Column: No, Chicago Tribune, its not the academic pressure

Braden Hajer, Copy Editor, Columnist

I saw a Chicago Tribune article the other day about how teenage depression is on the rise, “and we don’t know why.” The article goes on to identify two culprits as the harbingers of mass anxiety: academic pressure and a lack of social interaction brought on by social media.

This diagnosis infuriates me on a fundamental level. It’s one of the most surface-level hot takes one could possibly give. “Teens are depressed… What’s happening to teens? Ah, yes: We make them work too hard in school and they aren’t talking to people. That sounds good.” 

This would be great if teenagers existed in a closed societal system. However, teenagers are living in the real world too, Tribune. What you need to understand is that you’re absolutely right. Social media does have  a hand in killing the teenagers of today, but you’re missing the real point in a miraculous fashion.

Social media has led to an unprecedented hyper-awareness of the endless quantity of global calamities humanity is facing right now. Every day, teenagers see horrid updates on climate change, gun insanity, the evils of today’s major corporations, healthcare prices, political gridlock and turmoil, wealth inequality… The state of the planet is an inescapable abomination for today’s youth. 

Our brains aren’t yet fully developed, and won’t be for up to another decade, so heap on this onslaught of misery and it isn’t hard to conceptualize what this is doing to us. This is of course amplified by constant messages of “optimism” spewed by the naive boomers of the world: It’s our job to fix the planet we had no hand in creating! We get to go out there and do something with our lives! In a world where a total collapse seems inevitable, we get to grow up and be independent!

But yes, it all makes perfect sense to us; it’s the academic pressure. It’s the phones. 

Have you considered the subconscious reasons for this academic pressure? Why are we so concerned about kids getting into college and filling their heads with semi-relevant knowledge? It’s quite easy to put 2 and 2 together and get 4. You and everyone else who grew up before the 1980s, at some essential level, seem to feel that the solutions to the world’s problems are in the next generation. For you, the time is now to pass the torch of saving the planet. From this lens, your extreme focus on college and degrees becomes a particularly misguided but natural outcome.


Despite the fact that the average student is leaving with a degree in one hand and a lifetime of crippling debt in the other. Despite the fact that the “Old Guard” of today’s societal influence, from politicians to CEOs, have no intention of giving teenagers a real platform to grab that torch.


Teenagers feel hopeless. They understand that the world is absolutely screwed beyond belief, and the mental toll this takes is monumental. The classic disillusioned view of “school doesn’t teach me anything for the real world” starts to make a whole lot of sense when you realize that maybe these people actually do want to perform a meaningful act of positivity for Earth, and school tends to fail dramatically in doing something about that.

Alas, it’s the pushing from adults for kids to perform in school that’s the cause. It’s the new medium of communication that’s apparently making people not social and causing depression as a result. That makes perfect, complete sense.

Let’s entertain the idea that academic pressure is found to be the monster we say it is. What will we do then? Make kids try less? This train of thought drives right off of a cliff the moment you extend it past the identification of its existence. There is no logical solution to this problem. Are we just going to train some more therapists? Build more mental health-focused hospitals? You and I both know that these are Band-Aid fixes.

 Consider this an open letter to the powerful adults of the world, from media executives to well-off parents to politicians to corporate executives; your laser beam focus on these ultimately minute issues is reaching unprecedented and cataclysmic levels of negligence. Teenagers are depressed in this world because you destroyed it.

 You have spent your whole lives constructing an uncrackable, multidimensional hierarchy of power on this planet. You’ve gotten all the wealth for yourself. All the influence. All the land. You won life. 

It’s not our job to fix your problems. For our sake, stop endlessly wondering if you’re pushing your children too hard or giving them too much time on the internet and use that power to actually create meaningful change.