Our teens are in trouble. According to an article in the “Institute for Family Studies” reporting on a CDC report on declining teen mental health approximately 44% of our high schoolers, in 2021, felt hopeless or sadness – up from 26% in 2010.
Interestingly, this trend began to increase after 2010 and was not specifically caused by the pandemic of 2021. The author of the aforementioned article suggests the rise in mental health problems is increasingly proportional to the increase in social media usage.
Recently, after visiting with elementary school administrators, everyone of them has expressed concern about the increase in number of students who are emotionally troubled, causing serous disturbances in the classroom. Many of these students require one-on-one adult aids. I can empathize with these administrators, given their wariness of when ‘the next uncontrollable outburst’ will arise. This places everyone on edge – students and educators alike.
What are the Causes?
Besides the increase in social media, two other possible underlying causes, I think, contribute to declining mental health and should be considered. Both are linked to the political worldview of their parents and increasingly taught in school.
• Unaccepted personal responsibility and
• a greater acceptance of the philosophy of “relativism”.
Misplaced or Unaccepted Responsibility
Responsibility is the essence of life. A person gains control over his or her future by accepting responsibility in the present. Accepting responsibility gives an individual power to alter their circumstances and creates mental peace of mind.
The opposite of accepting responsibility is victimhood characterized by blaming others, circumstances, or past actions of others. Victimhood creates a sense of helplessness and powerlessness which leads to depression, frustration, and anger and poor mental health.
The rise in victimhood is fueled by several factors including:
• Federal poverty programs that trap individuals in poverty by giving “handouts” rather than “hand-ups” this undermines the mental health of adults in a home affecting the youth.
• Mental health providers that encourage blaming others rather than taking personal responsibility to make changes regardless of the past.
• Socialism that robs personal responsibility by centralizing responsibility in the state.
• Most recently Critical Race Theory that proclaims all income inequalities are caused by “white privilege” and the only solution is to empower a NEW CLASS of ELITES to solve everyone’s problems thus stripping individuals of responsibility and power.
• A dangerous brand of Social Emotional Learning that uses group peer pressure to create conformity.
Society exposes our youth to more “victim theories” than to “empowerment theories”. The more a student internalize these victimhood philosophies, the angrier or depressed they can become and the greater negative impact on their mental health.
Students and adults that take charge (responsibility) over their own lives and strive to make the world a better place create better mental health for themselves and their peers. This suggest that adults (teachers) that promote critical race theory and other progressive, big-government theories are guilty of contributing to our youth mental health crisis. Given this hypothesis, it is incumbent on the adults in society to empower students by sharing examples with them of the poor and disadvantaged that have risen out of poverty and hardship to give the hope.
A great example for children and young adults of success emerging from struggle is Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who performed the first successful separation of conjoined twin who were attached at the back of their head in an operation that lasted 22 hours and involved a 70-member surgical team. An only parent, Dr. Carson’s mother challenged him and his brother with reading and writing assignments, in addition to their regular schoolwork. From his mother’s love and devotion, Dr. Carson developed a new-found interest in learning eventually earning him a scholarship to Yale University – and an ultimate opportunity to save lives.
Next, young adults who tend to maintain sound mental health share three common characteristics.
(1) The believe in a fixed-law universe, where there is predictability and limits that must be recognized and obeyed. This is especially important for youth, who require realistic boundaries to help them set limits, in preparation for adulthood.
(2) They demonstrate gratitude and respect.
(3) They accept personal responsibility, (see above).
America has operated under two sources of a fixed-law universe – a universe with predictability. (The laws of the universe don’t change, however, our understanding of them does.)
• the Christian faith and
• natural law as taught by a Roman, Cicero, and John Locke and others.
The power of natural law is that it suggests a body of eternal laws exist that govern the universe. These laws can be discovered and when obeyed bless mankind. There are laws of gravity, electricity, physics, motion, etc. which cannot be ignored. Natural law also extends to human relations, the economy, and politics. Not all natural laws have yet been discovered. Cicero taught that natural law is
“…the same law, everlasting and unchangeable, will bind all nations and all times.”
Natural law can bind us together in harmony when we use certain conventions of interaction and speech. For example, words must have agreed upon meaning. The meaning of words is critical. If a word has no concrete meaning and can be changed on a whim, then there can be no discussion and reality cannot be discovered. It cannot be discovered if the meaning of words changes from person to person. All human discussion collapses and reality is lost.
Reality, or natural law, is discovered by respectful dialogue where reason is employed. To force another person to accept a new reality is a sign of disrespect, coercions, and violence against reason and humanity.
Natural Law has not been taught to the masses in America for many generations and is an unfamiliar term. In effect, this source of a fixed-law universe philosophy has been removed from American society. Likewise, Christian teachings were removed from public education in the 1960s, since Federal courts have consistently prohibited sectarian doctrine to be taught in public schools.
As church attendance has declined and natural law removed from public schools and public discourse, more and more Americans have been deprived of the idea of an eternal law philosophy rather have been taught relativists philosophies for generations and organized their lives increasingly with relativist ideals around a doctrine that “knowledge, morality, and truth exist in relation to the culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.”
We are reaping the harvest of relativism. One obvious sign can be seen in our youth who are particularly in need of limitations, stability, and direction. These wondering souls lack grounding. The result: They feel increasingly unsure, uncertain, and unconfident. They are adversely impacted by outside influences, which negatively effects the soundness and strength of their mental health.
The Problem with Relativism and Mental Health
The main problem with relativism is that every man and woman invent their own truth without a need to tie it to an underlying reality. Relativism does not provide stability. Everything can be changed on a whim. This especially has a negative effect on young minds creating confusion and worry. They feel powerless and hopeless. The more relativist they become…. The more harm is done.
What Can Be Done?
Steps can be taken by parents, school systems, and communities to address youth mental health issues. Another government program is not needed to solve the problem. The first step is to create mental stability by exposing students to the bedrock philosophy of limited government which is natural law.
Parents can become more aware of the teachings of Cicero and John Locke. They can share their perspectives with their children of the order of the universe. Parents can also take their children to church where they may be exposed to different elements of civic virtue.
Schools can provide more practical career exploration so students can see how they can take control of their lives and earn a livable wage. Schools, parents, and the media can share examples of minorities and poor that, by taking responsibility, improved their lives.
School can refocus their efforts on teaching the original intent of our Founding Fathers which is full of natural law references. Schools can also teach, with historical accuracy, the benefit the free-market system has been to humanity and teach, with historical accuracy, the misery imposed on humanity by the relativist Marxian and socialistic philosophies.
Give parents and students more curriculum choices so the market can drive instruction.
We have the power to improve youth mental health, but we must recognize that adults who teach relativism to the youth cause harm. This mental health crisis is not driven by a large increase in schizophrenia or psychosis. It is driven by an increase in depression and stress which is affected by what is being taught and what is not being taught in school and in the home.