If you are raising a teen right now, then you have probably realized that parenting one is much different than parenting a child. All of a sudden (overnight, it might feel like), your sweet, innocent kid has turned sassy, moody, and wanting nothing to do with you. This can be really hard on parents.
Even though you have lived through this stage of life, you may have forgotten how confusing and emotional it can be. It is important to be aware and understanding of the issues that teenagers are facing – some might be a reminder of what you went through, and some might be new age.
Teenagers encounter a variety of obstacles in our current climate. Sure, being a teenager has always been hard. Most people would not relive high school, even if someone paid them to. They face pressures to fit in, be perfect, look a certain way, act a certain way all while getting good grades and staying out of trouble (hopefully).
And on top of dealing with all of this, they have an outrageous amount of hormones surging through their bodies, with brains that are not fully developed yet. But there is something different about being a teenager now, than even ten years ago. There is an added layer of pressures and stress that should be acknowledged and are addressed in this article.
The following are some common teen issues that parents should be aware of:
The Struggle with Social Media
Social media is one of the top ways that teens interact. Platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook – just to name a few – are all the rage with this demographic. In theory, it seems great. You are able to communicate with people all over the world, with the touch of a button. However, there are also many issues that social media brings to the table.
First of all, there is a perpetual comparison of your life to someone else’s. Beautiful, glamorous, trendy photos and videos are constantly being posted by celebrities, bloggers, vloggers, and even friends and family. These make it appear as if everyone is always happy and having the time of their lives.
It is easy to look at just a few of these and instantly feel inferior. Self-esteem and self-worth already take a big hit during adolescent years but, the world of social media only adds to this. What is not always acknowledged, is that these photos and videos are edited, photoshopped, and filtered to the point that they typically no longer look like the original.
They are handpicked, to look like life is perfect. In general, they are not an authentic representation of the person posting them. It can be helpful to engage in a discussion about this with your teen and suggest only following accounts that make them feel good about themselves.
Another concern that social media brings up is the issue of safety. There are millions of people who use social media as a way to connect with people they have never met and sometimes their intentions are untrustworthy. It is common for “catfishing” to occur – where someone pretends to be someone else (by creating a fake account, making up a name, posting fake photos, etc.) and lures others into an online relationship.
Not only is this hurtful and upsetting, but can also lead to some serious problems. Your teen might form a strong bond with this person, and begin to feel that they can be trusted. This can lead to personal information being shared, inappropriate photos, unhealthy boundaries, or worse, such as dangerous threats and cyberbullying. It is vital to talk to your teen about online safety, and the importance of setting accounts to private, ignoring/blocking messages from unknown sources, and not sharing personal information.
This leads to another issue that was mentioned earlier- cyberbullying. This is when someone says hurtful and/or threatening things online. People can be mean (we all know this) but there is an added level of cruelty when someone is able to hide behind a screen. They can type anything and press send, without the courage needed to say it to someone’s face.
There is a disconnect here, as they do not see the honest reaction of the person it is targeted at. If your teen is the victim of a cyberbully, they are likely feeling many different emotions – such as fear, sadness, anger, embarrassment, or shame. This can affect mental health, self-esteem, school performance, and/or overall behavior. It is critical that your teenager has a strong support network to lean on in times like these.
This is not meant to bash on social media, by any means. It can be a wonderful way to connect and stay in touch with loved ones. However, it is necessary for parents to be aware of the challenges social media can bring up, and how they can impact their teenager.
Forbidding or taking it away is not necessarily the answer, but having open and honest conversations with your teen about what they have noticed, what they are facing, and how they are feeling in the social media realm is significant, as well as setting boundaries with it as you see fit.
Experimenting with substances happens often during the adolescent years. It is not uncommon for a teenager to try drugs or alcohol, either alone or with friends, at least once. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as just for fun, peer pressure, to treat an undiagnosed mental health condition (such as depression or anxiety), to improve school and/or work performance, or to manage stress.
However, the substances that teens have access to nowadays are on a different level than they historically have been. For example, the THC content is significantly higher in today’s cannabis compared to the “golden age” of marijuana in the 1960s-70s. Accessibility of substances has increased as well for teens, for a variety of reasons, such as the increase in technology or the legalization of marijuana.
Sometimes it will begin as experimentation and then progress to abuse, which can then lead to addiction. Addiction is concerning at any age, however, it can be argued that it is most concerning during adolescence. Because a teen’s brain is not fully developed, chronic substance use can greatly impact this process.
