The Social Brain
Of Peers and Parents
The Rising Tide
As adolescence proceeds, we see an increase in the incidence of depression, suicidal ideation, substance misuse, eating disorders and psychosis. Families and children face many pressures, such as illness, divorce, financial and personal upheaval which can accumulate and place strain on parent child bonds. With few alternate adults to turn to, youth often turn to their same age peers during these challenges, for a time often coming across as carefree and unaffected. However the world of peer relationships is unstable, many peers are struggling with their own problems, and hostility and rejection are everywhere to be found. As these pressures accumulate and as peers turn to one another, or turn inward, the chances of mental health issues reaching critical levels increases steadily. Drugs, self harm and disordered eating can serve as powerful ways to avoid pain and modify stress in the short term, but can quickly turn into compulsive patterns that are difficult to change, complicating long term social problems. Suicide looms as an ultimate "way out" that all too many youth consider. As parents find their influence on their troubled teens waning, their frustration and stress level naturally rise, and parents are themselves often under-supported in this world of ever decreasing social capital. (See Putnam "Bowling Alone")
Turning the Tide
Hopefully, with our greater understanding of neurobiology and of the developmental importance of the attachment relationship, we as a society may come to rethink our approaches to our vulnerable youth. Rethinking our approach to isolating youth in same age cohorts and instead integrating adolescents more successfully into integrated, age stratified, social contexts would certainly be worth considering. Perhaps by doing so we may see some reduction in the rates of adolescent mental health problems, violence, substance abuse and relationship problems that have come to dominate our news sources in recent years.