10 Social Issues Impacting Today’s Teenagers and How to Discuss Them

As new generations emerge and go through schooling on the way to adulthood, there is always a unique set of challenges and issues that each generation must deal with. 

Some of these issues are brought about by several contemporary influencing factors that can be found within society’s faster pace of life, while other issues have always been there yet have failed to be properly addressed until now.

The great advances in today’s social technology have amplified some common generational struggles while also creating unique issues that no previous generation have ever had to deal with.

American teens have a lot on their minds.

According to Pew Research Center’s study of youth ages 13 to 17, anxiety and depression, bullying, and drug and alcohol use (and abuse) were identified as major problems.

For instance, teens today struggle more with their interpersonal relationships than any previous generation.

The prevalence of digital communication has changed the way teens interact with their peers and romantic interests.Because of this, many teens lack essential interpersonal communication skills like knowing how to pick up on social cues.

Much of this dysfunction can be linked to the overuse of technology.

In fact, the average teen spends over nine hours each day using their electronic devices. Consequently, their social media habits and media consumption are changing the way they communicate, date, learn, sleep, exercise, and more.

Here are the top 10 social problems teens struggle with every day, and ways to address them with your child.

1. Depression and Anxiety

Serious mental stress is a fact of life for many American teens. In the new survey, seven-in-ten teens say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers.

Data on the prevalence of anxiety disorders is hard to come by among teens specifically.

Depression is an example of an adolescent issue that has always been around but has fortunately gained more public attention in more recent years.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3.2 million adolescents in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2017. That means about 13% of teenagers may experience depression before reaching adulthood.

Spending too much time on electronic devices may be preventing young people from in-person activities with their peers such as sports, which can help ward off depression.

They also experience new conditions like “fear of missing out” or FOMO, which further leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Depressive disorders are treatable. If your teen seems withdrawn, experiences a change in his sleep patterns, or starts to perform badly in school, schedule an appointment with your teen’s physician or contact a mental health professional.

2. Bullying

Issues of personal safety also are on U.S. teens’ minds. The Center’s survey found that 55% of teens said bullying was a major problem among their peers.

Even with the anti-bullying programs in place, the issue remains.

If we have young, insecure, and impressionable people being placed within a huddle of others that are experiencing the same fears and anxieties, there will always be cases of bullying.

Due to a large part of young people’s social life consisting of social media, a lot of bullying these days now has a larger audience with acts of cyberbullying becoming almost theatrical displays of humiliation for online viewers.

In fact, cyberbullying is becoming the prevalent form of bullying these days simply because it’s harder for authority figures such as teachers to intervene and police such encounters, and the harassment isn’t limited to school hours, bullies can torment their victims around the clock.

Talk to your teen about bullying regularly. Discuss what they can do when they witness bullying and talk about options if they are targeted themselves. Being proactive is key to helping your child deal with a bully.

It’s important for parents to work closely with schools, clubs, and workplaces to ensure they have anti-bullying policies in place.

3. Sexual Activity

Based on the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance data, 39.5% of high school students reported being sexually active.

While that is still a large percentage, the good news is that sexual activity in high school age students has declined over the last few decades.

While a reduction in teen birth rates is worth celebrating, it is also worth noting that more than half of all sexually transmitted diseases each year occur within the age bracket of 15–24-year-olds.

The best thing you can do is have a talk that is devoid of all judgement and parental pressures. This creates an approachable space in which your children can be vulnerable if need be.

4&5. Drug And Alcohol Use

Daily Marijuana use has increased in recent years within senior high schoolers to now exceed cigarette use.

Meanwhile, other illicit drug use has been hitting record low numbers, with some on-going studies noting that from 2017 on, teen use of illicit drugs has been at its lowest point ever, as well as alcohol use & binge drinking showing a significant decline.

Despite the decline in alcohol consumption, 33.2% of high school seniors still report drinking alcohol within the past month.

Talk to teens about the risks of underage drinking. Educate them about the dangers, including the fact that alcohol can take a serious toll on a teenager’s developing brain.

When discussing drug use, don’t forget to mention the dangers of prescription drugs also, as many teens do not recognize the dangers of taking a friend’s prescription, popping a few pills that are not prescribed to them, or even becoming addicted to their own prescriptions.

6. Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20% of 12- to 19-year-olds are obese.

Aside from the fact that overweight children are often targeted by bullies, obese kids also are at a much greater risk of lifelong health problems, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and heart disease.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician about the weight and body mass are appropriate for your teen’s height and age and inquire about the steps you can take to ensure your teen is healthy. Then, if your doctor does recommend a healthier eating plan or exercise, find ways to support and empower your teen.

7. Academic Problems

About 5% of high school students drop out of high school each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

 A high school dropout is likely to earl $200,000 less over his lifetime when compared to a high school graduate, which can have a significant impact on a young person’s future.

But it’s no longer just the “troubled teens” who are dropping out of school. Some teens feel so much pressure to get into a good college that they’re burning themselves out before they graduate from high school.Stay involved in your teen’s education. Provide support and guidance and be ready to assist your teen if he encounters problems.

It’s hard for young people to apply unnecessary pressure to themselves if you continue to support them, demystify the stigma associate with exams, and simply let them know that you love them regardless of whatever results they receive.

8. Peer Pressure

Much like Bullying, Peer Pressure has been around for as long as groups of people have huddled together. However, peer pressure gets kicked up a notch when magnified by social media.

Sexting is one of the more extreme examples of online pressure adolescents are grappling with, as many of them do not understand the lifelong consequences that sharing explicit photos can have on their lives.

Beyond sexting, more and more kids are being pressured into having sex, doing drugs, and even bullying other kids. To keep your kids from falling victim to peer pressure, give them skills to make healthy choices, and to resist peer pressure.  Also, talk to teens about what to do if they make a mistake.

Make sure your kids are not afraid to come to you when they screw-up. Demonstrate that you can listen without judging or overreacting and instead find healthy ways for them to make amends and move on.

9. Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be great ways for teens to connect with one another; but social media can be problematic for several reasons. For instance, social media can expose your teen to online predators, cyberbullying, and so much more. And, while there are some advantages, there are a lot of risks as well.

Social media can have a negative impact on peer friendships and is changing the dating scene. It can even impact teen’s mental health.

Social media is inevitable unfortunately. If you were to completely cut your teens off from social media access, you would be putting them at a social disadvantage. No matter what precautions you take, statistically, your teens are still highly likely to be exposed to unsavory people, unhealthy images, and sexual content online. Considering all the potential risks and disadvantages that come with social media, the best thing you can do as a parent is educate your kids and enforce barriers of use.

Help your teens learn how to navigate social media in a healthy way. Talk about ways to stay safe online. And most importantly, stay in the know of what your teen is doing online. Educate yourself in the latest social apps, websites, and media pages that teens are using and make sure to implement steps and barriers to safeguard your teens online.

10. On-Screen Violence

Teenagers are going to witness some violent media at one time or another. And it’s not just TV, music, and movies that depict violence. Many of today’s popular video games portray gory scenes and disturbing aggressive acts.

Over the past couple of decades, studies have linked watching violence to a lack of empathy and even aggressive behavior. And other studies have shown the number one factor in determining how kids relate to media is how their parents think and act.

Pay attention to your teen’s media use. Don’t allow teens to watch R-rated movies or to play M-rated video games. It’s not healthy for them to consume that material in excess and unsupervised. 

Also, talk to your teen about the dangers of being exposed to violent images and monitor your teen’s mental state. It’s also important to talk about sexual situations and racial stereotypes that your teen might see.

Teens need to learn how to identify what is good and what is bad about the media. It helps them become a healthier consumer when they can think objectively about what they are seeing online, in the movie theater, or in a video game.

How to Talk to Your Teen

Bringing up any difficult subjects with your teen can feel uncomfortable. And your teen isn’t likely to respond well to a lengthy lecture or too many direct questions. But having a conversation with your teen about difficult issues is not something you should shy away from.

Even when it seems like they are not listening, you are the most influential person in your teen’s life. It is important to lay a strong foundation before the window of opportunity closes.

Listen to what your teen has to say. Try not to be judgmental and make your expectations and opinions clear. It is important that your teen understands that you don’t condone certain behaviors and that they know the limits and consequences.  

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