Specifically, it can affect the prefrontal cortex (the area that makes decisions), which develops until around the age of 25. Addiction can influence a teen’s relationships, schooling, work, extra-curricular activities, hobbies, and even get them into legal trouble. Not to mention, addiction can be a large barrier to a teen’s future college or career plans.
The following are some prevalent drugs that teens use: marijuana, alcohol, nicotine (cigarettes, e-cigarettes/vapes, cigars), dextromethorphan (also known as DXM or Triple C – over the counter cough medicine), synthetic marijuana (also known as Spice or K2), prescription drugs (some commonly abused ones are Adderall, Oxycontin/opioids, and tranquilizers), hallucinogens, and inhalants.
There are many substances that your son or daughter could be at risk of using. Education around what they are, the impact they can have, and how to say “no” might be conversations worth having with your teen.
Identity Exploration and Wearing a “Mask”
Adolescence is the time for your teen to begin to figure out who they are. Many questions arise for them. Things like, what is my purpose? Who do I want to become? What do I want to do after high school? They begin to explore new things, in order to find out what they like and do not like.
Teens often struggle with showing the world their true self. It is common to wake up in the morning and put on a “mask” for the day until they are back in their safe space (such as their room). They might show the world that they are happy (“the mask”) when they might actually be struggling with more intense emotions.
This can feel incongruent, uncomfortable, and even exhausting. This “mask” is a protection for them – from rejection, embarrassment, bullying. It is a way to try and “fit in,” instead of taking a risk and showing their peers who they really are.
Teenagers frequently put a substantial amount of pressure on themselves, to be how they think others want them to be. A lot of times they feel like they have to do it all – get the highest grades, be the most popular, win all of the games, or be the perfect daughter or son. That is too much pressure for any one person to handle.
It might be helpful to remember back to when you were this age and the questions that you were wrestling to answer about yourself. Talking to your teen about your own experiences, in a way that is forthright and genuine, may help give them some insight.
Sexual Curiosity and Education
This stage of development is also a time for questions around sex, sexuality, dating, consent, and love to come up. It is critical for your teenager to be educated in these areas, for it is normal for teens to rely on other teens for their information – which is not always accurate.
Just as it is might be important for many families to engage in discussion around faith, abstinence, and marriage – it is also important to talk about choice and how to protect yourself. Teens face many pressures around sexuality, whether it is pressure to send inappropriate photos, engage in sexual activity, or to look or dress in a provocative way.
In many cases, adolescents feel awkward coming to their parents with questions about sex, so having another trusted adult to talk to about these topics can be helpful. Teenagers should have an understanding of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, where they can get tested, birth control options, and where to access them.
They should also know how to say “no” and have a safety plan in place, just in case they find themselves in an unsafe situation. Frequently, teenagers will equivalate their own self-worth with who “likes” them or is attracted to them.
Teaching your teen that in order to fully love and take care of someone else, they must first love themselves, will help them to gain the self-esteem and self-worth that they need. This will help them to feel empowered to find their voice and speak up, in this confusing time of their life.
As you can see, there are impactful teen issues that are essential to consider when parenting. During this stage of life, teenagers struggle to find independence and freedom, while also still relying on parents for many important things. It is a constant push and pull dynamic. It is normal for parents to feel frustrated, unsure, and like everything they say goes in one ear, and out the other.
Keep in mind, that at the end of the day, teens want to feel heard and validated. If you are able to resist lecturing and pointing out the negative (at least some of the time), and instead engage in a respectful and curious discussion, while also pointing out the positive things your teen is doing well, then it will be beneficial for not only your relationship, but your teen’s overall wellbeing.
Talk to your teen about teen issues may be hard at first. But, it will get easier. If you need guidance in this area, it can be beneficial to seek the support of a therapist.
A trained professional can not only help you feel more comfortable talking to your teenager about serious teen issues but can also be a trusted adult to talk to your teen. They can provide a safe space for your son or daughter to process, reflect, ask questions, identify emotions, and explore healthy coping skills.
Patterson, E. (2018, November 16). Teen Substance Abuse: 10 Most Commonly Abused Drugs. Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.projectknow.com/teen/common-abused- drugs/
“Social Media”, Courtesy of Marjan Grabowski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Evening Reverie”, Courtesy of Carlos Dominguez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends in a Field”, Courtesy of Melissa Askew, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Shore”, Courtesy of Luke Ellis-Craven, Unsplash.com, CC0 License