Why are all the queer teens in therapy?
Why are all the queer teens in therapy?: A brief review of the hypocritical societal messages present in LGBTQIA+ adolescent identity development
By: Ashley Eller
Longstanding narratives about the joyous and spontaneous nature of adolescence have shifted the way many young people view themselves, others, and the world around them, sometimes pulling them away from their reality and other times allowing them to feel completely aligned with it. The language and stories that the world tells young people about themselves greatly influence each person’s understanding and development of identity on both a micro and macro level. While many modern, specifically western, ideologies communicate developing a sense of independence and ‘do things because you want to’ attitudes, adolescents are constantly and acutely aware of the influence of societal norms on their personhood.
Historically, adolescents have been tasked with developing a sense of self and independence that is socially acceptable in order to be considered a successful adult. If the adolescent does not align with the societal standards for acceptability in their choices, they become an outcast of society, an undeserving being. The teenage narrative is filled with hypocritical messages to ‘be whatever you want to be’ directly conflicted by a limited number of acceptable options to choose from.
The modern teen is already tasked with the responsibility of viewing the world and the people around them from a critical lens, so why do adults feel the need to restrict the social norms of their development? While there has been incredible progress made towards fighting for human rights for LGBTQIA+ people, the societal messages being sent to queer adolescents about their core of their identity still remains contested, discriminatory, and threatening. Queer teens are told that they automatically fit into the “unacceptable” category simply by being who they are. “Be yourself.” A message they were told from childhood; the only goal they should strive to achieve.
As a clinical mental health counselor specializing in adolescent development and LGBTQIA+ identity, the conflict between understanding authentic intersectional identity and parsing through messages received by larger society is constantly present. Queer adolescent identity development shines a necessary light on the hypocritical nature of the teenage narratives that are tightly separated into categories of “acceptability” and “inadequacy.”
Because queer adolescent development is on the outskirts of social acceptability, these teens are acutely aware of the conflicting messages they are receiving from the people they are told have their best interests at heart. Many empirically-based psychology articles discuss the shocking number of queer kids involved in mental health care across the nation, packed with important data about rates of homelessness and bullying present in the LGBTQIA+ youth community. While this knowledge is incredibly impactful and important to the mental health community, there also needs to be acknowledgement for the lack of progress made in the systematic, overarching narratives the world communicates to these young people about the core of their being. If society does not shift away from their rigid definitions of what constitutes successful adolescence and adulthood,
In short, all the queer teens are in therapy because of those hypocritical messages. Queer teens are not inherently more likely to struggle with these issues, rather the world around these queer teens does not align with their development. All the queer kids are in therapy because they are told they are societally unacceptable. All the queer kids are in therapy because that is one of the only places they are told “be whatever you want to be” and it is wholeheartedly true.