In some ways, teenage problems are similar to the problems we all face. We all need to balance business and pleasure, build healthy relationships, and find our place in the world. But in other ways, teenage problems are unique. In addition to these struggles, teens are laying the foundations for their future. And this gives teenage problems a special urgency.
Seven Teenage Problems
The most important struggle for teens is to keep their eyes on the future while staying happy and healthy in the present. It’s difficult because teens live in the moment. What’s more, research shows that teens grow through risk-taking. It is literally their job to take apart the world adults have built, and to rearrange it into something that works for them. Our job as parents, teachers, and mentors, is to help them to do this in a safe and constructive way. We can do this by helping them to navigate through common teenage problems and situations in a way that honors the present and prepares for the future.
In this article, we’ll take a look at seven common teenage problems, and how we can guide our teens past them.
#1 Body Image
A lot of people think of body image as a teen girl problem. But body image issues can be a teen boy problem as well. The media are filled with digitally altered bodies presented as standards for attractiveness. These standards are unattainable, and a lot of teens, male and female, take drastic measures to live up to them.
Body image issues can lead to eating disorders and other self-destructive behaviors. Girls most often feel pressure to be thinner. This can lead to problems like bulimia and anorexia. Boys, on the other hand, often feel pressure to be bigger. In one study, one-third of young men surveyed admitted to taking muscle-enhancing substances. A negative body image can cause problems for both young men and young women that can last a lifetime. How can you help?
In addition, the National Eating Disorders Association has information about eating disorders, as well as screening tools and a helpline.
#2 Drugs and Alcohol
Teens are smart. They know they shouldn’t use drugs or alcohol. But many teens want to explore, even if they know it could hurt them. And some feel the need to rebel against the rules, to show that they’re grown up enough to make grown-up decisions. Help them to make the right decisions. Arm them with the facts. Here are a few places to start.
Why it’s OK for adults, but not for teens.
Teen brains are still developing. Alcohol and drugs can cause lifelong damage to a developing brain.
Effects of drugs and alcohol on judgment.
Drugs and alcohol interfere with the part of the brain responsible for making decisions based on values and experience. This means that even when you know better, drugs and alcohol can prevent you from making sound decisions. And this can lead to teen pregnancy, venereal disease (STI/STDs), risk-taking, and more.
Decision making skills.
New research has shown that teaching teens how to make decisions, and role-playing different decision-making scenarios can help them to resist peer pressure. In addition, it will empower them to make the right decisions when the time comes.
Intimate relationships are a natural part of growing up. But they can lead to three very real problems: pregnancy, disease, and abuse. Here’s how to help your teens to avoid these three problems, and to develop healthy, happy relationships.
Research shows that the most effective form of sex education emphasizes facts and decision making skills. Abstinence is the only one hundred percent effective method to avoid unwanted pregnancy and disease. But it’s not enough to tell teens to “just say no.” Give them the facts they need to protect themselves.
#3 Avoiding Pregnancy
The teen pregnancy rate is going down in the United States, and that’s great news. But the U.S. still has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world, and that’s not so great. Three in ten teenage girls will become pregnant before age twenty, and half of those girls will never finish high school. And pregnancy isn’t just one of those teenage girl problems. Non-custodial fathers must pay child support under the law . If a father is a minor, that means his parents are responsible. Therefore, avoiding pregnancy is a teen boy problem as well. Give your teens the information they need to protect themselves.
Teach your teens, male and female, about the different methods of birth control. Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy. Outercourse is also an option. But teens live in the moment. Sometimes passion overpowers good sense — especially if drugs or alcohol are involved. Show your teens they can always talk to you without fear or judgment. If you suspect they are sexually active, make sure they have access to condoms and know how to use them.
#4 Avoiding Disease
Obviously, the best way to avoid a sexually transmitted disease is to avoid sexual contact. But that’s not always realistic. It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment, and if that happens, it’s best to be prepared.
