In mid-February, The CDC reported a startling increase in teenage girls committing suicide. Every woman who may have heard these statistics, every mother, every sister, every aunt, and every woman who cares about women, must have felt some internal sting. I was shaken to the core. With one teenage niece and another niece who just went through her teen years deeply depressed, I imagined losing one of them in such a way.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other newspapers I subscribe to had journalists posting multiple op-eds with theories on what was happening. Collectively, however, the most troublesome reports I read presented statistics that this terrible issue was not new. Research conducted by the University of California stated that between 2007 and 2018, the rate of suicide in youth ages 10 to 24 increased by 60%.
On what beach was I standing in what part of the world with my head buried deep in the sand?
In 2004, do you know what “precious” gift our nation was given? Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg launched it in 2003 as FaceMash. He created the software and the site as a way for Harvard students to play a “Hot or Not?” game. The website allowed visitors to compare two students’ pictures side by side and let them decide who was more attractive. Think about it.
Oh yes, I saw cartoons and even photos with entire families gathered at the dinner table with their attention glued to their smartphones. My family gatherings are still somewhat similar. Even I joined Facebook in 2007, and later LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and other social platforms while my husband splurged on the newest iPhones for both of us. I enjoyed staying in touch with friends, reading opinions, and watching Influencers. Still, I was not a victim of cyberbullying until this past year (the pain I experienced was more profound than anything I could have imagined).
Yet, our teens have been subject to cyberbullying. Both girls and boys.
In the late 70s, going through high school, my insecurities about being accepted by one social group or another could make or break a semester. Suffice it to say that I had been subject to several adverse childhood experiences that molded my insecurity about being accepted into concrete. I was caught on the roller coaster of trying to fit in during my adolescence. In the 70s, we did not have social media, however. I can only imagine how my mental health may have suffered if I had held myself to the cliquish standards of beauty and accomplishment we see on social media today.
Regarding the horrific statistics the CDC released weeks ago, I will not blame smartphone developers. I will not blame Mark Zuckerberg. I will not blame Elon Musk. Technological advances were coming.
However, I am ashamed of myself for not understanding how social media magnified the insecurities of social acceptance and self-acceptance. I could have become someone who made a difference in the lives of young people much sooner.
Perhaps, I can find some redemption in the work I do now.
I’ve joined a team of amazing people at an organization called Mindfulness First. Mindfulness First has been going into Arizona and California school districts for nine years, teaching mindfulness tools to children. Mindfulness First’s curriculum focuses on awareness of emotions and techniques to regulate the harmful and scary feelings children face that create sadness and anger (depression and aggression). Research by two Arizona universities concludes that these kids are better able to deal with feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Our team offers training to adults as well—teachers and our workforce. I’ve signed on to begin the same training in April.
As Mindfulness First begins to address teenage girls’ vulnerability to sadness, we are partnering with school districts, healthcare providers, and even health insurance companies. We are overhauling our curriculum so it addresses this significant teenage issue.
I’m proud to say that the curriculum overhaul also addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion. Deaf/Blind, neurodiverse, and disabled children will all have programs tailored to provide them with resiliency tools and general mental well-being.
Mindfulness First offers preventative mental health tools so each child, teen, and adult can make choices about expressing emotion in healthy ways.
I plan to develop think tanks and gatherings of solution-oriented souls who care and are ready to make an impact. It’s not too late for me, and hopefully for anyone else who wants to nurture mental well-being in this mixed-up crazy world of ours.
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Should you want to know more about Mindfulness First, visit their website at www.mindfulnessfirst.org. You can also email me there as well at firstname.lastname@example.org.