The image of the insolent, moody, confused teenager feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders is a stereotype we are all familiar with.
It has even been immortalised in various forms – not least Harry Enfield’s creation Kevin the Teenager.
But, as ever, such stereotypical portrayals mask the true picture. And it seems in the case of teenagers, it is an increasingly dark and depressing picture.
ChildLine has revealed that one in six of the calls made to its special helpline last year were from girls contemplating suicide. More than 6,000 children and young people – some as young as five – called the helpline about mental health problems.
Throw in the well documented fact that suicide rates among young men aged between 15 and 21 is three times higher than young women and it appears to confirm the extent of mental health problems among children and teenagers.
It also adds weight to recent studies that claimed we are failing the young generation, sending them on a downward spiral of depression, despair and hopelessness.
Children and teenagers are battling a wide range of issues and problems, from depression to eating disorders, bullying to sexual abuse. Further research has found that rates of depression and anxiety have increased among adolescents in the UK by 70% in the last 25 years.
One of the major issues teenagers often feel is isolation. Despite being surrounded by family, friends, teachers and others capable of listening, supporting and helping, for a variety of reasons they feel unable to confide their feelings.
It isn’t surprising given the fact that our emotions are invariably in a state of turmoil and flux during our childhood.
One of the most alarming aspects of the ChildLine study was the fact that many parents are clueless about the extent of their child’s problems. In one case a ChildLine counsellor took a call from a girl who had taken an overdose while her parents sat oblivious downstairs.
It confirms a poll in The Guardian released over the weekend that many parents are in the dark about what their children think, believe and get up to when they are not around. The gap between what the parents thought their children knew and had experienced in relation to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and sex, for example, and what the teenagers themselves admitted to, was significantly wide in most cases.
Of course, it could be argued that has been the case for generations and is not unique to the current crop of children and teenagers. However, what is different is the extent of the problems that now seem to be afflicting this younger generation.
We have all been teenagers and we’ve all experienced varying degrees of angst, confusion and depression. We’ve all attempted to push the boundaries at some point as teenagers too, experimenting in areas our parents would not have approved.
Yet the current picture is quite alarming. Whether today’s children and teenagers are simply pushing the boundaries that little bit further, as generations have done before them, is possible but unlikely.
The answer seems to lie in the pressures of modern life that we all experience day in, day out – pressure to conform has always been a rite of passage, but these days we are bombarded by unrealistic images of how we should look, act and think.
These pressures are often enough to make those with plenty of life experience and maturity buckle under the strain. What hope do our children have?
Childhood is supposed to represent the happiest days of our lives, a celebration of our innocence, naivety and massive potential.
So what went wrong?