extreme sadness or hopelessness.
The report states, “nearly 3 in 5 (57%) U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 – double that of boys, representing a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported over the past decade.
“While all teens reported increasing mental health challenges, experiences of violence, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, girls fared worse than boys across nearly all measures. The new report also confirms ongoing and extreme distress among teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ+).”1
The study goes on to say, among teens girls:
- “Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago.
- 1 in 5 (18%) experienced sexual violence in the past year—up 20% since 2017, when CDC started monitoring this measure.
- More than 1 in 10 (14%) had ever been forced to have sex—up 27% since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure.”2
The CDC suggests that the solution to these mental and physical health threats is more support for students and a more inclusive environment where educators promote school connectedness. Though students should certainly feel connected and supported at school by teachers and others, the report ignores any real cause for this rise in sadness, sexual violence, and suicidal ideations.
Is the culture contributing to greater angst in adolescence? Here are just a few things on the minds of today’s teens:
Navigating gender identity: Genderfandom.com lists over 700 possible gender identities, complete with flags and often pronouns. Sexualdiversity.org currently lists 94 gender identities. Male and Female are considered archaic social constructs that restrict human flourishing.
Navigating gender expression: In today’s world, how you express yourself does not have to correspond to your sex at birth or your gender identity. Expression is just that, expression. Identity is who you really are, and that is self-determined.
Navigating sexual identity: Today’s culture and science believe that anyone can become the opposite of their natal sex (one’s chromosomal and biological reality) through modern medicine. Gender transition is on the rise and especially among young girls.3
Managing overwhelming feelings of anxiety: The New York Times Magazine ran an article in 2017 expressing the incredible anxiety experienced by youth. Lynn Lyons, a psychotherapist, stated in the article, “Kids are being given some really dangerous messages these days about the fact that they can’t handle being triggered, that they shouldn’t have to bear witness to anything that makes them uncomfortable, and that their external environments should bend to and accommodate their needs.4
Understanding how to process trauma: Whether experienced in early, middle, or late childhood, trauma has an incredible impact on a youth’s life. The CDC reports that one in every four girls will be sexually molested by age 185 and one in every six boys.6
Understanding how to navigate life with only one parent: Nearly 1 in 4 children live in single-parent homes in the U.S.7 The U.S. has the highest rate of any nation in the world. No wonder children and teens have a difficult time navigating life when one-half of their biological parentage is missing from the daily routine of their lives.
Managing hope in a world of incredible uncertainties: Today’s youth have global access to information but need more contextualization of international realities and histories to understand the information they receive. The constant threat of global disaster from climate change, nuclear war, worldwide famine, global pandemics, financial collapse, etc., brings incredible pressures and anxiety on youth who wonder if they will ever have the experiences or opportunities afforded their parents.
These are just a few of the things plaguing our young people. Some of these difficulties have been present throughout history. However, the combination of all of these, especially the ones relating to identity and family, can present an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and haplessness that we have never experienced.
But we are not without hope! Though I am confident that a greater connection to teachers and students at school will help youth feel a sense of comfort and affirmation, it will do little for the deeper issues defining their lives and world.
What youth (and all of us) need is a revival of biblical truth. In the Bible, we discover that we are not self-creations but God-creations (Gen. 1:1). We learn that we are designed and intentionally created, male or female (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:21-25), and have a purpose and mission (Gen.1:28). We discover that we are born in families who are to love, honor, respect, and serve one another all the days of their lives (Ex. 20:12).
In the Bible, we find we are part of a greater kingdom, not bound by the things of this world (Heb. 13:14) but sustained by a Creator-Father who promises to give good gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11) and redeem all those who fully believe in Him (Rom. 10:9). And in the Bible, we also learn that we are drawn toward evil, not good (Rom. 5:12). We are sinners (Rom. 3:23). But rather than hopeless in our sin, we have been given hope through Jesus, the son of God, who came into the world to rescue us from our brokenness (Rom. 5:17-21). He has paid the price we could not pay by surrendering His sinless, perfect life for the sins of humanity (Jn. 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-26).
In the Bible, we find the balm that calms the anxieties of this world and the assurance that God is with us and will not forsake us (Matt. 28:18-20).
Our youth are dying because they long for the real TRUTH, Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life that we all desperately desire (Jn. 14:6). What most well-intentioned helpers offer is a refusal to address the real issues behind the anxiety or a drug to alleviate the stress or a safe space where all feelings are affirmed, and all identities are applauded and celebrated. That’s not reality, and that is unsustainable.
The solution to the problems we (youth and adults) face will be found in more than medicine, meditation, safe spaces, or even science. The soul of humankind longs for transcendent truth defined not by us but revealed by our Creator, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). In Him alone, we find stability, refuge, and our very present help in times of need (Ps. 46:1).