Your teens need to know about safer sex. They need to know how to properly use a condom or a dental dam. Teach them the signs of common sexually transmitted diseases (STD). And the importance of STD testing before becoming intimate with someone. Let them know where they can get tested, and how important it is to get treatment if they test positive for an STD.
Giving your teens this information isn’t giving them permission to go out and have sex. Rather, you’re giving them the facts they need to avoid a potentially life-altering mistake.
It’s unfortunate, but dating violence among teens is more common than you might think. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that ten percent of the teens in the survey had experienced physical abuse from someone they were dating in the past 12 months. Another ten percent reported experiencing sexual abuse. Among adult victims of stalking and partner violence, 22% of women and 15% of men reported having experienced dating violence before age 17.
Teach your teens — male and female — to recognize the signs of abuse. Many teens don’t report dating violence for fear of being judged or punished. Let your kids know that they can always come to you in case of abuse, and that you will not judge or punish them. Make an effort to spend time with them and the people they’re dating. Observe how they interact. If you’re concerned that your teen might be in an abusive relationship, talk to him or her. Be factual and non-judgmental. And let your teen know that you will always be there for them. If you witness abuse or threats, you must notify the authorities.
And remember, both boys and girls can be victims of abuse.
Bullying is one teenage social issue that gets a lot of attention in the media. Since so many of us — adults as well as teens — live online, cyberbullying can cause teenagers trouble as well. But a lot of times it’s hard for parents to know what’s going on in their teenagers’ lives, especially online. But there are measures you can take.
Cyberbullying is particularly dangerous because it often happens right under parents’ noses. If you’re not paying attention, you may miss it completely. But cyberbullying can be even more destructive than in person bullying because of how quickly it can spread online. Some common cyberbullying tactics can include: rumors, doxxing, encouraging self harm, identity theft, and sharing compromising photos. Teens sometimes gang up on one person — it’s easy when you’re behind a screen and don’t have to look your victim in the face. It’s terrifying to think about, but there are things you can do.
Use a digital parenting app on phones and computers. Digital parenting apps allow you to set screen time limits, see search results, and will notify you when your teen installs new software, or tries to uninstall the app.
Teach your kids how to guard their digital privacy. Let them know to never, ever share nude or suggestive pictures of themselves, even on apps that supposedly delete them immediately. One screen shot can zip around the entire school in minutes.
And talk to the school if it’s necessary. School personnel are well aware of bullying and cyberbullying. And they want to help.
#7 Maintaining a Healthy Balance
Today’s teens are ambitious and hard working. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly one in four high school students has a job. And sometimes, this is in addition to sports, social and community activities as well. One of the most common teenage problems is striking the right balance between school, work, activities, and social life. While most adults have learned to manage their time, teens are still developing this skill. One of the most important lessons we can teach our teens is how to maintain a healthy balance of all the things they want and need to do.
Teach your teens how to recognize the signs of stress, and how to see when they are becoming overwhelmed. Discuss practical techniques for time management. And brainstorm ideas for blowing off steam, including exercise and spending time with friends. Most importantly, if you have a driven, highly motivated teen, let them know it’s all right to take a break now and then. Show them by doing so yourself now and then. A healthy balance doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But it’s a skill that everyone needs.
Many social issues are the same ones parents faced in their day. In addition, many teenage problems are the same problems everyone, adult or teenager, needs to deal with in everyday life. Balancing work with play, building happy relationships, and keeping our minds and bodies healthy.
At the same time, teenage problems have a special urgency. Teens are trying to define their place in the world. They’re building their future. The decisions they make now — and many mistakes — can affect them for the rest of their lives. As parents, teachers, family members, and carers, we’re in a unique position to help.
Give your teens freedom, but be their rock. Let them know they can always speak to you, without fear of punishment or judgment. Give them the facts they’ll need to make the big decisions, and teach them decision making skills so they’ll know how to make them. And most of all, listen.
Featured Image CC0 by TheDigitalArtist, via Pixabay.