10 Social Issues and Problems That Trouble Today’s Teens

Technology and social media can amplify the struggles teens face, but they aren’t the only issues they encounter.

Medically reviewed by Charissa Chamorro, PhD

Just like adults, teens nowadays often face social problems. They may also be more susceptible to challenges because their brains are still developing and their bodies are changing quickly. Combine that with advances in technology, and today’s teens are facing new and different social issues than their parents may have.

Not only has electronic media amplified some teenage troubles, but digital communication and social media have also changed the way teens interact with their peers and romantic interests. The end result is a group of young people who struggle with essential interpersonal communication skills like picking up on social cues.

Some of this dysfunction can be linked to technology—especially since the average teen spends more than eight hours each day using electronic devices. That said, not all teen social issues are linked to the digital world. Teens also are at a higher risk for overdose, might not practice safe sex, and are facing increasing academic pressures.

Here’s a closer look at the top 10 social issues teens nowadays struggle with.

Social Media

Instagram, Twitter, and SnapChat can be great ways for teens to connect, but social media can be problematic for several reasons. It can expose your teen to cyberbullying, slut-shaming, and so much more.

Social media can hurt friendships, and it’s changing the way teens date. Research shows it can impact their mental health. And no matter what precautions you take, teens are likely to be exposed to unsavory people, unhealthy images, and sexual content online.

Help your teen learn to navigate social media in a healthy way by following these tips:

  • Talk about ways to stay safe online.

  • Ask what your teen is doing on social media.

  • Educate yourself about the latest apps, websites, and social media pages teens are using.

  • Consider limiting your teen’s screen time.

Peer Pressure

While peer pressure has affected teens for generations, social media brings it to a whole new level. Sexting, for example, is a major cause for concern. Many teens don’t understand the lifelong consequences that sharing explicit photos can have.

But sending inappropriate photos isn’t the only thing kids are coerced into doing. Teens face pressure to have sex, use drugs or alcohol, and even bully others.

To keep your kids from falling victim to peer pressure, consider these tips:

  • Give them skills to make healthy choices and resist peer pressure.

  • Talk to teens about what to do if they make a mistake.

  • Let them know it’s safe to come to you when they have problems or make poor choices.

  • Demonstrate that you can listen without judging or overreacting.

  • Help them find healthy ways to make amends and move on if they peer pressure others.

On-Screen Violence

Teenagers are going to witness some violent media at one time or another. And it’s not just TV, music, and movies that depict violence. Many of today’s video games portray gory scenes and disturbing acts of aggression. Over the past couple of decades, studies have linked these violent images to a lack of empathy and aggressive behavior.

Other studies have shown the top factor in determining the way kids relate to media is how their parents think and act. That means the more violence parents watch, the more likely their kids will think it’s OK.

To help limit exposure to on-screen violence, pay attention to your teen’s media use and consider implementing these guidelines:

  • Restrict or limit your teen from watching R-rated movies or playing M-rated video games. Consuming that material excessively (and unsupervised) is not healthy.

  • Talk about the dangers of being exposed to violent images and monitor your teen’s mental state.

  • Discuss sexual situations and racial stereotypes that your teen might see.

  • Help them identify what’s good and what’s bad about the media.

  • Boost their media literacy by helping them think objectively about what they’re seeing on television, TikTok, in the movie theater, or in a video game.

Related: The 12 Best Movies to Help Heal Your Teen’s First Heartbreak

Depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 5 million adolescents in the U.S. have had at least one major depressive episode. That means 20% of American teenagers may experience depression before reaching adulthood. Data from NIMH also shows that depression is much more prevalent in female teens (29.2%) than male teens (11.5%) and among teens who reported two or more races (27.2%).

Spending too much time on electronic devices may be preventing young people from in-person activities with their peers, such as sports or other physical activities, that can help ward off depression. They’re also experiencing new conditions like “fear of missing out” or FOMO, which further leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Keep in mind that depressive disorders are treatable, but it’s important to seek professional help. Here’s how to navigate this situation:

  • Schedule an appointment to a health care provider or contact a mental health professional if your teen seems withdrawn, experiences a change in sleep patterns, or starts to perform poorly in school.

  • Consider online therapy as an option if your teen is reluctant to meet with a therapist in person.

  • Be willing to discuss what they’re thinking or feeling, including their thoughts of suicide. Having these conversations can reduce their fears and let them know someone is willing to listen, but it also needs to be handled thoughtfully.

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 911 if they are in immediate danger.

Related: Kids Need Access to Mental Health Days

Bullying

Nearly one in four teens between the ages of 12 and 18 report being bullied each year. Research suggests that social media has made bullying much more public and more pervasive. In fact, cyberbullying has replaced in-person bullying as the most common type of harassment that teens experience.

To help guard against these kinds of teenage troubles, regularly talk to your teen about bullying and consider utilizing these tips to help:

  • Discuss what they can do when they witness bullying.

  • Talk about options if they become a target themselves.

  • Recognize that being proactive is key to helping your child deal with a bully.

  • Talk to your child about when and how to get help from a trusted adult.

  • Acknowledge that talking about how someone has humiliated them is never an easy topic.

  • Remind them that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a show of courage.

Sexual Activity

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) survey, 30% of high school students reported having had sex and 21% said they were currently sexually active. That represents a decline over the past decade (47% had had sex in 2011; 34% were currently sexually active).

