Keeping America Safe / Safety & Health

Failing America’s Teens – Damning Data

In my youth, older people cared about younger. That was rural Maine. The young naturally resisted advice about work, health, standards, what not to do, and the way-out-there place called The Future. Now and then, we listened. Older folks were WWII veterans, teachers, livers of life. Today, getting on that wave is hard, but the data is damning. We are failing America’s teens.

How? Lots of ways, even if the task is harder, slope steeper, cultural and intergenerational gaps wider – which they may not be. Before saying it is “impossible,” look at the data.

Pre-COVID, 36 percent of high school kids were alienated, and reported “persistent feelings” of hopelessness. On the left, people say change is too slow; on the right too fast – but here is the thing, that alienation is real. It exists.

Then came COVID, which turned a controlled fire into a forest fire. Teens depressed or reporting persistent hopelessness, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), jumped to 44 percent. One in five considered suicide, and one in ten tried.

Missing – empirically, logically, and intuitively – was “connectedness.” The definition of “school” changed from happy, regular, personal interaction to “zoom,” distance, and disorientation. Teachers did their best while political actors fumbled, kids becoming collateral damage.

In an age when politics is somehow everything, kids’ mental health seems secondary. No one intended this, even if some foresaw it, but it happened. Personal interactions, at the key developmental ages of K-12, have been amputated, leaving kids in emotional deficit.

Data proves the point. National surveys show connections to adults at school are vital to mental health. With them, a third of kids still suffer; without them, more than half feel hopeless. With restored ties, suicide drops in half, so do attempts. Needed also are peer-to-peer connections.

What else is happening? Big thing. We need to be honest about the damage. Tectonic plates are shifting.  We need to think hard about how to reverse them. We have the power, need to use it.

High drug abuse, climbing before 2020 due to legalized marijuana, instant access to high-potency drugs, addiction, and overdoses – disproportionately affects youth. CDC reports alcohol-related traffic deaths at 28 percent of the total, and drug-induced at 16 percent. Shocking, 80 percent of domestic violence is tied to drug abuse. Kids are again collateral damage.

More immediately, abuse of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, meth, and prescription opioids – and overdose deaths – have been rising. “Driven by illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine, and cocaine,” the impulse to escape, self-medicate, and experiment is often fatal.

No longer academic, every demographic is hit, minorities more but everyone hard. Annual costs top $1 trillion. Not only a policy failure but a cultural and intergenerational failure.

Past pales by comparison to what is happening now, a harvest of negligence, accelerating escapism, confusion, drug addiction, fatal overdoses. This is no joke. The curve looks like a plane suddenly going vertical, not a gradual takeoff.

Overdose mortality – kids who died – ages 14 to 18 jumped by 94 percent between 2019 and 2020 from fentanyl, as addiction soared. Data jumped 20 percent in 2021, overdose deaths topping 100,000.

Data is not partisan, not politics. It is societal. This is the world we created – and it is consuming America’s next generation. Yes, borders need to be closed, respect for law enforcement, rule of law, and non-addicted life choices restored. 

Yes, a combination of data-based prevention (real education about drug use and addiction), effective treatments (empirical, faith-based, lasting), enforcement (good laws consistently applied), and international engagement (as most illegal drugs are foreign) is critical.

But there is more. The greatest influence in our lives, every one of us, was a caring adult – a parent, grandparent, teacher, neighbor, or combination of “older folks,” who gave us compass, helped us set some standards, told us the truth, how life worked, what would kill us.

Intergenerational connectedness is the most important part of any society’s survival. Passing forward social norms that worked, life lessons acquired, hope and love vested in us – is our job.

We must stay engaged. We cannot all lead our community, state, or heaven-forbit the nation, but we can affect the lives around us positively. We can reach outward, make connections, relieve some of that early-life fear and anxiety that naturally attends growing up.

Here is the thing. Compassion, empathy, and connection between older folks and youth is part of what makes this nation so great, no kidding, no politics. If we lose that awareness, are afraid of it, fail to teach those who resist because they do not know and are young – we lose the nation.  

