What Your Teen Faces Today

November 2004

Today’s teens face more challenges and temptations than any other generation has. More is expected from them in their schooling- their course loads are bigger with more required curriculum. There are new drugs and forms of drugs that are easily and readily accessible. Alcohol is popular as ever and more teens are sexually active. Peer pressure is a constant strain and influence on their choices. Relationships with parents and siblings are vitally important and have a strong pull in decision making.

First, let’s take a look at the schooling of today’s adolescents. According to Arlene Gluck, Principal of Mojave and Desert Trails High School, “It is now harder for students to get out of high school. The big challenge facing the students is the high school exit exams, she said, “We have to hold our students to a higher standard, which is good, but it has been hard for our students.” Gluck mentioned that over the years students have become responsible for a wider body of knowledge. This growing expectation undoubtedly causes a lot of stress on today’s teens.

Besides the daily grind of academics, the time spent in school is that of self definition and emotional challenges. Students are trying to define themselves in relation to how other people see them. They are trying to integrate their values. Usually this involves deciding if they hold the same values as their parents and will keep them as their own. During these key times of schooling, students are trying to find out where they belong in society and among their peers.

High school students are also burdened by the prospects of their future. They have so many important choices to make at this time of their life that will determine their lives in adulthood. According to Gluck, Student’s are very emotional. They are transitioning from wanting independence to being an independent person.

Drugs, alcohol and sex are not new problems for youth, but today they seem much more accessible and promoted by peer pressure. The relationship that a teen has with their parents or siblings can help them say no and avoid peer pressure. In October of 2002, SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions/Students Against Driving Drunk) and Liberty Mutual Group identified key “decision points”, as adolescents mature and the factors that will likely guide their behavior with respect to drinking, drug use and sex.

Research has identified that upward trends in drinking, drug use and sexual behavior are as follows:

  • Drinking increases significantly between 6th and 7th grade
  • Drug use increases significantly between 8th and 9th grade
  • Sexual activity increases significantly between 10th and 11th grade

In a study of more than 1,800 middle and high school students a developmental time line was revealed that reflected significant spikes in destructive behaviors of adolescents. The research confirmed many parent’s fears that today’s young people have easy access to alcohol, drugs and sex. Good decision making is the best line of defense for teens. There are many factors that contribute to a teen’s decision making. The factors that have regularly been cited by teens include:

  • Mental states (e.g. depressions, anxiety, stress, boredom, curiosity);
  • Personal goals (e.g. Are others doing it? What are the chances of getting caught? What are the potential consequences?); and
  • Significant people (e.g. parents, friends, siblings, and clergy).

It is the parent’s responsibility to influence as many of those factors as possible.

Despite what many teens have adults believe, they don’t get involved in destructive behavior just for fun or to feel good. Data shows that other key determinants of decision making are anger, peer pressure and stress.

From this information it is easy to gather that it is not easy to be a teenager today. But if parents will play an active role in the lives of their children and show real interest and concern, peer pressure can be overcome. Parents have the responsibility and ability to influence those key factors of their children’s lives (mental states, personal goals and significant people.) If this happens, teens will have the ability and the knowledge to make good decisions.




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