“Pull Yourself Up by the Bootstraps”

In this Op-Ed, Friedman makes the argument that both parents, and the media, are overreacting to their teens’ self-reported anxiety levels. Friedman also disagrees that modern technology is influencing alleged increasing levels of anxiety in today’s teens. While he makes a compelling case against studies attempting to explain how technology affects anxiety in teens, we must also consider that this too is an opinion piece. Even if Friedman is correct in that teens’ clinical anxiety levels are not rising, his “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” view of the world is deeply troubling, and will only exacerbate the stigma against those who suffer from anxiety and other mental illnesses.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) statistical survey in 2016, 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder. Whether that percentage has increased or not with the current generation, those youth that are currently suffering are nonetheless subject to assumptions and stigmas surrounding their anxiety. Much like Friedman said, it is easy to feel that those with anxiety are simply overreacting to “normal” stressors. In my opinion, if an adolescent feels anxious enough to bring it up to a parent, knowing they will be faced with the stigma of mental illness, it is incredibly important to take them seriously and treat them as you would any other medical patient. When a patient comes in complaining of a headache, you ask them to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10. This self-reported number is subjective, just like the anxiety levels of a teen, but even if you doubt that their headache merits a “6,” you still treat them for their pain. Why should it be any different for those struggling with anxiety?

In another New York Times article by Friedman, “Why Teenagers Act Crazy” discusses how the early development of teenagers’ amygdalae, and the delayed development of the prefrontal cortex make teens especially susceptible to anxiety. He explains that while most adults have developed coping mechanisms for their day-to-day anxieties, teens are left practically defenseless. Therefore, having an adult like Friedman minimize teen anxiety to a “challenge of modern life” is not only condescending but incredibly problematic. We need to truly listen and believe teenagers, and allow them to express their emotions out loud without feeling like they are simply overreacting. In NAMI’s same statistical survey, it was reported that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in those aged 10-24, and that 90% of those who died by suicide had a mental illness. Taking teenagers’ emotions seriously is not only important, but could be life or death.

Friedman, Richard A. “Opinion | Why Teenagers Act Crazy.” The New York Times, June 28, 2014, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/opinion/sunday/why-teenagers-act-crazy.html.

“Mental Health By the Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.” Accessed October 30, 2018. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers.

Friedman, Richard A. “Opinion | The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety.” The New York Times, September 7, 2018, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/07/opinion/sunday/teenager-anxiety-phones-social-media.html.


3 Replies to ““Pull Yourself Up by the Bootstraps””

  1. According to the Child Mind Institute, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders among adolescents. 31.9% of adolescents experience some symptom of an anxiety disorder by the time they turn 18. This could manifest as a specific phobia, social phobia, separation anxiety, PTSD, panic disorder, or generalized disorder. Additionally, teens today are twice as likely to see a mental health professional than those in the 1980s. Such a high number warrants parents taking their child very seriously if they come to them complaining of anxiety. This data backs up your argument that anxiety is a real issue in adolescents. According to another article that discusses the stigma around mental health, 46% of adolescents with mental health disorders feel unfairly judged by their parents and 62% feel this judgment from their peers. Clearly, an adolescent would not make up having symptoms of anxiety for no reason, especially when they are so likely to face ridicule from those around them.


  2. I fully agree with Grace’s point of view. It is important to focus on the damage that downplaying other’s people perceived stressors does to development. The most important point that Grace brought up is how Dr. Friedman’s opinion article is directed towards parents, and he emphasizes and insinuates that parents should downplay their teenager’s ability to handle stress. However, according to a study by Alice Villatoro, there may a relationship between the parents’ ability to recognize their child’s problems and the role of stigma. In the study, it was not able to show stigma’s role on parental problem recognition, therefore that information is unknown, however, the study did conclude that stigma may act as a barrier to problem recognition because it may impose a significant personal cost on the family, and social distance actually obstructs parental problem recognition. The study suggests that stigmatized attitudes may be detrimental to understanding their pre-teen which may cause the teen to become less open and able to seek help as quickly (in the future) as a teen who received less stigmatized attitudes during their pre-adolescent stage.

    Villatoro, A. P., DuPont-Reyes, M. J., Phelan, J. C., Painter, K., & Link, B. G. (2018). Parental recognition of preadolescent mental health problems: Does stigma matter? Social Science & Medicine, 216, 88–96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.09.040

  3. I am impressed by the points that you’ve made. In support of your claim, I want to add that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.9% of U.S. adolescents have had any anxiety disorder, and among them, an estimated 8.3% have had a severe impairment. As the numbers tell us, most experiences of anxiety do not lead to a long-term disorder. However, just as you pointed out, Friedman appeared to diminish the seriousness of teen anxiety in his piece, and I cannot help but to think that his claims did not take into account the 8.3% of adolescents who may still be suffering from serious anxiety.

    I want to introduce a relevant Ted Talk video. Kathryn Boger, the speaker, states that 8 to 10 of 750 surveyed children have had anxiety on a daily basis. However, even with anxiety diagnosis, many of these children are left without treatment. Then, Boger introduces a practical treatment called cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. In CBT, a child is gradually exposed to an anxiety-provoking situation in order to learn how to manage their fear. The point is that, despite numerous practical treatments that are developed to help teenagers and young adults to overcome anxiety, they would be in no use if the children that are in dire need of those treatments aren’t heard and recognized by adults to even get to the stage of receiving adequate treatments. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to first genuinely listen to what they tell us about how they feel, and then walk them through a process that would help them have happier lives.



    p.s. Dr.Frenzel, I’m sorry that I went beyond the word limit…!

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