Weight of Our World

Today’s teens have more to process

In a typical year, teens have a lot on their minds — fitting in at school, being part of social crowds and excelling in extracurriculars. But, this last year was no typical year. It was perplexing for all of us. Perhaps the most challenging part? There’s no date on the calendar when “normal” life will resume.

“Nobody can provide reassurance that things are going to get better on any kind of timetable and the uncertainty of not knowing when things will be okay again is very challenging,” said Michelle Roley-Roberts, PhD, CHI Health Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Take the stresses of the pandemic and pile those on top of typical teen worries and the political and social divide our country experienced. It can be a lot for our kids to cope with — sometimes too much.

“Kids feel like they need to take a stance on certain issues,” said Dr. Roley-Roberts. “Adolescence is about testing the waters and figuring out who you are, wearing many hats. Now, it seems if you try on one hat, you’ll always have to wear that hat — no matter if it doesn’t fit you.”

The consequence of all these thoughts and pressures is increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

“If you think about a boiling pot and we had it on medium before — it’s now on high and feelings are starting to bubble over and over,” Dr. Roley-Roberts said.

So what can we do for our kids? Let them know it’s okay to feel sad and uncomfortable sometimes. If “sometimes” becomes more like “all the time,” reach out for help. Despite the challenges we’ve had and continue to face, the good news is our kids are often better at adjusting to all the changes.

“It’s harder as an adult to go through something like a pandemic,” Dr. Roley-Roberts said. “I hope our kids look back in five or 10 years from now and find that they’re more resilient than they ever thought they could be. I hope they’re stronger because of it.”


Michelle Roley-Roberts, PhD