Adolescent and teen life is filled with many trials and challenges that are normal parts of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Many of these challenges have been considered normal parts of growing up from time immemorial. Struggling to understand and manage these hardships can be a helpful — though sometimes painful — part of the growth process. Parents strive to impart skills including, time management, expectation management, financial literacy, and balancing academic performance with extracurricular activities and recreation. Teenage years are also those during which many people first experience relational issues, such as dealing with peer pressures, and the challenges inherent in changing friendships and romantic relationships.
Relatively new problems face today’s generation of teens. The rise and eventual ubiquity of mobile devices and social media have created new threats to adolescent and teen mental and physical health. Today’s youth experience higher rates of poor sleep hygiene due to the overuse of social media, online bullying, and exposure to potentially dangerous and damaging content, among other things. Not only do these problems pose risks to physical and mental health, but they are also hard for parents, guardians, and people who did not grow up with these technologies to identify and address.
Today’s teens are also coming of age when problems that once seemed hypothetical, existential threats are becoming realities. Intense pressure to get into prestigious colleges and the cost of college lead many students and families to experience high rates of anxiety to get good grades and pack schedules with numerous activities. Students and families are taking on crippling long-term debt to pay for academic services, college admissions counseling, and college tuition.
The long-predicted effects of climate change may be manifesting in weather-related disasters including floods, fires, droughts, and other catastrophes that are leading to a specialized form of climate-related anxiety. A highly polarized political landscape is bringing uncomfortable and divisive issues to the forefront and leading to more disagreements between friends and family members than in recent decades. Even the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pose unforeseen problems for academic progress, learning comprehension, and college admission.
Still, other growing problems that make teenagers anxious include threats of school violence, prejudices related to race and gender issues, and growing economic uncertainties that make it seem less likely that today’s teenagers will be able to afford a quality of life as good as or better than their parents — a measure often used to indicate upward mobility in the US.
To summarize, teens today face many real and existential problems, some of which are new and make it hard for parents, guardians, and other mentors to give practical advice. These issues not only pose threats to the immediate future of teenagers but can make it seem their futures are jeopardized.
Common Teenage Problems
Everpresent messages from social media, including those of some influencers that espouse damaging and dangerous messages about body image, perpetuate ideas that can lead to problematic self-image and the development of eating disorders.
- Self-esteem and body image
- Disrespect for parents and authority figures
- Acceptance of self and others
- Self-trust and the ability to trust others
- Obesity, anorexia, bulimia, and other disordered eating problems
Teenage Problems In School
Teens face intense pressure to perform academically and to participate in numerous activities, even if they do not find the activities enjoyable. They may have less time to relax, play, and enjoy in-person friend relationships due to intensively packed activity schedules and expectations. The school environment can also expose children to negative experiences.
- Academic problems and pressures
- Peer pressure
- Self-induced performance pressure
- Bullying (in-person and online)
- Stress and anxiety
Public Issues Teens Face
Constant exposure to the media and exchanges on social media expose young children and older teens to a range of mental health, physical health, and even legal problems.
- Social media exposure to misinformation or negative messages
- Exposure to on-screen violence and potentially traumatizing images and video
- Desensitization resulting from increased exposure and frequency of messages
- Potential misuse of private information
Adolescence and Sexuality
Many people begin to engage in sexual activity or shape their gender identities and preferences in their teen years. Many problems related to teen sexual activity persist. Other problems related to changing social attitudes toward gender pose new risks to teen self-image.
- Teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases
- Initiation of sexual activity and the feelings and emotions related to sexual relationships
- Gender identity and potential gender dysphoria or confusion about gender identity
Emotional and Mental Health Disorders
Adolescent and teen development stages are also common times during which mental and emotional health conditions may begin to present themselves. These conditions may be the result of adverse life events and perceived pressures, and they can also result from genetic predispositions to these disorders.
- Depression and anxiety
- Self-harm and suicidal ideation
- Drug and alcohol abuse (substance abuse)
- Cyber Addiction
The Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services care team are front-line responders to the effects of negative life experiences, fears about the future, and isolation that often accompanies and perpetuates mental health and substance use disorders. Our role is to help teens and their families learn to understand these issues, find the personal agency needed to manage these conditions, and the tools and techniques to maintain holistic health and well-being.