I know that look, I’ve seen it before. Eyes shifting quickly from left to right, a couple of tugs on the t-shirt trying to cover up the fact your body doesn’t look like everyone else’s. Trying desperately to look like you belong and wishing you had friends to run around and laugh with. I saw it all today in my son while watching skinny and sweaty kids running amok at a trampoline park. I saw myself at 13. Sitting there watching him from afar, I wanted to cry. I wanted to yell out, “I understand, it will be okay. You will make friends, you do belong!” But in reality, there is nothing I can say to take away that look of loneliness. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating. I’m his mom, I should be able to make all of his dreams come true. I should be able to make sure he is happy, well-rounded, and healthy, but I can’t.
I can’t prevent adolescence from being so cruel. I lived through it and survived but it was awful. I had many moments of misery, not feeling like I fit in and thinking things would never get any better. My best friend was the television. I lived vicariously through the characters I saw on my favorite shows and went to a place where I didn’t have to think about how unhappy I was. History is now repeating itself in my 13-year-old. He’s too old for play dates, I can’t pick friends for him. I have enough trouble on my own as an adult making real friends.
There has to be a better way in the age of the internet for kids to interact with one another and just be kids. If things like bell bottoms and leg warmers can make their way back in 2019, then why can’t neighborhood kids get together and ride bikes, build forts, or play kickball in the street? Maybe it’s our job as parents to make these things happen. Yet, it seems nowadays everyone I meet is too busy to care and be involved in their kids’ lives. We have to be involved, now more than ever. There is too much stuff out there that is mentally and physically taking our young adolescents places they should not be. More and more kids are depressed, have anxiety, and are socially awkward. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “as many as 2 to 3 percent of children ages 6 to 12, and 6 to 8 percent of teens may have serious depression, and an estimated 2.8 million adolescents (ages 12 to 17) in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2014. Furthermore, about 80 percent of kids with an anxiety disorder and 60 percent with depression are not getting treatment.”
Instead, mom’s today are trying to seek professional help for their kids. Therapy, medications and the like, when all they might need is some mom intervention. We have to set a better example for our kids during these very difficult and trying pre-teen to teen years. We lived it, we know more now than we did before. We need to advocate for our kids, not only for academic reasons but for social reasons. Our kids need the chance to experience real joy and a carefree adolescence before stuff starts to get real. We need to forget about scheduling and structure and need to reinforce impromptu get-togethers or hang-outs. Parents need to put down their phones, get their heads out of the clouds and see how our kids are suffering in silence.
In Atlanta and the suburbs of Atlanta, there are many families that are transplants like we are. Moving to a new place and not knowing anyone is not as easy as an adult, just think of how it is for our children, especially between the ages of 10-15. We have been here for almost 3 years and my son has still not found his place. I definitely don’t have all the answers but I need to find a way to take that look of loneliness away from my son’s face and show him there is joy in being a kid no matter where you live. So, this is my plea to other mom’s out there. I want to hear your thoughts on this. What are some things you’ve tried? What have been your experiences? What ideas do you have? I can’t be the only mom who feels powerless over this epidemic. Let’s figure it out and stop the loneliness once and for all. While we’re at it, maybe we’ll find some joy too.