This decline in sexual activity doesn’t necessarily mean teens nowadays are using contraceptives, though. Just over half of sexually active teens reported using a condom in their last sexual encounter, according to YRBSS data, while about one-third used hormonal birth control and 10% used both.

This may explain why more than half of the 26 million new sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. are among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Here are some things you can do to ensure that your teen understands the risks of teen sex and how to be safe:

  • Talk to your teen about sex and allow them to ask questions.

  • Let them know they can come to you about anything and that no questions are off-limits.

  • Do your best to not shame them or make them feel embarrassed by their inquiries.

  • Instill the importance of safe sex practices—even if you don’t think your child is engaging in sexual activity.

  • Discuss contraception options and make sure they have access to contraception if they’re sexually active.

  • Give them resources to learn about safe sex.

Related: This Is How I Wish My Parents Talked to Me About Sex

Drug Use

The percentage of teens nowadays using illicit substances is roughly 10.9% of eighth graders, 19.8% of 10th graders, and 31.2% of 12th graders, according to most recent data from the Monitoring the Future Survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While this decline has been noted since the survey began in 1975, there has been a dramatic rise in overdoses among teens.

Illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug, is largely responsible for these overdoses. Drug dealers are adding it to counterfeit pills made to resemble prescription medications, which means that although teen drug use is declining, it’s becoming more risky for those who do partake.

It’s important to have regular conversations with your teen about the dangers of drugs. Here are some key topics you need to discuss:

  • Mention the dangers of over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications. Many teens don’t recognize the risks associated with taking a friend’s prescription or popping a few pills.

  • Tell your teen that drug use during adolescence increases their risk for developing a substance use disorder later in life.

  • Address how easily addictions can happen.

  • Discuss how drug and alcohol use can affect their brain development.

  • Talk about the risks associated with overdosing.

  • Explain the danger of illicit fentanyl contaminating counterfeit drugs.

  • Recognize talks about drug use are not one-and-done conversations, but something you should be discussing on a consistent basis.

Alcohol Use

Alcohol use and binge drinking continue to decline among teenagers. Still, 15.1% of eighth graders, 30.6% of 10th graders, and 45.7% of seniors say they used alcohol in the past year. The forms of alcohol teens are using have also changed. More kids are choosing flavored alcohol (also called “alcopops”) and alcohol with caffeine in it. About 36% of seniors reported drinking flavored alcohol.

It’s important to talk to your teen about the risks of underage drinking. Here are some tips on how to navigate those conversations.

  • Educate them about the dangers of alcohol use, including the fact that alcohol can take a serious toll on their developing brain.

  • Express your disapproval of underage drinking. Saying you don’t approve can make a big difference in whether your teen decides to drink.

  • Discuss the dangers of drinking and driving.

  • Let them know that if they do decide to drink, they should call you or another trusted adult for a ride rather than risk getting behind the wheel.

  • Assure your teen that it’s safe to reach out to you if they make a mistake and need help.

Obesity

About 22% of 12- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. are obese, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. Hispanic and Black children are more likely to be overweight or obese than White or Asian children.

Children and teens who are overweight or obese are often targeted by bullies and are at a much greater risk of lifelong health problems such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. They may also struggle with body image issues or develop eating disorders as a way of changing their appearance.

But surveys show parents may not recognize when their kids are overweight. They tend to underestimate their child’s size and the risks associated with being overweight. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Ask their health care provider privately about their weight in comparison to their height and age—though many health care providers will alert you to an issue without asking.

  • Find ways to support and empower your teen, especially if their doctor recommends a different eating plan or exercise.

  • Ensure your teen has the necessary tools to make changes, but recognize that they must want to change. You can’t force the issue, nor should you try to control them,

  • Avoid shaming or embarrassing your teen about their weight, but instead communicate acceptance for who they are as a person. They need to know their worth is not tied to their weight.

Related: Why Parents Should Encourage Their Teens To Play More

Academic Problems

About 5% of high school 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 significantly less over their lifetime when compared to a high school graduate, which can have a significant impact on a young person’s future.

But it’s no longer just “troubled teens” who are dropping out of school. Some teens feel so much pressure to get into a good college that they’re burning themselves out before they graduate from high school.

Here are some ways you can help your teen avoid academic problems:

  • Stay involved in your teen’s education.

  • Provide support and guidance when needed.

  • Be ready to assist your teen if they encounter problems.

  • Try to remove some of the pressure they may be facing by not placing so much emphasis on grades, achievements, and college acceptances.

Related: A Beginner’s Guide To Hiring a Tutor for Your Child

How to Talk to Your Teen

Bringing up any difficult subjects with your teen can feel uncomfortable. And your teen isn’t likely to respond well to a lengthy lecture or too many direct questions. But having a conversation with your teen about social issues and other teenage troubles isn’t something you should shy away from.

Even when it seems like they’re not listening, you’re the most influential person in your teen’s life. It’s important to lay a strong foundation before the window of opportunity closes. A good way to strike up a conversation about drugs, sex, vaping, or other uncomfortable situations is to ask a question like, “Do you think this is a big issue at your school?”

Listen to what your teen has to say. Try not to be judgmental, but make your expectations and opinions clear. It’s important that your teen understands that you don’t condone certain behaviors and that they know the consequences of breaking the rules. That said, you also need to communicate that if they do make a poor choice, it’s not the end of the world and that you’re there to help.

Related: Teen Slang Words in 2024: A Dictionary for Parents

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