Teenagers have a reputation for being grumpy, rebellious, and more interested in hanging out with their friends than their parents. They are pushing boundaries and developing a sense of self apart from their family.
Erik Erikson, the father of developmental psychology, described this phase as identity vs. role confusion. A teen's primary role during adolescence is to discover who they are and find their place in the world. They need an environment that allows for self exploration and independence. If a young person is overburdened with expectations and responsibilities at this stage, they may struggle to find their identity. This creates uncertainty about their own needs and goals.
Healthy adolescent development was severely challenged in 2020. As the world shut down, so did the ability for adolescents to have the space and opportunity to discover who they were. Teens were forced to stay indoors, learn and interact through screens, and were denied the opportunities they required to establish their identity.
As a result, we are witnessing the worst mental health crisis in history among teenagers. According to recent CDC data, 44% of teens polled reported feeling persistently sad and hopeless in the previous year.
As the world returns to "normal," our teenagers are struggling to find their own "normal" and where they fit in as a result of the deficits they experienced. As parents, educators, and communities, we must recognize that our teenagers are suffering, and provide a safe space for them to explore this delayed stage of development, recognizing that this exploration is being done in a changed world that is different from the one they knew before.