As watching "Rebel Without a Cause" will tell you, raising teenagers has always been a notoriously challenging endeavor. Parents of teens today, though, face a set of challenges that can feel particularly daunting, given the fact that many of these hurdles simply didn't exist in the past.
The last two decades have seen the advent of more technological advances than humankind has ever known. These advances come with their own equally new set of obstacles, particularly where raising teenagers is concerned. Below are five challenges faced by parents of teens today that didn't exist 20 years ago — and how to navigate them.
1. Astronomical college costs
The price of college has steadily been rising in recent years. Gone are the days of working a part-time retail gig to put yourself through college. Tuition and fees for public four-year universities have more than doubled since the 1988-1989 academic year according to College Board, and the costs continue to climb. The major increase has led to millions of graduates finishing school saddled with debt and many parents seeking ways to help their teens pay for school.
Fortunately, the sticker price can often be offset by grants and scholarships. Parents of teens can familiarize themselves with as many scholarship opportunities as possible. There are many databases available that provide information on lesser-known scholarships available. Additionally, there are often many institutional scholarships that go unclaimed each year that are under-promoted.
2. Inappropriate content
The internet and streaming services can be wonderful resources, but, unfortunately, they can also easily allow teens to uncover inappropriate content. Violent and pornographic images and videos circulate on social media without warning, and teens can easily find inappropriate content on streaming services and YouTube.
Parents can’t constantly monitor what their teens watch all of the time, but they can establish protocols to decrease the likelihood of their discovering it such as only allowing screens to be used in common areas. Establishing an open line off communication is also essential so that teens can turn to parents if they do encounter upsetting material. Having discussions early on about what is age-appropriate and why can help teens understand the consequences of engaging with material too early.
3. Fake news
Along with the ubiquity of smartphones, unfortunately, people have also gained the ability to obtain and share false information. According to Common Sense Media, 31 percent of children age 10 to 18 who shared a news story in a six-month period later found out that it was false. Harmful false information can be spread at a rapid rate.
Parents should discuss what makes sources of information reliable with their teens. Teens prefer social media to traditional media sources, so parents who make a habit out of watching and reading reputable sources with their children can help them cultivate the practice early.
4. Social media addiction
Social media addiction is a very real crisis. Facebook was founded in 2004 and Twitter in 2006, and social media use has become ubiquitous since the advent of the iPhone in 2007. Since everyone has the ability to connect to everywhere all the time, using social media anytime, anyplace has become a major staple in the lives of teens who check their phones upwards of 150 times in a day. While there are upsides to staying connected, social media’s constant presence can lead to inattentive teenagers who are more engaged with their phones than the world around them.
Parents can set a good example for teenagers by limiting their own social media usage. Creating and maintaining boundaries such as prohibiting having screens out during meals or during family time can combat the perceived need to constantly stay plugged in.
5. Academic pressure and burnout
While college costs skyrocket, acceptance rates have taken a nosedive. A study by Businessstudent.com revealed that the acceptance rate of top 50 colleges plummeted from 35.9 percent in 2006 to 22.6 percent in 2018. The pressure of doing well enough to get accepted into a college has become so overwhelming that some students are facing significant bouts of burnout before even entering college.
Rather than adding to the pressure for perfection, parents can work with their teens to develop important time management strategies to help prevent them from becoming overwhelmed. Teaching them to incorporate self-care in addition to their studies is a must to help them avoid burnout.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.