10 Common Problems and Issues Teenagers Face Today
Recently, I attended a school program with other parents of teenagers. The conversation was mainly complaints about raising teenagers. Each parent was only adding items to the list of complaints, but offering no solutions. I searched the net, but the result wasn’t much different... most articles are about how to get your teen to clean their rooms or be more responsible, how to handle rebellious, defiant, out-of-control, aggressive teens... but not much is written from the teenager's perspective.
This got me thinking that what we need today is to look at the problem in a different light. I took a good look at the teenager I raise, followed him around, spoke to him awhile, talked with other teenagers, and this is what I found.
10 Most Common Issues Teenagers Face Today
- They suffer from negative body image.
- They long to belong to supportive and accepting communities.
- They experience stress and difficulty managing their time.
- They feel lots of pressure from peers, parents, and society to conform to conflicting expectations.
- They are at risk of mental and physical health issues.
- They lack good mentors, role models, and heroes.
- They begin unhealthy patterns with drugs and alcohol.
- They are exposed to on-screen violence and unhealthy social media.
- They face bullying.
- They participate in risky sexual activity and behavior.
Each of these is described fully below, with suggestions for how a parent can help navigate or avoid these problems.
Common Problems That Teenagers Face Today
1. Issues With Body image
During the transition from childhood to adulthood, while their bodies are morphing into new shapes and sizes, teens are struggling to come to terms with their bodies and get comfortable inside their own skins. The cherubic child is gone and they are left looking at a stranger in the mirror: gawky, gangly, hairy, zitty, and unfamiliar.
- Eating disorders (including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, etc.) typically start just before and during adolescence, and 95% of people with eating disorders are between 12 and 25 years old. (SAMHSA). Eating disorders can affect a teen's health, mood, relationships, and day-to-day functioning.
- Eating disorders affect women more than men, but more young men are more prone to something called muscle dysmorphia, where they become unhealthily obsessed with being bigger and more muscular.
- Even if the discontentment with their body doesn't cause them to excessively exercise or make themselves sick, the ongoing and pervasive feeling that their bodies are "not right" can have many lasting negative affects on their lives.
2. An Unmet Need for Community and Identity
I see many teenagers struggling to find a place in society, wanting to be recognized by their peers and accepted for what they are. This is one of the most important tasks of their lives at this juncture and they are faced with a lot of anxiety and insecurity as they work around this.
When teens get the message that they don't fit in and don't belong here, it can lead to feelings of isolation, disconnect, and depression. The television shows marketed to this age group normalize bullying, premarital sex, aggressive and violent behavior, and rule-breaking. You are cool only if you own all the brands. What is a teen to do? Is it their fault if they are confused, defiant, or out-of-control?
Take my son as an example. He was brought up to be respectful, helpful, kind, gentle, tolerant, follow moral and biblical principles of honesty, integrity etc., but in the world, he gets the message that these values are passé. Even his friends don’t accept him, though they know that when they are in trouble they can turn to him for help.
He is like most teenagers who haven't yet found a group of friends that accepts and loves them the way they are. This feeling of not-belonging is prevalent and affects all aspects of a teen's life.
3. Time-Management Stress
Stress increases at school and the older they get, the number of projects to be done, tests to cope with, and social drama increases, not to mention sports and other extracurricular activities. On the social front, a new and tantalizing horizon opens up—dating, partying, and hanging out with friends. Meanwhile, they are constantly distracted by electronic media. A teenager learning to juggle all of these expectations is under a lot of stress.
The teen is suddenly expected to act like an adult. They are expected to manage their work independently, make and follow through on the right decisions, and manage their finances. Though most parents complains about filthy bedrooms, untidy shelves and cabinets, smelly socks, missing stuff, I wonder... where is the time!? They simply can't do it all, and the pressure makes them more prone to anxiety and depression.
4. Social and Parental Pressure
Oftentimes, parents live through their children and expect their kids to achieve everything they wanted but did not have. Expecting the teenager to get good grades, have great friends, excel in extracurricular activities, and be well-behaved, responsible for themselves and sometimes for their younger siblings is a lot of pressure. Added to this is peer pressure. To be accepted among peers and to become "popular," teens feel pressured to conform in their tastes, behaviors, and appearance.
When all the people surrounding the teenager are attempting to mold him/her into a different shape, the pressure builds. Parents, teachers, family elders, siblings, friends, schoolmates, and social groups all play a part and pull the teenager in different directions.
5. Mental and Physical Health Issues
All of these things affect a teenager's health:
- Poor nutrition. The eating habits of teens are poor and unmonitored. They are urged towards eating disorders, either starving themselves or binging on unhealthy, fatty, high-calorie junk food.
