Adults may think that teens today have little reason to complain as they seem to have everything they want or need. The truth is, teens may actually have it harder as current societal expectations, cultural trends, modern technology and mixed messaging are putting our youth under tremendous pressure. They are at a higher risk of emotional distress and mental health issues than was the case 30 years ago. Many people believe that kids coming from affluent families have minimal stress because they have all the resources at their fingertips. This is not the case at all; rich kids may even have it worse, as explained in the Psychology Today’s article: The Problem With Rich Kids, “money does not imply happiness”. The theme of this generation is to be the best, rise to the top and achieve perfectionism. These unrealistic demands are causing teens to acquire a lack of confidence, hope and satisfaction in their lives. Let’s explore why the modern teen is under so much stress:
1. Academic pressure – Getting your high school education is a basic requirement in attaining employment or being accepted in a college or university. It is a positive step towards a better quality of life. Students today, however, are feeling the need to excel in order to obtain “top of the class” status to be eligible for scholarships or entry to the best universities. Relentless testing in schools is also driving up anxiety in young people, resulting in psychological and physical symptoms such as panic attacks and insomnia. Marks become the focal point of the teens’ lives, leaving less time for fun and social activities.
2. Pressure to Be Perfect – The heat is on for teens, especially adolescent girls, to act, look, and behave flawlessly. Mistakes or imperfections are not valued or even accepted. Kids are being bombarded with highly glamourized images that are specifically targeted toward them, sending the message that this is the standard. Kids believe that how models, athletes and celebrities are portrayed in the media is the new norm and that anything less than this image is a failure.
3. Fitting In – The peer pressure to fit in with the right circles or conform to the majority’s ideals is ramped up. Wanting to be popular is nothing new but the new element of social media and technology is causing kids to start marketing themselves in order to belong and be recognized by the masses. Quantity, not quality, of friends or social relationships is what matters most to today’s teens. It is perceived that the more friends you have the more acceptance and popularity you have. A teen’s self-esteem is associated with the number of friends and “likes” and his or her social media sites.
4. Having a Life Plan – Teens are under pressure to have a clear vision of what they want to do with the rest of their lives, long before Grade 12. This is in order to pick the right classes and join specific extra-curricular activities in order to boost their qualifications to gain entry into their desired college or university program. Being burdened with adult responsibilities and priorities takes away from their childhood and the time they need to develop their social skills. Kids are expected to grow up quickly and become the next CEO.
Kids are not coping well with today’s pressures. Statistics are showing that depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harming rates among adolescents are continually climbing. With research indicating that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people, we should be questioning what we are doing to this generation of kids. It certainly had me wondering what I could do to alleviate some of this anxiety and hopelessness for teens. Personally seeing and working with emotionally-distressed youth motivated me to write Am I The Only One? Struggling Being A Teen. Many youth have minimal resources and support networks they can turn to in order to empower them and provide them solutions to life’s challenges. Unfortunately there are teens that are floundering on their own afraid to show their vulnerabilities and ask or reach out for help. My hope is that this book will be accessible to teens through schools and libraries. It may possibly be an intervention to those thinking about hurting themselves due to the depression and hopelessness they feel. They need to know they are not the only one struggling with today’s pressures and that this book could assist to guide them through some of the misery they are feeling.