TEENAGERS IN SILICON VALLEY: THE YOUNG GENERATION SUFFERING IN PARADISE
To the outside world, Silicon Valley is well known for being the central hub for innovative, technological advancements and home to companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google. However, despite its affluent appearance, living in Silicon Valley as a teenager has opened my eyes to a broken facade, full of severe mental disorders throughout high school students in this area.
To raise awareness about how many teenagers are suffering from mental health issues in Silicon Valley and the extreme degree of pain they put themselves through along with the pressures put on them via cultural factors.
THE THREE MAIN FACTORS:
- Ultra-Competitive Superficial Work and Academic Environment
- Parental Influence, Expectations, and Denial
- Self-Inflicted Pressure Impacted by the Environment and Parents
Surrounding cultural pressures of needing to appear better off than peers, and masking true, negative emotions in a desperate attempt to please the competition of ivy league colleges can be seen everywhere by the careful eye. The fact that Silicon Valley is considered an affluent area means people are trapped in a superficial bubble from the outside world. Because there is no need to worry about basic necessities due to families having double the average salary in California at around $121,000, students turn to all other aspects of their life to put the highest octave of pressure on. There is a need to excel in all activities, from having above a 4.0 GPA to being a D1 Athlete, and even winning national music competitions. Silicon Valley is an extreme distillation of what happens when teenagers are put in a meritocratic elite environment, leading to depression, anxiety, and concerning mental health issues.
Parents often add onto pressures, due to Silicon Valley’s hyper-competitive nature affecting the work environment. Our first role models are our parents, and most of our development is heavily influenced by their beliefs/morals. The mindset parents have is often passed down to their children, creating unhealthy ideas towards work ethic. Graduate Yale psychologist Suniya Luthar, the author of The Problem with Rich Kids, explains that Silicon Valley parents “…expect [their children] to excel at school and in multiple extracurriculars and also in their social lives… It plays out in crippling anxiety and depression, about anticipated or perceived achievement ‘failures.’” Parents also seem to deny the fact their child could be depressed, thinking that the other students who took their lives were struggling with life as social outcasts or having family issues. However, the scary truth is, any teenager could have suicidal thoughts, regardless of how they appear on the exterior. The denial parents push when their children bring up signs of depression or mental health issues only deepen thoughts of self-loathing and unrealistic pressures.
In addition to parents, there is also a pressure to conform to the only culture many teenagers have been exposed to, thus pushing themselves to the same expectations that surround them. Teenagers living in Silicon Valley learn from an extremely young age, starting even at 6th grade, that letter grades are worth more than their wellbeing and happiness. Growing up surrounded by adults making upwards of six-figure salaries and being told at a young age by parents that Ivy League Colleges are the only acceptable options to be successful create high stakes and unrealistic expectations for hard-working students in Silicon Valley. At the heart of this area is a scary idea of self-worth found in adults and now their teenagers: There is something catastrophically wrong with me if I cannot meet the highest standards of success. Achievements and economic worth, unfortunately, have begun to define social identity in Silicon Valley. The pressure these teens put on themselves does affect not only their academics but also personal events, such as a breakup with a significant other or the death of a loved one. There is an unspoken expectation to appear unaffected by any traumatic event to the public. It is evident that awareness needs to occur when high school students wish to stand in front of running trains than continue to live their school careers, raising the adolescent suicide rate to five times the national average.
A MESSAGE FROM THE FATHER OF CAMERON LEE, SUICIDE VICTIM:
Cameron Lee was a 16-year old boy from Gunn High School who took his own life, one of many in the suicide clusters of Silicon Valley. The following video is his father talking about how change needs to occur and how stress is not just found in high school, but only starts there. Stress only increases as the years go by, and as teenagers enter adulthood and the workforce it only gets harder. He also urges parents with a heartwarming message: Never to let a day go by without telling your children “I love you” because no one can know when anything could ever happen to them.
FROM A THERAPIST’S PERSPECTIVE:
I interviewed a therapist located in Menlo Park, California about the adolescent brain and teenage mental health specifically in Silicon Valley. She had the following to say about a factor that constantly seems to arise with her teenage clients:
One factor seems to appear commonly: Parental issues. Parental issues for some reason seem to arise all the time in our area, perhaps because of how much our parents work or because of the pressured culture to work hard. It can range depending on the person, but many teenagers seem to have trouble communicating with their parents in one form or another. Regardless, it is of utmost importance that parents and teenagers work hard to create a strong bond together ensuring a loving, supporting home to ensure healthy growth.
The following are quotes from teenagers and parents in the Silicon Valley Area.
“I am 15 years old and just organized a memorial [for my brother who passed away].”
-Isabelle Blanchard, sister of a suicide victim at Gunn High School
“Students feel the constant need at our school of having to keep up with all the achievements…”
-Martha Cabot, a 16-year old classmate of suicide victim Cameron Lee at Gunn High School
“You can’t help but slip into the system of competitive insanity … [We are in] a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning. We lack sincere passion. We are sick… Why is that not getting through to this community? Why does this insanity that is our school district continue?”
-Carolyn Walworth, then Junior at Palo Alto High school
“I think we have to look at the attitude of all the adults in this community, it is we who are to blame putting the pressure on the kids to succeed … No amount of school counseling will change the parents’ attitudes.”
-Silicon Valley Parent via Palo Alto Online
“There are ways to teach students so they learn but are not tortured.”
-Silicon Valley Parent via Palo Alto Online
WHAT’S NEXT? HOW DO I HELP?
No matter where you live in the world, the ways to help are endless.
For the people of Silicon Valley, if you believe someone you know is struggling with mental health issues or even thoughts of suicide, communicate with that person openly and as much as possible. It is essential to let the person know you will listen seriously to anything they say. Help the person realize there are people who care and allow he/she to confide in you and realize there are other options than taking their life. If someone is in immediate threat and danger, you must contact a trusted adult and call 911 as soon as possible. In general, we must talk about suicide openly, rather than trying to avoid the subject and create more stigma.
For parents, listen to your children when they come to you asking for help or a therapist. It takes a lot of courage to admit to needing help, and any denial will only worsen their mental health. The most important thing to do is provide nothing but love and support to your child who is struggling. Do your best to understand what your child is going through although it may be difficult. Also, realize how much power your actions and pressures have on your child’s mentality. You are their role model.
For everyone, communicate with all with nothing but compassion and empathy. Learn from the concentrated, highly toxic competitive nature of Silicon Valley and advocate for change in your area. Mental health issues for teenagers do not only exist in the Silicon Valley area but unfortunately, are prevalent everywhere. Do your best to learn more about mental health, and help upcoming generations reduce the pressures that we cope with now.
Below are various hotlines and ways to contact help if you or anyone you know needs any assistance. Feel free to share these with whomever you wish.
Crisis Text Line: TEXT 741741
A free texting hotline that allows you to connect with a trained counselor to help you vent and calm down from any situation.
A hotline that provides nation-wide free emotional support any time of the day for those with suicidal thoughts or in emotional distress.
Santa Clara County Suicide and Crisis Hotline:
SAN JOSE: 408-279-3312
NORTH COUNTY: 650-494-8420
SOUTH COUNTY: 408-683-2482
Hotlines specifically for the Silicon Valley/Bay Area region, providing support 24 hours/a day. For other counties in California, refer to the link.
Thank you so much for taking the time to look and read my project. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, feel free to leave them below.
“Adolescent and Young Adult Suicide Awareness.” NAMI Santa Clara County, www.namisantaclara.org/resources/teen-suicide/.
Rosin, Hanna. “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Nov. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-silicon-valley-suicides/413140/.
Wang, Yanan. “CDC Investigates Why so Many Students in Wealthy Palo Alto, Calif., Commit Suicide.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Feb. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/16/cdc-investigates-why-so-many-high-school-students-in-wealthy-palo-alto-have-committed-suicide/.
Khan, Sameera. “Stress and Suicide: The Disturbing Academic Pressure on Silicon Valley Teens.” Affinity Magazine, 14 Apr. 2017, affinitymagazine.us/2017/04/14/stress-and-suicide-the-disturbing-academic-pressure-on-silicon-valley-teens/.
Noguchi, Sharon. “Teen Health: Depression, Anxiety and Social Phobias Rising in Kids, Educators Say.” The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 12 Aug. 2016, www.mercurynews.com/2014/02/05/teen-health-depression-anxiety-and-social-phobias-rising-in-kids-educators-say/.
Yonehiro, Sky. “Silicon Valley Culture Leads to Stress in Teens and Adults.” Los Altos Town Crier, www.losaltosonline.com/news/sections/schools/210-school-features/55819-.