Teenagers and social problems occur everyday in high schools across the country. The teen years present a number of social challenges.
Understanding Teenage Social Problems
Teenagers gain an increasing amount of independence from their parents as they enter middle school and high school. Unlike the early years, kids in this age group often look to friends instead of parents for guidance. The pressure to fit in and be part of the cool crowd clouds the judgment of vulnerable kids.
Bullying frequently occurs in the halls of high schools. It ranges from easily identifiable fist-fights to subtle, emotional attacks to the victim.
Types of Bullying
Bullying takes on several forms including:
- Physical threats and violence
- Verbal attacks and abuse
- Cyber bullying
Physical bullying is often the first thing that typically comes to mind. Yet verbal attacks affect the victim in many of the same ways. Bullying may lead to other social problems, such as low self-esteem and making poor choices.
The type of bullying may vary, but the effects follow a common pattern in teens. The victims often struggle with acceptance after suffering at the hands of a bully. The victim may experience:
- Fear and withdrawal from normal activities where they may encounter the bully
- Anxiety and depression
- Poor self-esteem
- Headaches, stomach ailments and other physical problems
- Suicide or suicidal ideation
On a daily basis, teens influence their peers on everything from clothes to illegal activities. Why do they allow themselves to be swayed by peers? Fitting in and avoiding taunts is a major factor. No one wants to be left out. Kids who are curious about a certain behavior may decide to try, particularly if they think everyone else is doing it. Drinking or smoking at a party is a good example. A teen may decide to satisfy his curiosity if all of the other party guests are consuming alcohol.
Effects of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure results in poor decisions made by teens. A child who is on the fence about engaging in risky behaviors often goes along with the crowd to fit in, abandoning his own better judgment. Even teens who have refused to participate in a given activity in the past may eventually give in under peer pressure. Negative choices that routinely occur to fit in include:
- Leaving others out of the group or making fun of them
- Bullying other teens, either physically or verbally
- Skipping school
- Engaging in sexual activity
- Breaking curfew and disrespecting parents
- Consuming alcohol or drugs
Positive Peer Pressure
While peer pressure is usually associated with negative behaviors, it is worth noting that some peer pressure results in positive outcomes. Teens have the power to use peer pressure positively by encouraging peers to make better decisions. For example, one teen might encourage a friend to avoid participating in risky behaviors or stand up for a bullying victim, thus pressuring the bully to stop.
Self-esteem is the value a person places on herself and how she views herself. A teen with low self-esteem feels inadequate and may feel uncomfortable with her appearance. She may feel left out or less worthy than peers that are deemed prettier, skinnier or more popular. Influences on self-esteem come from a variety of sources. Body changes during puberty, slender models in the media, bullying and the home life of the child play a role in its development.
Effects of Poor Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is developed over the course of one's life based on the experiences and it influences a person in many ways. High self-esteem allows the individual to maintain a healthy attitude toward life. Low self-esteem may cause an individual to hold back and miss experiences. A teen's level of confidence is also related. Poor self-esteem can lead to depression in some people.
Improving self-esteem requires the realization that it comes from within and only you can improve how you see yourself. There are many ways for teens to improve self-esteem once they realize it is a personal process. Ideas include:
- Identify the difference between things that can and cannot be changed
- Set goals for the things that can be changed, using smaller steps to achieve the overall goal
- Make a list of positive characteristics and achievements instead of only focusing on the negatives
- Push negative thoughts aside when they begin to creep in
- Participate in activities that bring joy or a sense of accomplishment
- Seek help from an adult
Help From Adults
Parents, teachers or other adults in a teen's life serve as a support system. Understanding teenagers and social problems is important for adult role models. A rumor at school or feeling left out may seem like an insignificant problem to an adult who is struggling to make ends meet or dealing with a difficult relationship. Yet these problems are very real to the kids who deal with them. Offering empathy and understanding creates a supportive environment for teens. Ways to help teens include:
- Encourage open communication
- Watch for changes in personality or behaviors
- Create a strong network in the community between parents, teachers and community leaders
- Encourage participation in structured activities
- Seek professional help when needed
Helping Teenage Social Problems
The normal stresses of everyday life for a teen often revolve around social issues. Improving self-esteem and teaching kids how to handle social problems helps them become self-reliant, happy individuals.