The word “teenager” has been used since 1921 to refer to the unique age group of young people who are moving forward from childhood into adulthood. Young people in every era have faced similar challenges--along with specific issues unique to their generation. Today’s teenagers are no exception, as the distinct issues they face physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and relationally must be understood before they can be addressed.
- Falling age of puberty.
- Obesity and risk of disease.
Adolescence is a time of significant physical changes, but many of those transitions are happening at younger ages than in previous generations. The BBC News reported that girls develop breasts one to two years earlier than girls 40 years ago. Similarly, one boy in 14 reaches puberty by the age of 8, whereas in his father's generation the statistic was one boy in 150.
This issue of the shortening of childhood is commonly attributed to changes in health and nutrition, creating another problem young people face. Fast food meals and grocery store meats that contain chemicals used to get animals to grow faster are affecting the overall physical health of adolescents. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years and increased diabetes and heart issues among teens.
- An inability to handle criticism.
- Comparing the perception of others with the perception of self.
Many teenagers who participated in sports or other organized competitions as children grew up in leagues or organizations full of high praise. It is common for every kid to get a trophy at the end of a season, and parents are encouraged by coaches and instructors to regularly applaud effort over talent. Although these good intentions may sound better than a negative alternative, they've created a false sense of self-esteem in many teenagers. Consequently, young people don't often know how to handle failure when their perceived talents and sense of entitlement encounter real hurdles and a life that doesn't always go their way.
Other emotional issues are often linked to the external changes youth are experiencing in comparison to their peers. When other classmates appear more beautiful or handsome, teenagers can form perceptions they regard as truths, such as "I'm ugly and awkward and always will be this way." Such internal drama may lead to an inappropriate desire to be loved that settles for unhealthy friendships, manipulative relationships and premature sexual activity.
- Academic pressure to perform beyond natural abilities.
- Unrealistic expectations based on advertisements and media.
The pressure to perform well academically contributes to the high levels of mental stress that teenagers experience. Simple tasks like choosing a college major or deciding what level math class to take may be motivated more by a desire to do well in the global economy than what their personal ability allows for. Soon a pattern of pursuing above-average studies and extracurricular involvement can create time management issues that only amplify the situation. According to The Health Center, mental stress like this can cause up to 90% of all illnesses.
Advertisements also flood young people with concepts of how their life should be, creating unrealistic expectations of their present and future. Every day young people are exposed to web sites, magazines, commercials and television shows that use physically attractive actors to glamorize a life full of certain products and fashions. The stereotypes formed by this unconscious input operate at a level of fantasy that young people perceive as reality.
- Inconsistency in core spiritual beliefs.
- Finding a faith community that provides adequate spiritual mentoring.
Many young people claim to be spiritual, yet according to Barna Research one out of six of teenagers claim they make their most important choices on the basis of "whatever would produce the most beneficial results for them." This circumstantial approach to life means doing what they think will make others happy, including what family, friends and parents expect of them. In contrast, only 7% of teenagers state that they utilize religious principles in everyday decision making.
One spiritual issue this reveals is that the emerging generation is more inclined to make decisions about controversial issues based on their feelings versus their faith. George Barna noted that substantial numbers of Christians believe that activities such as abortion, gay sex, sexual fantasies, cohabitation, drunkenness and viewing pornography are morally acceptable even though their main source of truth does not.
Another issue this research raises is the struggle for teenagers to experience a faith community that will teach them how to discern spiritual truths objectively versus subjectively. With a diversity of beliefs about God in the world, young people may not feel that they can state their convictions with confidence. Rather than taking part in religious services that tell them what to think they're now challenged to find spiritual leaders who can equip them in how to think.
- Limited time with family creates limited relationships.
- Peer pressure to live life a certain way.
The household relationships a young person grows up in can have the greatest impact upon them. Most families keep a busy schedule that minimizes mealtime investments, though, creating conversations that are more about problems the teenager is experiencing than proactive recognition of what they're doing well. Such an emphasis can lead to negative tensions in both parents and siblings that counteract the sense of security and accomplishment teens need to feel from their family.
Peer pressure is the other relational issue that often equates to a social circle or individual who imposes standards and expectations upon others. Influence among teenagers is often centered around what is considered acceptable music, fashion, associations and daily activities. At times peer pressure can lead to moral dilemmas, but according to a University of Minnesota study most teens follow and accept their family's standards in such situations. In worst case scenarios teenagers may simply not consider the consequences of going along with the crowd and end up contributing to the group bullying of others.
In both family and peer matters, relationships are never one-way but are circular. While influence may start with one party in the relationship, its longevity of impact requires mutual reinforcement. Relationships inherently require an unconscious or conscious agreement to add to each others lives, and teens who use their growing independence responsibly can form friendships with people whom they want to be formed by.