The world has changed. Quickly. Since the dawn of social media, it can feel like society is moving far too quickly for us to keep up. Education - and how we teach - has changed with the advent of the internet. Parenting styles have seemingly had to adjust to make space for social media and gaming. And mental health is the new buzz-term that has been increasing in popularity significantly over the last ten years - even more so since March 2020.
It's easy to feel swamped and overwhelmed as an adult, but when you're a teenager growing up around TikTok, Instagram, BeReal and SnapChat... adolescence is now no longer about simply trying to navigate hormonal changes, in-person bullying, and social pressure.
Yep. The world has changed. And it's our job - as adults, mentors, teachers, coaches and parents - to try and figure out how to best catch up with the world.
First: let's break it down a little bit to look at the challenges that the past few years have presented to our young people - specifically when it comes to their mental, social and neurological health.
Teen Mental Health
You may recognize the above image from the TEDx Talk that I presented earlier this year, but it should be noted that the statistics indicated around the effects of the pandemic on teen mental health are from a study conducted in March of 2021 - over 18months ago from the time I'm writing this particular blog post.
In March of 2021, a year in to the pandemic: the centers for disease control and prevention were still hopeful that the end was near. Even with the hope, however, significant damage was already rearing its head when it came to the mental health and wellness of our young people. 18months later, and much of the world is still fearful [and frustrated] as a result of the COVID19 pandemic.
I know, I'm as sick of talking about it as you are, but the implications of how the past few years have affected us are huge - with levels of anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep patterns and withdrawn or aggressive behavior having increased dramatically compared to even 10 years ago.
Young people are seek professional help more than ever, getting prescribed prescription drugs, and even developing other health problems as a result of the stress, overwhelm, and anxiety they're trying to battle with.
The world has changed, and our young people's needs have changed. So how do we best serve them?
Teen Social Health
n addition to the struggles young people are having with their mental health: teenagers are also developing some very different habits when it comes to socializing, communication styles, and even peer pressure.
The internet has certainly come a long way since MySpace, AOL, and even Bebo [ha!] with adolescents now turning to the likes of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok [while it's still legal in the US], WeChat, SnapChat or even online gaming like Fortnite or Minecraft
As such, we find more and more teenagers struggle with face to face communication: instead preferring text to even a phone call. Whether it's due to fear of immediate response, misconceived tone of voice, or simply not wanting to be like their parents: many teens turn to online social media platforms for connection, validation and community.
Which is fine and dandy... until it's not.
Consistent - and constant - online social media use can have dramatic effects on a person's behavior, especially as the content they consume feeds algorithms that they may not even be aware of. For example, the more your teenager watches videos about why the world is flat [even in jest]: the more the algorithms that are Instagram, TikTok etc will feed them more content supporting the concept of the world being flat... which then opens them to an online social media community of people that may or may not be conducive to what you, as a parent, may deem as appropriate or safe.
To take this on a slightly different route when it comes to social media consumption: it's also much more difficult to navigate safe social practices around online bullying, peer pressure, or provocative conversations [especially related to sexuality, online sexual activity and how this all affects teen self esteem].
Now, I don't want to scare you, but according to the national institute of health, and similar organizations:
9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography online before the age of 18.
20% of 16-year-olds and 30% of 17-year-olds have received a sext.
28% of 16-17-year-olds have unintentionally been exposed to pornography online.
The combination of these stats and the effects of social media consumption as it pertains to young people's abilities to communicate, connect and express themselves make it imperative that we take a deeper look at how we can best - as a community - facilitate the social health and wellbeing of our young people.
Teen Neurological Health
So... teens face a number of mental health and social media health risks at the moment... but let's also look at the neurological challenges that the 2022/2023 teenager might be experiencing.
Of course, peer pressure has been an issue since the dawn of humanity, however when we look at how easily young people can be targeted [especially if they struggle with anxiety, socializing, or depression], it's important to also look at what coping mechanisms your young person might be drawn to.
