Material Paradise, Relational Wasteland
Laura Tarantino, Staff Writer
March 20, 2012
Filed under Features
When asked to think about issues in the world, students’ might picture hungry kids in Africa or impoverished people far away. And these are extremely important issues. But pain and suffering also happens here in West County St. Louis, just in a less physical and more hidden way.
It’s shocking, but according to a study shown in Advances in Child Development, cited in Dr. Madeline Levine’s book The Price of Priviledge, 30 to 40% of 12-18-year-olds from affluent (wealthy) homes have or are experiencing troubling physcological symptoms. These symptoms could be anxiety, extreme stress, or depression. Kids often turn to eating disorders, drug use, or self-injury to try to alleviate this internal distress. Some go so far as to say that these well-to-do teens are more at risk for depression and anxiety than kids with lower socio-economic status. Many wonder how this could be true.
In her book, Levine explores several theories as to what causes this distress among some of the most privileged kids in the world.
There are definitely biological reasons for depression or anxiety; some people are more prone to become depressed because of inherited chemical imbalances.
However, there are also other reasons today’s teenagers are struggling with depression. One that stands out is the pressure put on these adolescents to be “excellent.” In West County culture, this might mean being involved in three select sports, having an outstanding GPA, or being the most liked student in class.
“[Teens] are believing the lie that their worth is at stake based on how well they perform. Performance pressure can range from how they look to how well they perform academically or athletically,” said Sherry Coggin, a professional counselor at New Hope Counseling Services in Chesterfield.
Coggin has counseled many teenagers from upper-middle class families who struggle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-injury.
Not only does culture put pressure on kids, but parents can have expectations for their children. Kids can feel as if their parents won’t love them unless they live up to the expectations their parents have set. This can lead to high amounts of pressure and despair. Often, this high-pressure parent overlaps with what experts have dubbed the “helicopter parent,” a parent who “hovers” over his or her child, in an effort to protect and manage the details of their child’s life.
“Sometimes parents are so consumed with micromanaging their child that the child doesn’t learn how to handle stress and anxiety on their own. It can really handicap them,” said Kathy Karigan, upper school counselor.
Another reason for depression is strained relationships and disconnection from family members and friends.
“My suspicion is that the lack of human interaction between us has created [these issues],” said Larry Hughes, upper school Biblical Ethics teacher.
Competition to be the best, dysfunctional family systems, and pressure put on high achievement has created kids who feel anxious, angry, disconnected, burned-out, or depressed, despite their material blessings. While these kids live in a material paradise, having all they could ever ask for and more, their world has too often become a relational wasteland, full of loneliness and a loss of purpose.
“While we have physical needs, we’re more than physical creatures. Students must ask: Where am I really connecting with someone? How am I feeding myself in terms of my relationships?” said Karigan.
“I believe that these struggles stem from feelings of isolation, abandonment and loss of purpose. Affluence is not answering the deep questions of their heart and the “things” that their parents are buying them are not satisfying to them,” said Coggin.
Many people have tried to ignore the issues of troubled teenagers from affluent families as the plight of overindulged or spoiled kids. But the emptiness and darkness is greater than that, and our community must love these kids better. Many students here at WCA have struggled with depression or know a friend who has.
“I think that a major part of it is that sometimes kids don’t think that anyone cares about them, and they forget that people love them,” said Haley Weinberg, 8th grader, who says she has had friends who have struggled with depression.
Westminster students could be a part of the healing process by being sensitive and perceptive to the struggles of other students, realizing that under the surface, their peers could be sinking into despair. Students must seek to encourage one another on a deeper level and care for each other’s hearts.
“To be healthy, students must practice the art of slowing down and the spiritual discipline of meditation on who God is, remembering that he is in control, and truly asking for God’s wisdom,” said Karigan.
“Teenagers can recover [from depression and other issues] with the help of healthy adults who can help them figure out what the deep questions of their heart are and that there are answers that will satisfy their soul. Ultimately, they need to know that they are made with divine purpose, that they are loved by their heavenly father and that they can have purpose and life in Christ without having to perform or prove their worth. There is nothing they can do to make God not love them. This brings teenagers hope,” said Coggin.