- Lack of sleep. In an effort to do and be it all, the teen sacrifices sleep. They require about nine hours of sleep but on average, teens get roughly seven hours. This means that every day, they are running at a deficit.
- Depression and anxiety. Hormonal changes, added to the chaos and strain of scheduling, prioritizing, achieving, and fulfilling expectations, put a teen under considerable emotional pressure. This is reflected in mood swings, aggression, depression, anxiety, and sometimes even a complete breakdown.
Mental and physical health are connected. If your teen isn't healthy physically, it will have an affect on his psychology, and vice-versa.
6. A Lack of Positive Role Models and Heroes
Often the biggest bullies, richest spoilt brats, and the most self-destructive kids are held up as the most enviable and popular. The media glorifies these people, and bad behavior is applauded in movies, sports, and music. Wherever they go, our children are fed on a diet of lousy role models and are imbibing the depraved values of those "heroes" portrayed in the media.
7. Drugs and Alcohol
- 33.2% of high school seniors in the US reported drinking alcohol within the past month.
- In 2017, by their senior year in high school, 5.9% of teenagers in the US had a daily habit of using marijuana.
- In 2017, an annual survey of drug and alcohol use among teens in the US found that almost 40% of all 12th-graders surveyed had used some kind of illicit drug in the past year, and 55.7% had used alcohol.
Both alcohol and marijuana can damage a teenager's developing brain. It's so important to talk to them to find out what is happening in their school and peer group, discover what they're exposed to, and educate your kid about the dangers.
8. On-Screen Violence and Unhealthy Social Media
When used responsibly, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social platforms can be great ways for teens to connect with the world, but when used irresponsibly, they are problematic. Violent video games promote aggression and violence. Going online exposes teens to bad characters, mean people, unhealthy images, porn, violence, and sexual content. No matter what you do, there's no way to protect them entirely. It's up to parents to know what kids are doing online and teach them how to interact with the internet safely. To learn more, read How Does Social Media Affect Teens?
Approximately 30% of teens in the US have been affected by bullying—either as a victim or as a perpetrator. 1 in 3 students in the US say they have been bullied at school, but now bullying happens online, too. Many don't know that bullying can be direct or indirect, which includes gossip and rumor-spreading. Many kids don't even know what cyberbullying is or fully understand the potentially damaging effect of their online behaviors.
10. Risky Sexual Activity and Behavior
According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), more than half of teenagers in the US have had sex by age 18. Although there has been a decline in teen pregnancy in recent years, that doesn't necessarily mean they are using protection: Out of 20 million new STD diagnoses each year, more than half of those affected are between the ages of 15 and 24.
Despite the facts, surveys consistently show that most parents don't think their children are sexually active. Again, it's so important to talk to your kids about sex, even if you don't think they're having it.
Helping Teens Deal With the Problems They Face
Teens today are forced to live at a very superficial level, on the edge of society, with no acceptance and very little positive affirmation. They are expected to learn how to live from the internet and television, where they find little emphasis on moral value or personal excellence. What a paradox is the life of a teenager is today!
In 2016, the rate of suicide for 15- to 24-year-olds was 13.15%.
What Can Parents Do to Help Their Teenagers?
What we need is a paradigm shift of who our teens are and a clearer view of our role as parents.
- We need to look at ways to help teens, amp up our parenting skills, stop complaining, and take responsibility for our teens to right now.
- We cannot ignore our parental duties. Even though they're in their teens, they still need us, just as they did when they were little. Cell phones, computers, and other gadgets that they spend time with cannot give them the nurturing they need.
- Provide a healthy and complete meal whenever you pack it or put it on the table. Make vegetables and fruits interesting.
- Build lines of communication that are so strong that your children always look to you as allies instead of enemies. Communicate positively and avoid commands and I-told-you-sos.
- Discuss and establish rules for chores, homework, driving, dating, sex, and drug and alcohol use. Keep talking about all these issues.
- Let them know that you don’t always have all the answers and you are not always right. Listen to their opinions and offer help whenever needed.
- Be graceful enough to thank, appreciate, and love them at every possible occasion.
- Punishing teenagers does not really work, but disciplining teenagers does. Make sure your policies are helping instead of hurting.
- Be willing to listen to their point of view. Give it a good thought before you trash it. An encouraging and supporting attitude goes a long way.
- Fear of failure is one of the greatest reason for stress, so help them manage their anxiety and build self-esteem.
- Look out for signs of stress, anxiety, lack of concentration, poor eating habits, poor oral and personal hygiene, disturbances in sleep, and plummeting of interest in social activities, and address them immediately.
- If your teen shows any signs of anxiety or depression, get them help immediately.
- Most importantly, let them know that you care!
Wishing you all success!
Kids go where there is excitement. They stay where there is love.— Zig Ziglar