For most people, teenage years are an emotional roller coaster. There are some points where you’ll think that being a teenager is the greatest period of time, and points where you’ll think it’s the worst. There’s a reason why there are so many televisions shows, movies, music, and books that deal with the emotional issues that teenagers experience. It appeals to teenagers currently going through it, and for adults, it provides nostalgia for the emotions once experienced.
While teenagers have experienced similar emotions for decades, today’s teenagers often suffer an amplification of their feelings, or at least a perceived amplification, due to the always present social media component to their social lives.
This post will discuss four of the more common challenges teens experience and provide a few tips for how to work with teens to help them through this tough time.
Depression affects people of all ages. A staggering 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Teenagers commonly experience bouts of depression. Most of the elements of a teenagers life are quantified in some way. How they’re doing in school is represented by a G.P.A, their social lives can be, albeit usually unfairly, measured via social media, and how talented a teenager is in they desired extracurricular activities — sports, theater, music, etc — can also be measured. Many of these measurements are public, which leads to teens placing a lot of pressure upon themselves, leading to depression. Some teens excel with competition from their peers, while others will struggle with it.
Some of the symptoms that a teenager is experiencing depression includes:
- Sudden changes in behavior.
- Apathy towards school or extracurricular activities.
- Deteriorated health.
- Lack of sleep, or oversleeping.
- Long periods of sadness or anger.
One of the best things you can do for a teen experiencing depression or depressive thoughts is to talk with them. Teenagers want to express their feelings with someone but are often embarrassed or scared to tell people, especially adults and their parents. By demonstrating to the teen that you’re open to listening to what they’re going through, you’re creating a better chance that they will feel comfortable sharing with you.
Teenagers feel a lot of pressure to conform to the various social groups they interact with. Social pressures take form as peer pressure and will often lead teenagers to experiment with substances such as drugs and alcohol. The brains and bodies of teenagers are still developing, so abusing substances at their age poses more risks than drugs and alcohol do for fully-developed adults. There are a variety of reasons that teenagers are drawn to drugs and alcohol. Among some of the many reasons that lead teenagers to abusing substances are:
- Makes Them Feel Older: Teenagers don’t like to marginalized by their age. While they’re very much still children, they’re bodies and minds are maturing quickly, making them feel closer to adults than children. Do to the age requirements for alcohol, many teenagers equate the substance with adulthood. Because of that, some teenagers reason that if they’re drinking alcohol they are behaving like adults.
- It’s Cool: Drinking and trying drugs is glamorized and perceived as cool for many teenagers. Many teenagers will start off trying substances as a way to fit in socially.
- Taboo: Because of the risks that drugs and alcohol pose on the mental and physical development of teenagers, teens are informed from an early age that drugs and alcohol are bad and something they should avoid. Teenagers have a way of being drawn towards the things adults tell them are bad for them. Think about music. The generation that was told by their parents not to listen to Elvis grew up to lecture their kids about The Doors and The Rolling Stones. That generation grew up and lectured their kids on hip hop. The cycle continues. Therefore, some teenagers equate trying these substances as cool and breaking with the expected norms.
- Coping Mechanism: As we detailed in the depression section, there’s a lot of pressure on teenagers. To relieve some of the pressure, stress, and social anxiety, many teens cope by using drugs and alcohol.
It’s important to talk to teenagers about drugs and alcohol so that they have all the information when they’re presented with the decision.
Body Image Concerns
Though struggling with body image concerns is an issue for people of all ages, it’s a common challenge for teenagers. There’s some disagreement on the source of body image pressures. Some people place the root of the issue on the media’s portrayal of what men and women should look like. Women, in particular, are often held to unfair body expectations in movies, television, and print advertisements, which leads many women to become dissatisfied by their bodies. A staggering 90% of girls between the ages of 15-17 want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance. While the media pressures young girls to be thin, it also pressures young boys strong and fit. 30% of boys are resorting to unhealthy weight control behaviors in order to ‘improve’ the way they appear to their peers.
While the media places a lot of unfair expectations on how teenagers should look physically, so to do their fellow peers. With puberty hitting teenagers at different times, teenagers are often comparing themselves to their fellow peers. They notice who is taller than them, who is more developed, who is thinner, who’s getting more romantic attention. On top of that, bullying plays a factor in how teenagers are being held to body-image expectations by their peers. While bullying has always been an issue amongst teenagers, today’s teenagers face bullying outside of school at a highly elevated and amplified level thanks to social media. A victim of bullying, whether related to physical appearance or not, no longer experiences the bullying during school hours.
Think about how much attention and concern you used to put into how you looked in your annual yearbook photo. The photo would be published and stand the test of time for how you looked during that year, even though the photo only represented a single day. With social media capturing and broadcasting pictures daily, teenagers today are experiencing anxiety around how they look on a daily basis.
Discussing body image with teenagers, or anyone for that matter is a delicate topic. Many times there is a separation on how a teenager looks, and how they personally perceive themselves appearing.Conversation helps, but not all conversation is productive. If you know a teenager that is struggling with body image issues so much so that it’s affecting their self-esteem, or, more seriously, leading them to adopt an eating disorder, finding them a mental health professional to speak with is highly recommended.
Learn More the Challenges That Teenagers Face
Teenagers have a lot on their plates. They’re keeping busy with school work and college prep, they’re involved in extracurricular activities after school and on weekends, and they’re trying to manage a social life that is amplified by the constant pull of social media. The challenges and stresses that teenagers face often lead to depression, substance abuse, and lowered self-esteem brought on by body image concerns.
Acknowledging the challenges teenagers experience goes a long way to opening a productive dialogue that will help them through the difficult time. Granted, you may talk to a 13-year old differently than a 17-year old, but generally communicating with them maturely will go a long way and building their trust.
Learn more about the behaviors and challenges of teenagers.