Understanding Your Teen: Privilege Problems

Before I dive knee-deep into this blog entry, I’m going to begin with a little Q&A.

Q: Can teens of caring parents with most needs & wants met and plenty of opportunities at their disposal experience unhappiness, disconnection, and mental illness?

A: In short, absolutely YES.  And actually, according to recent studies, they appear to have a higher risk of experiencing these symptoms.

Time after time we see parents come into our office with their teens utterly confused and surprised by their child’s problems. Now I’m not talking about parents that appear to “not care” or are neglectful. No, I mean parents who adore and love their children and honestly believe they are giving them everything they have…time, financial resources, opportunities. A lot of the teens I see live in middle to upper-class families who have everything they need when it comes to food, shelter, clothing, and education, and many of the things they want. Parents look at me genuinely puzzled when they discover their well-provided for child is cutting, experiencing signs of anxiety or depression, experiencing an eating disorder, or generally unhappy (to name a few examples). And it turns out that what we are experiencing in our offices here in Atlanta is not happening in isolation.

 The following is an excerpt from a book called The Price of Privilege by Dr. Madeline Levine:

“America’s newly identified at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in the country.”

This has actually become one of the new “hot topics” in the counseling field where therapists and researchers are becoming highly concerned about “privileged children.” On the surface, these children can appear to have “everything,” and yet when we peel back the layers we discover that many of these teens are lost, confused, disconnected, and often times hopeless in ways we didn’t see as often years ago. While theories vary as to why this is happening, the research is tilting towards the belief that specific dynamics of this privileged generation are creating the “perfect storm” for mental illness and behavior problems, as well as a loss of identity, autonomy, and relational skills.

All this to say, if you find yourself baffled at your teen or preteen’s current mental and emotional state, you are not alone. And you are not “reading too much into things.” We recommend that you read Dr. Levine’s book and this article as a first step to understanding your teen. If you want additional help, talking to a therapist or licensed counselor is a good option.


Mary Overstreet, LAMFT

moverstreet@ GROWcounseling.com

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