It has always been difficult being a teenager, but it seems like today’s teens face much more challenges than ever before.
Instead of just worrying about acne, puberty, and what they are going to do after graduation, today’s issues seem more life-threatening and life-changing, including things like:
drug abuse, including abuse of prescription medications
the choking game
mental health problems
having alcoholic and drug using parents
Teen Drug Use
There is good news and bad news when it comes to teen drug use. The good news is that the statistics show that fewer teens are using drugs. The bad news is these same statistics still show that a lot of teens, some starting as early as in the 8th grade, are using drugs. For example, rates of use in the month before the survey was done for 12th graders were almost 19% for marijuana and 45% for alcohol.
Abuse of Vicodin, a prescription narcotic pain medicine, reaches almost 10% of 12th graders and about 6% abuse cough medicines, both of which seem to be one of the newer fads and dangers to kids. In fact, some experts are warning that kids are turning more and more to their own medicines cabinets to get high.
In addition to Vicodin, teens are abusing Valium, Xanax, Ritalin, Adderall, Oxycontin, and whatever other prescription medications they can find.
Today, instead of just a childproof cap on your prescription bottles, you likely need a lock on your medicine cabinet. And knowing that today’s teens are abusing prescription medications and over-the-counter cough medicines, it gives you something else to talk and warn your kids about.
A pill identifier can help you if you find your teen with a suspicious pill and aren’t sure what it is or why your child has it.
The Choking Game
While parents typically know, or should know, that they need to talk to their kids about how to protect themselves from STDs and getting pregnant, today’s teens face some new issues that parents have just never heard of. The “choking game” is one of these issues.
The “choking game” involves teens who actually try to strangulate themselves, or have a friend strangle or choke them, until they pass out.
Why do they do it? To get high.
Unfortunately, too many of these kids who pass out — especially when they do something to choke themselves when they are alone — don’t ever wake up.
Is the choking game just an overhyped media problem that you don’t have to worry about? There have been 82 probable choking game deaths in kids and the 2006 Williams County (Ohio) Youth Health Risk Behavioral Survey found that 11% of kids between the ages of 12 to 18 reported playing the choking game.
That makes it important to learn the warning signs to recognize if your kids might be playing, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can include talking about the choking game and:
bloodshot eyes and/or marks on their neck
frequent, severe headaches
being disorientated after spending time alone
finding belts, ropes, or scarves knotted or tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs
As with other topics you try to talk to your teen about, you might bring the topic up by asking him if he knows whether any of his friends or anyone at school ever talks about playing the choking game.
Many of the health issues that teens are facing aren’t new, but they are issues that seem to be increasing. They include obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, and sleep problems.
Obesity is an especially challenging problem, as these overweight teens face many health problems and a risk of continuing to be overweight as an adult. Lack of exercise, poor eating habits, and drinking a lot of soda all contribute to the problem of teen obesity.
If your teen is overweight, it is a good time to get some help from your pediatrician, a registered dietician, and an exercise program or activity at school or in the community to help your teen with a healthy diet and reach a healthier weight.
Mental Health Issues
Teen mental health issues are another of the big challenges that teens face. And they are even more important, because one way or another, they seem to affect so many other issues, including youth violence, risky behaviors, and poor school performance.
Whether it is anxiety, depression, or your teen simply has a lot of trouble making and keeping friends, getting early and aggressive treatment with a mental health professional can be helpful. In addition to your pediatrician, look for help from a counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist that specializes in teen mental health issues (adolescent psychiatrist).
Today’s Teen Problems
In addition to all of the other new and old teen problems, newer issues that teens face today include cyberbullying, school violence, shootings, and worry about terrorism. And social pressures and the pressure to do well in school is a big stress, as it has always been, for many teens.
One other big problem for some teens continues to be having problems at home. This may range from not having someone at home to talk to or having a poor relationship with their parents, to a teen who has a drug abusing or alcoholic parent .
Help for Today’s Teens
Although today’s teens seem to an overwhelming number of challenges to their health and safety, that is likely what parents of every generation think. Fortunately, many parents are involved in their teen’s lives, talk openly with them about important topics, and supervise them and their friends — all of which can help them avoid many of today’s problems.
Whether or not you think today’s teens have more problems, bigger problems or just different problems, it is important to get your teen help for those problems before they become overwhelming.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. InfoFacts: High School and Youth Trends. Dec. 2007.
MMWR. CDC. February 15, 2008 / 57(06);141-144. Unintentional Strangulation Deaths from the “Choking Game” Among Youths Aged 6-19 Years – US, 1995-2007.
The 21st Century Teen: Public Perception and Teen Reality. Prepared for the Frameworks Institute by Meg Bostrom. December 2001.