Unfortunately, it's really easy for the average kid to turn to drug and alcohol use - specially if they have friends who've been prescribed prescription drugs. Using marijuana has been legalized in many states now, but the fact still remains that a teenagers brain doesn't fully finish forming until the age of 25. Marijuana use, binge drinking, and any other illicit drugs being consumed... they all can have a significant effect on your teens brain cognition and development.
So... what do you do?
It's not helpful to look at this time in both your life and the life of your teenager, and feel like giving up. We are all in this hodgepodge of the COVID aftermath together, so surely: there must be a way to help your teen, right?
So instead of trying to stop the train: let's look at ways that we can jump on board and see if we can help steer its direction safely, healthily and have fun while doing it.
The methodology I've been using since the very start of my childhood - let alone my teenage years - has been the art of songwriting, and I truly feel it has been instrumental in all facets of my own mental, neurological and social health.
By being able to write my own songs, I've not only been able to
identify, simplify, and clap back against each overwhelming, stressful or frustrating pain point
But I've also been able to
Find the right words to express myself
Use the "safety blanket" of creative expression to communicate with my parents teachers and community
Personify my own struggles with depression, abuse, and anxiety from when I was a teenager to start to develop healthier ways of treating myself, and my health
But it's been so much more than that:
By writing my own songs, with obvious themes and topics and phrases, I can also reprogram the algorithms of social media to now feed me back with more of what I'm feeding it.
For example: if I write a song on feeling frustrated with love
I can then cut that up into bite sized chunks for Instagram Reels and TikTok, and BAM! I'll start getting more content in my feed highlighting the frustrations of love.
Similarly: if I write a song about clapping back against racism and bigotry:
I will also start to receive more content in my personal feed that is equality and diversity driven.
So... What about the Whole Topic of Sexual Activity and Exposure when it comes to Your Teenager?
I believe a huge component as to why teenagers can so easily fall victim to any kind of online solicitation is simply down to not feeling comfortable when it comes to communication with parents and trusted adults.
The art of songwriting is a beautiful way for young people to start to explore how to use their voice, and how to find the right language to express themselves accurately and safely.
Even better: when we can support this form of communication, they're not only able to discuss difficult-to-talk-about topics, but also self-identify solutions and ways to break away from the toxicity.
This one of the things I did when I wrote my song "Addicted to a Dream"
This song gave me the ability to "openly" discuss toxic relationships, abuse and every other uncomfortable feeling that came with the situation.
The song became an almost invitation to discuss more with my mother, my family, and the community at large when it comes to hard-to-have conversations.
And then there's the Brain
Music affects the brain in so many beautiful and powerful ways, and for someone like me - especially - who's had 10 brain surgeries - this is rather important.
But for YOU, dear reader, if your teenager has experienced any kind of brain trauma - be it drug and alcohol use related, stress related [because stress does affect the brain] or due to a physical injury: you might be surprised to note the numerous benefits that music can have on the brain:
Connecting both sides of the brain simultaneously, which promotes brain function
Helping with controlling behavior, decision-making and expression
Increasing expression and emotional responses to music
Improving perception and analysis
Activating memories and providing context
Stimulating the increase of oxytocin and dopamine
Lowering levels of cortisol
In other words: Music helps to regrow, redevelop and retrain the brain
Especially when we combine the act of creating music, and writing lyrics together - to facilitate that mental, emotional and social health fully.
We just need to know how to use music and songwriting properly to ensure your teenagers ability to thrive in spite of the stress and trauma of the past few years.
And I want to show you how.
I have been working in the youth education and empowerment field for 17 years now, and as an award-winning singer/songwriter for 20years.
If you are looking at ways to help your teen thrive and develop into a healthy, resilient and confident adult: I'd love to discuss with you how songwriting and music might be the effective tool you've been looking for.
Book a call with me here to learn more about how Youth Empowerment through Songwriting can serve the mental, emotional and social health of your teenager, and BONUS! I'll send you a free copy of my book: Reconnect with your Teenager: A Parent's Guide as well.
I look forward to speaking with you soon.