A mountain of data suggests we are failing our teens. Actually, it does not suggest, it proves. Due and owing is that IOU we gave our elders – a need to pass forward the care they showed. Because they did, we must. If not obvious before now, it is now.

Growing up in rural Maine, people took time to point me in the right direction, forgive and correct errors, teach with patience, help me imagine the possible, avoid the incorrigible, and find a road that went somewhere. We owe the same to today’s teens. They are waiting. The time is now.

We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...

Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.

Donate Now

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter
and Download the AMAC App

Sign Up Today Download

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter!

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 months ago

This is a subject I could discuss for hours. Where we went wrong is obvious to me. I grew up respecting my parents and authority and if you are honest. that respect was born out of fear. I knew with certainty that I would be punished, severely punished, if I did something bad. If I was punished at school, it was minor compared to the punishment I would get at home. If I committed a crime, I knew I would go to jail. If I led a sinful life I knew I would spend eternity in hell. I also knew I was responsible for my own actions. I grew up with no one who used drugs, never saw or smelled marijuana until I became a police officer in 1967. Now I don’t know anyone whose family has not been impacted by drugs, my own sister (20 years younger) died from a drug overdose. The Viet Nam war and the civil rights movements of the 60’s and 70’s resulted in relaxed attitudes and laws. We became more tolerant, sensitive and considered environment as an excuse for crime and drug use. Politically correct has replaced common sense, people are afraid to speak the truth. Parents allow their children to do whatever they please and everyone gets a trophy. The “woke” movement is the worst thing that has ever happened to our country. We are teaching our children sexual perversion is normal, that they are automatically racist if they were born white and all of their problem are someone else’s fault. We have lowered our standards for everyone to make it easier for a few and it helps no one. We have to teach our children respect and responsibility and we have to eliminate acceptance of drug use to save our country.

Phillip Ridenour
11 months ago
Reply to  Granky

Nail on the head: parents allow their children to do whatever they please… Yes, society makes parents’ jobs harder, but you wanted them; you had them; now RAISE them. Do your job. There’s no guarantee that they’ll turn out right, but at least the odds are better in their favor.

Eileen Jennings
11 months ago

The year prayer was taken out of school was the beginning of the decline of this nation. There are four years between my husband and I. When we compare what those four years meant in change it is so obvious to us now but back then, as young people we had no idea what those in charged had put in motion. Now we are reaping it. So many teens we meet seem to feel a sense of hopelessness and it is heartbreaking. We need to return to God and His Word for our guidance and not be afraid to exult righteousness as the Word of God tells us.

11 months ago

Besides prayer being taken out of school, when man’s laws now over rule God’s laws such as abortion and same sex marriage, things are just going to get worse. God has attempted several times to get his creation’s attention but he is getting ignored. Repentance is needed fast, the Christian church needs to wake up and act decisively and the abomination laws need to be overturned. Until then, this nation will continue to suffer.

Philip Hammersley
11 months ago

Drug use, suicide, depression, domestic violence, and educational regression have been caused by the phony “science” related to COVID. And Senile Joe is STILL trying to keep the mask mandate! People NEED to see each other and interact (unless they are hiding to avoid getting hard questions).

Dennis Beverage
11 months ago

I have to agree with Eileen, this illness, not only among the young but for many should be mature adults, began with the loss of faith and worship in the family that was emphasized by the removal of prayer in schools. But whether or not we choose to revive religious faith or simply bring back the common sense values that America was built on, we must begin to set examples and provide leadership for our young adults (ie teens to 30 something’s) that helps them to see through the dangers and worthlessness of drugs and other escape mechanisms, and develop the values that adults must have to be be successful at careers, at family development, and leadership contributions to our communities. The values examples we have today, from the media elites to the music and film personalities and a large segment of our politicians who hold office only to become millionaires (leadership be damned), make it very difficult for young minds to absorb the skills necessary for leadership and responsibility.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x