The 3 big challenges facing teens and tweens, from a therapist's perspective

The 3 big challenges facing teens and tweens, from a therapist's perspective

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing teens and tweens? What would your kids say? It could be interesting to pose the question to your kids over dinner or in the car to practice what they think are the biggest challenges they face.

Answering that question is a guest post from Cheryl Frommelt, a therapist with more than two decades of experience working with adolescents and their families. She'll be back tomorrow to address the impact that these issues are having on our kids.

It is tough for teens out there today.  There probably isn't a teen out there who hasn't said to their parents or thought the words "it is different now for kids today, it is not the same as when you were a kid."

As parents, it may be easy to shrug off that statement, but the real issue is not to decide who really had it more challenging, but rather to acknowledge that it is indeed different. Those differences help explain why we have alarmingly high rates of depression amongst adolescents today.

So what specifically are the challenges facing today's youth?  In my work over the last 25 years with adolescents and their families, I have seen three challenges emerge over and over. These are in no way the only factors but so much can be attributed to just these three.

1. The adolescent brain is a work in progress. 

It is best to think of the adolescent brain as "under construction."  The research has shown that the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.

The parts of the adolescent brain involved in emotional responses are fully fired up, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity. Such an imbalance might provide clues to a teen's desire for change, exaggerated emotional responses, and a tendency to act on impulse—without regard for risk.

2. Culturally, our children truly live in a different world than we did.  

Media in particular has come under scrutiny as the entertainment industry becomes more pervasive. A study from the National Institutes of Health found that media portrayals of body image and the “ideal” life create unrealistic expectations for teenagers, disrupting their “normal identity development” and can lead to depression.

The NIH study found that violent or graphic media augments depressive tendencies by creating an idea that the world is worse than it is.

In addition, given their susceptibility to peer pressure, adolescents are at some risk as they navigate social media.  Research indicates that we are seeing frequent online expressions of offline behavior, such as bullying, clique forming, and social exclusion.  Additional concerns are internet addiction and concurrent sleep deprivation.

Different from what we thought as kids, today's youth believe they have no control over their lives and do not have the ability to influence their own desired outcome. Also, research shows that life goals of teens are more materialistic and about acquiring goods rather than on making a difference in the world.  In other words, satisfaction comes from external sources rather than internal satisfaction.  This leads to increased competition and excessive comparing oneself to their peers.

3. The way parents today approach parenting.

Many of today's parents grew up having to "fend for themselves " or felt they did not have the parental support and encouragement they desired. This has resulted in a well-intentioned but ineffective parenting approach of buffering kids from feeling the pain of failure, disappointment, or disillusionment.

Essentially, this "bubble wrapping" of teens lives makes them feel far less prepared to deal with the inevitable and unavoidable stressors we all face in life.


Click here for Part II, in which Frommelt advises parents on how these challenges impact our teens and what parents can do to help.

As a Therapist and the Clinical Director at Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness in Naperville, Illinois, Cheryl is passionate about helping people achieve balanced and healthy lives.  With 25 years of experience, Cheryl specializes in relational, marital, and blended family issues. She has extensive experience with mood disorders, anxiety, trauma, stress and anger management, grief, and loss.

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