Being a parent of a teen isn’t easy. In a fast-paced, ever-evolving world, it’s hard to keep up with societal changes.
Due to their inundation and fascination with technology, my adolescent kids, and other kids born between 1995 and 2012, have been dubbed the iGen, a name given to them by researcher Jean Twenge at San Diego State University
The iGen’ers are technically clever and insightful, too. Just looking at the statistics with this generation, we know that compared to their predecessors, they report consuming less alcohol and taking fewer drugs. They’re also putting off getting their driver’s license, leading to fewer automobile accidents.
Perhaps, in part, the changes that have made life a bit safer for these children and adolescents are in response to the tragedies they’ve experienced during their short lives. The iGen’ers have lived through turbulent times. From mass shootings to terrorism, these kids have seen a lot, and it’s shaped their worldview.
They also face a number of concerning challenges of their own that have significant implications for their health today and tomorrow. Here’s what parents should know about each:
1. They spend a lot of time staring at a screen. This generation is reportedly spending about nine hours online each day. That’s 63 hours a week, or the equivalent to a full-time job and a part-time job. That glowing screen is an issue, and teens realize that it monopolizes their time, at least that’s what they say.
According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 60% of teens ages 13 to 17 openly admit to spending too much time online; and 41% say they spend too much time on social media. As reported in another survey by Common Sense Media, teens say their favorite means of communication is texting, and certainly, this is no surprise to parents.
For parents, the takeaway here is that we need to help kids detach and set healthy boundaries around phone use. That means making sure they’re having in-person interactions with their friends. Also, when they are with friends or family, make sure they know the phone is off-limits. Nothing is more annoying than trying to talk to someone who is preoccupied with looking at a phone.
2. They experience a lot of anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high for this population, and that’s cause for concern. A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology finds that over the past decade the number of youth with mental health disorders has more than doubled.
Although there are many theories about what’s contributing to this spike, one that seems to get a lot of attention is that hyper-connectedness leads to social isolation. Some kids use social media as a way of judging their popularity, and sadly, their self-worth. Many studies have found strong relationships between social media use and feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. There’s no way around it, digital connectedness does not replicate the emotional bond of real person-to-person relationships.
3. They vape. According to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey, the number of high school youth who reported vaping nicotine in the past month has more than doubled. This dangerous habit has exposed many to nicotine, a highly addictive chemical, which not only keeps kids vaping but puts them at increased risk for smoking in the future as well.
4. They use weed. Although adolescent use of illicit drugs is down, marijuana use is up. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, adolescent pot use has reached its highest level in 30 years. Today’s youth are more likely to use marijuana than tobacco products.
Adding to the risk kids face, today’s marijuana is reportedly two to three times more potent than in the past due to higher levels of THC, the chemical responsible for the high marijuana produces.
The risks aren’t just temporary, either. Marijuana use can have long-term effects on the developing adolescent brain resulting in cognitive impairment that can lead to learning and memory problems. Many kids have the misconception that smoking weed isn’t that harmful, and that’s a scary myth. We must have real conversations with our kids about the dangers associated with marijuana use. If we don’t talk to them, someone else will, and they may be filling their heads with an entirely different message than ours.
5. They are taking their own lives. Of all the concerning trends that face teens today, this is by far the scariest. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, teen suicide has reached its highest level since 2000. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, behind only automobile accidents.
What’s led many of our young people to take their lives? There are numerous theories, from too much social media use leading to isolation to higher rates of mental illness. Some suggest that suicide deaths are being reported more openly today than in the past, so that the numbers now more accurately reflect the problem. Regardless, we have to make sure our kids have the resources and tools necessary to cope with life stressors.
It’s time that we close the generation gap and destigmatize mental health. If our kids are struggling with psychological issues, let’s vow to get them professional help. I think we can all agree that one life lost to suicide is one life too many.
Being the parent of a teen isn’t easy, and likewise, neither is being a teen. At a time when the world seems to be spinning off its axis, it’s important that parents work hard to stay in the loop with what’s trending, even if we sometimes feel lost.
It’s not easy to close that gap, but our kids are facing some real dangers, and we’ve got to equip them to stand strong when life throws a curveball. More importantly, our kids need to know they are valued, loved and connected to us, not just a device.
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iGen Checkup: 5 Concerning Trends That Threaten the Health of a Generation originally appeared on usnews.com