Published in FAITH column June 18, 2017
A particular psychological perspective proposes adolescence as the most personally problematic in life. Testimony to this is a belief about the depressing impact of some VCE literary texts and the 2016 Mission Australia survey of young people that found increasing concern about mental health issues. Furthermore, the controversy about a 13-year-old female’s suicide on TV in 13 Reasons Why suggests a reappraisal about our comprehension of the human condition during those difficult years.
The pressures on adolescents today across the socio-economic spectrum can engender complex conflicts manifesting as discontent, oft accompanied by self-deprecating attitudes and a pessimistic persuasion. Despite being 60-years-something, I clearly remember my own occasionally depressing and anxious adolescence, at times having suicidal thoughts as I indulged my sadness. Enjoying social friendships at school, I nonetheless sometimes felt alone, unwilling to worry family or friends with my anguish.
Simultaneously, I was an academic achiever appreciating my own abilities, imbued with a reasonably strong sense of self and confidence for critical thinking and creative inspiration, aspiring ambitiously to a meaningful career. It wasn’t that I actually wanted to die, rather I was just disturbed by disconcerting emotions.
Resolving this ambivalence over several years involved acknowledging that always being happy and irrefutably certain was contrary to being young, vulnerable and naive about life’s challenges. Too often, it was negatively confounded by unrealistic expectations to be adult instead of adolescent.
Self-doubt, low moods and anxiety can permeate our teen years as much as the excitement of new pleasures. Reading a myriad books, watching diverse TV programs and movies, writing a journal and engaging with some empathic people offered valuable insights, helping explain and elucidate my ambiguous sentiments and reassuring me other teenagers experienced similar angst, later smiling at their struggle.
Transcending the troughs of being a teen requires not just resilience but an inner self-belief without false panaceas that mask real feelings. Self-reflection and awareness underpinned by honest hard work can inspire acceptance of faults, frailties and foibles as quintessentially human, an ideal of consummate happiness abandoned as fantasy.
Maintaining self belief amid emotional turmoil and proscriptive social norms is not always easy, but what ever is? Cherishing faith in self can herald a new way of being, positively and pertinently penned by historian Richard H. Tawney in “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism” in 1926: “Societies, like individuals, have their moral crises…(but also) spiritual revolutions.”