Rates of child and teen depression and suicide continue to rise, as they have for 50 years. As regular readers of this column know, I do not agree in the least with current explanations, much less the “treatments” based on them, proposed by the mainstream in the mental health professions. For the past year, on my weekly radio program (American Family Radio) I have challenged anyone in the mental health field to provide irrefutable evidence that the concept of a so-called “biochemical imbalance” is provable. Crickets. Same with my ongoing challenge to the efficacy of current treatment approaches, including expensive drugs that don’t reliably outperform placebos (but, unlike placebos, involve the risk of dangerous side-effects).
The question, then, becomes: If I don’t think that child and teen depression is becoming epidemic because of genes, biochemical imbalances, and “brain differences,” what is my explanation? Do I have one or am I merely a contrarian?
Yes and no. My non-materialistic explanation is quite simple: The rise of child and teen depression since the 1960s is the inevitable corollary of a corresponding decline in respect for parents and other adult authority figures — one’s elders in general — that began developing among America’s youth during that very deconstructive decade.
It must be noted, with emphasis, that whether children develop respect for their parents and adult authority in general is entirely — as in 100 percent — up to adults. I am proposing, therefore, that respect for authority among America’s youth has eroded because where children are concerned, many if not most adults no longer possess respect for their own authority. As a grandmother once asked me, “How is it that my 30-something year-old daughter has no problem telling adults who work under her what to do but takes orders from my 7-year-old grandson?”
Children NEED to respect adults, beginning with their parents. That requires adults who recognize that need and step unabashedly up to the plate when it comes to the attendant responsibility. Adult authority anchors a child’s sense of well-being in a world that is otherwise fraught with danger on every side. Adult authority is the antidote to unpredictability. Its meta-message is, “You have nothing to worry about because I am taking care of essential business in your life until you can take care of it for yourself.”
The problem began when, in the 1960s, progressives began demonizing all forms of traditional authority — in the military, church, workplace, classroom, and, most significantly, in the family. Mental health professionals rose up in one voice to proclaim that traditional parent authority wreaked havoc on the young psyche. This fiction was the centerpiece of their campaign for the so-called “democratic” family. “Because I said so” — which is mere affirmation of the legitimacy of the authority of the adult in question — was replaced with “What do you think, honey?” And the snowball began rolling downhill.
The paradox is that giving children power in their relationships with adults weakens rather than strengthens them. As it erodes their sense of security, it increases their sense of vulnerability. As the feeling that adults can’t be relied upon (i.e., a sense of helplessness) grows, so does resentment and lack of respect. Defiance of adult authority is intoxicating to a child, but like all intoxicants, it is ultimately self-destructive.
Almost without exception, parents who describe depressed teens describe belligerent, disrespectful teens. Likewise, when these parents – those of them who can straighten their backbones, that is — begin to calmly and purposefully reclaim their natural authority, their kids begin to get better.
Respect for adult authority on the part of a child is a good thing for his or her parents, but it’s an even better thing for the child.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.