This Post: 12 Things Today’s Teens Worry About and How to Help
Written by: Marybeth Bock
Teens are notorious for keeping their true feelings under wraps. Sure, if we’re really lucky, we might have a few brief “here and there” conversations with our kids when they reveal what’s in their heart. But for many of us, we’re left in the dark guessing what’s really on our kid’s mind.
But just because your teen is tight-lipped, doesn’t mean they’re not worried, stressed or anxious navigating life as a teenager. In fact, the things today’s teens worry about is far-reaching.
Whether your teen is emotionally transparent and honest with you most of the time or not, it’s safe to assume they’re worried about things they haven’t expressed to you. Here are 12 things today’s teens worry about with a few tips on how you can help them.
12 Things Today’s Teens Worry About and How to Help
The media, advertising, social media, and the barrage of filtered celebrity images have created a haze of synthetic realism that’s leaving teenagers feeling worried that they’ll never measure up. From the shape of their body to the shape of their lips, teens are second-guessing their uniqueness and viewing it less as a beautiful strength and more as an imperfection. What makes matters worse, this high awareness of body image comes at a time when they’re already feeling vulnerable and insecure due to all the changes happening in their body.
Being left off the invite list, excluded from the crowd or being the lonely girl/guy sitting alone at the lunchroom table – the need (and worry) to feel included and accepted is at an all-time high when kids hit their teen years. They’re super aware of where they fall in the “popularity hierarchy” and they worry about ending up too close to the bottom. Even if they don’t admit it, the vast majority of teens want and need to feel connected to a group, clique’, team, club or crowd.
Grades, School & Getting into College
Ranked as one of the top things today’s teens worry about, the pressure our teens face to do well in school, fight for a good GPA, and round out their resume with an exhausting amount of extracurriculars so they can secure a spot in a decent college is overwhelming.
And, every year the academic bar seems to be raised which only adds to our teen’s stress. Pile on the pressure of landing a respectable score on the ACT or SAT and it becomes an almost constant worry for teens.
It’s a hidden worry most teens don’t talk about openly, but it’s always lingering in their thoughts… the fear of failing. The fear of not getting a good grade on a test, making the honor roll, graduating, making the junior or varsity team, landing that summer job, securing that internship or getting into college tends to weigh heavily on teen’s minds (even though we know the things they view as failures are merely setbacks).
Mental health awareness has taken a front seat, especially since the pandemic, making it easier for teenagers to not only express their mental health concerns but also to seek help without fear or judgment. Still, we have a long way to go. Not only do a lot of teens struggle with high stress, anxiety, and depression, far too many have also been affected by peer suicide. According to the U.S. National Institute on Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 24 putting mental health near the top of our teens’ worry list.
Studies have shown that one-third to one-half of teens struggle with low self-esteem. In addition to the major changes happening in their bodies and brains that can erode their confidence, there’s a myriad of outside forces that can perpetuate low self-esteem, including being bullied, a stressful home life, struggling academically, feeling less than perfect in any area of their life, unsupportive/negative friends and so much more. What makes matters worse is when they see others who seem to have it all together, it only bolsters their fear that they simply “don’t measure up.”
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
Thanks to social media, teens have a birdseye view of what their friends and classmates are doing practically 24/7. Every time they scroll through their phone, they see someone they know having the time of their life. That feeling of missing out on something fun or important that their friends (or others) are experiencing can lead them to feel worried, lonely, and insecure – especially if they weren’t on the invite list.
Even in the best of families, teens can worry about their home life. A rocky relationship with their parents or siblings, family financial concerns, fear of parents divorcing or losing their jobs, or disagreements about curfew, chores or responsibilities can put added worry on teens’ shoulders.
Teens are pretty darn savvy when it comes to world events.
As such, they tend to not only worry about their immediate future, like getting into college, they’re also concerned with things that will affect them long term, like climate change, gun violence, racial injustice, the pandemic, and war. According to a 2021 study from the University of Bath in the UK, most young people are worried and angry about what they see ahead – 75% of respondents aged 16-25 from ten countries around the world said, “the future is frightening” and 55% said they felt they’ll have fewer opportunities in life as adults than their parents had.
Whether they’re being pressured to drink, do drugs, vape or have sex, no teenager wants to appear prudish or uncool if they say “no.” Even more so, they don’t want to be rejected by their friends, hurt their friend’s feelings or taken off the invite because they’ve now been pegged as someone who “doesn’t know how to have a good time.” Every teen wants to feel accepted and part of a group and feeling pressured to do the “cool thing” to fit in is a very real and exhausting worry for a lot of teens.
First crush, first kiss, first date, first relationship – many teens spend a ton of time thinking and worrying about romantic relationships. They worry about girls/guys liking them, if they’ll be considered a good kisser or whether they should make the first move. They’re also learning how to be a good boyfriend or girlfriend, manage rejection, deal with heartbreak, and (even though most parents would rather not admit it), they’re thinking about sex – all of which can weigh heavy on their minds.
Political & World Issues
Considering half the American public is “extremely worried” about where the country is headed – citing politics, the economy, inflation and COVID-19 as the main sources of concern, it’s no surprise that world issues are impacting our teens’ lives as well. In fact, a new study published in the journal Child Psychology and Human Development, is believed to be the first to examine youths’ worry about political issues, and it turns out, our teens are worried, too.
There are so many things today’s teens worry about. However, whatever worries might be troubling your teen, you can work together to diminish or overcome them.
Here are a few helpful tips:
- Have open, honest conversations with your teen. Ask open-ended questions and listen to what’s in their heart and mind.
- Don’t dismiss them when they’re in the mood to talk. You’ll be missing out on opportunities to connect and build a trusting relationship. When they feel heard and respected, they’ll be more apt to talk to you in the future when they’re feeling worried, stressed or anxious, or if they need guidance or advice.
- If your teen is closed off and resistant to share their thoughts or feelings, look for ways to jump into their world. Talk to them about their friends, a homework assignment, a club they love, or a hobby that interests them. Essentially, love the things they love. The more you show genuine interest in their world, the more trust you’ll build and the more they’ll eventually open up to you.
- When they do share what’s on their mind, validate their concerns, worries, or fears.
- Help your teen tackle their worries by separating them into “controllable” and “uncontrollable” worries. If they have worries that are in their control, help them adopt a plan to tackle those fears or worries.
- For the “uncontrollable” fears, help your teen find ways to de-stress and let go of needless worry. Encourage them to adopt healthy coping mechanisms like exercising, journaling, meditation, or taking up a hobby to release anxious feelings and alter worrisome thought patterns.
- Accept your child for who they are. Expressing your unconditional love for them can go a long way in helping them develop a strong sense of identity and healthy self-esteem, both of which will help them worry less about what others think and things that are out of their control.
- There’s nothing more protective in our kids’ lives than their parents’ unwavering, steadfast love. Amidst physical and emotional changes and a slew of worries they feel throughout their adolescent years, knowing they can count on their parents’ love, understanding and support can make any worry or problem seem so much less intense.
- Most importantly, if you suspect your child might be suffering from clinical anxiety or depression, talk to your family physician about a referral to a mental health professional. Your teen may not require that level of help, but it’s best to let a professional assess their situation and give an appropriate recommendation. For more information on Adolescent Anxiety, you can access the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s website here.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
If you enjoyed, “12 Things Today’s Teens Worry About and How to Help,” you might also like reading: