Top 10 Social Issues Teens Struggle With (And How Parents Can Help)

Today's teens have a different set of issues to worry about

Teenage boy (16-17) lying on grass, elevated view
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Advances in technology mean today's teens are facing issues that no previous generation has ever seen. While some issues are not exactly new, electronic media has changed or amplified some of the struggles young people face.

In fact, the average teen spends over 9 hours each day using their electronic devices. Their social media habits and media consumption are changing the way young people communicate, learn, sleep, and exercise.

Here are the top ten things today's teens struggle with:

1. Depression

An estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 12.5 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.

Depressive disorders are treatable. However, if your teen suddenly becomes withdrawn, experiences a change in his sleep patterns, or starts to perform badly in school, take these signs of depression seriously. Contact your teen's physician or a mental health professional.

2. Bullying

According to research conducted by Family First Aid, 30 percent of teens in the U.S. have been involved in bullying either as a victim or as the bully. Bullying can lead to a variety of physical injuries and mental health problems.

Unfortunately, the rise of social media use by teens has made bullying much more public and more pervasive. Educate your teen about the dangers of social media and the strategies she can use to prevent and address bullying.

3. Sexual Activity

In a 2013 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47 percent of high school students reported being sexually active, and 41 percent said they had not used a condom during their last sexual encounter. Of the 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases each year, more than half were among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Very few parents think their teens are sexually active. So it is important to talk to your teen about sex, even if you think he or she is not sexually active.

4. Drug Use

Marijuana use has been on the rise among adolescents over the past few years according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2012, 17 percent of tenth graders and 23 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana in the past month. Recognize the warning signs of drug use.

Talk to your teen about the dangers of drugs. And do not forget to mention the dangers of prescription drugs. Many teens do not recognize the dangers of taking a friend's prescription or popping a few pills that are not prescribed to them.

5. Alcohol Use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports alcohol use has dropped among teens. In 2012, 14.5 percent of 10th graders and 28.1 percent of 12th graders reported getting drunk in the past month. The same research study found that 23.7 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) in the past two weeks.

Have regular conversations about the risks of underage drinking. Educate your teen about the dangers. Express your disapproval of underage drinking and why it can be dangerous for teenagers.

It can go a long way to reducing your teen's risk.

6. Obesity

The 2011 National Survey on Children’s Health reports that 31.3 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 10 and 17 were overweight or obese. Obese children are at a much greater risk of lifelong health problems, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and heart disease.

Talk to your pediatrician about healthy eating habits and what weight and body mass are appropriate for your teen's height and age. 

7. Academic Problems

Although the high school dropout rate is decreasing, 1.2 million 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 earn $200,000 less over his lifetime when compared to a high school graduate. 

Stay involved in your teen's education. Provide support and guidance and be ready to assist your teen if he or she encounters problems. 

8. Peer Pressure

While peer pressure definitely is not a new issue, electronic media makes it even harder for teens to resist. Sexting, for example, is a major cause for concern as many teens do not understand the lifelong consequences that sharing explicit photos can have on their lives. 

Give your teen skills to make healthy choices and to resist peer pressure. Talk to your teen about what to do if she makes a mistake. Sometimes, kids can make poor choices and may be too afraid to seek help. Encourage your teen to talk you when he or she makes a mistake.

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. Unhealthy messages often go viral on social media and teens frequently compare themselves to one another.

Know what your teen is doing online. Educate yourself about the latest apps, websites, and social media pages teens are using. Even harmless selfies can be problematic. It important to stay on top of what your teen is doing so you can provide information that will keep your teen safe. 

10. On-Screen Violence

It is not just TV or movies that allow teens access to violence. Most teens play video games and violent games that often portray gory scenes and disturbing acts of aggression. Over the decades, a multitude of studies linked watching violence to a lack of empathy. A study in 2017 dispelled the theory that playing violent video games like Call of Duty or Counterstrike had long-term effects on empathy. 

Regardless, the bottom line is you should monitor your teen's screen time and electronic activities. Talk to your teen about the dangers of being exposed to violent images and monitor your teen's mental state.

Sources:

National Institute of Mental Health. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexual Risk Behaviors. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/.

Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health. National Survey for Children's Health, http://www.childhealthdata.org/learn/NSCH.

Family First Aid. School Bullying Statistics. http://www.familyfirstaid.org/parenting/social/school-bullying-statistics/.​​

National Center for Education Statistics. High School Dropouts. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16 .

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Marijuana. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/marijuana .

Szycik G, Mohammadi B, Munte T, Wildt B. Lack of Evidence That Neural Empathic Responses Are Blunted in Excessive Users of Violent Video Games: An fMRI Study. Frontiers of Psychology. March 8. 2017. 

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