Although it is widely agreed upon that the teen years are a particularly challenging chapter of life, teenage issues today seem to be of a more serious nature than in generations past. Generation Z, those ages 4-24, are grappling with a rapidly shifting culture mainly due to the acceleration of technological advances. While technology can simplify our lives and offer exciting possibilities, it is also causing significant changes in daily living.
It would be an oversimplification to state that all teen angst related to teenage issues today is caused by evolving technology. However, it is becoming clear that societal changes due to technological advances lies at the core of many mental health challenges faced by teens. The human connection, something that has been a constant for millennia, is moving from face-to-face interactions toward digital communication. There is a vacuum now where conversation, physical contact, body language, and spiritual connection once existed. Now this space is being filled with video games, texting, and social media. While losing the human touch is impacting society at large, it is having an outsized effect on our teens.
Technology isn’t the only cause of teen strife. Teens face intense academic demands and increasing pressure to fit into a predetermined mold, which can cause many to fall through the cracks at school. Family problems, low self-esteem, and bullying can also stoke depression and anxiety. Our teens today face not only the traditional challenges posed by this transition period between childhood and adulthood, but also a slew of new and unfamiliar ones that parents can barely relate to at all.
What’s important is to be aware of the obstacles today’s teens are navigating and to know when it is time to intervene more proactively. Teen mental health issues have led to a sharp increase in youth suicide, so keeping communication lines open—and eyes open—is key in getting them the help they might need.
Today’s teens struggle with stress and anxiety. Intense, irrational worry or fear are hallmarks of anxiety, and many teens find their ability to function impaired because of this mental health disorder. Self-harming behaviors are a disturbing and all too common outlet for feelings of anxiety and distress among young people. Other teens might turn to substance abuse to self-medicate their anxiety. The most prevalent forms of anxiety among teens are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobia, and social anxiety.
Depression emerges in adolescence for both sexes, however depression rates are nearly three times higher in teen girls. A few factors help explain the much higher rates of depression in teen girls, including fluctuating hormones, concerns surrounding self-image, body image, and social acceptance, and a higher level of sensitivity regarding social interactions. Depression is more common in teens who have a family history of clinical depression, and environmental factors also play a role, including divorce, bullying, trauma, and abuse.
Pressure to succeed
For the past two generations an intense push has been underway for teens to begin preparing for the college application process as early as middle school. High schools begin grooming teens for the application process early on, and there is social pressure put on teens to comply. This involves SAT-preparation workshops, pre-SAT and ACT testing, building a resume of extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, and volunteer activities, and taking Advanced Placement classes. While many teens can manage these pressures to succeed, some teens find it overwhelming.
Body image issues
Along with the mounting academic pressure placed on our teens, there is also increasing social pressure to conform to a particular look or body type. Girls are often very focused on their body image and weight issues, but boys also feel pressure to have a masculine physique. Body dysmorphic disorder, the distorted thinking involving perceived flaws or defects, is a common problem among teens in an environment where they feel judged by how they look.
Although teenagers have always been brutally critical of each other, especially teen girls, in the era of social media that abuse is take to a much more destructive level. Cyber bullying through social media is extremely common, as is social shaming, cyber stalking, and all types of drama. Social media platforms can also create a false image of perfection through the use of filters that alter photos, presenting a standard of “perfect” that few can realistically attain. This leads to feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and loss of confidence.
Teen sex has always been a source of stress. With the introduction of smartphones, sexting (texting explicit photos) has become a problem with adolescents as young as age 11 or 12. Easy access to pornography has also fueled rampant sexual curiosity and acting out. Sexual activity is no longer viewed as something special or sacred, but is looked upon as a routine activity that most teens engage in. That being said, recent surveys show that teen pregnancy has decreased, while rates of syphilis among teens has increased.
Experimenting with drugs or alcohol and smoking are not new to teenage issues today. Teens have always felt curious about forbidden substances and to this day many seek them out. There are reasons to be more concerned in current times, however, as the opioid crisis has resulted in 700,000 deaths between 2009-2017, according to the CDC. Marijuana is actually used more than smoking cigarettes among today’s teens, and vaping poses its own challenges with THC-infused products.
Mental Health Treatment for Teenage Issues Today
Parents today are challenged to fully understand the many nuances of teen distress, and struggle to know when it is time to intervene with a teen who is exhibiting some red flags. It is natural for a parent to consider a teen’s angst over body image or a failed relationship as just typical teenage drama. However, there are some warning signs that can tip parents off that their teen should be evaluated by a doctor. These include:
- Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
- Sleeping more than usual, or struggling with insomnia
- Sudden weight changes
- Teen wears long sleeves even in hot weather
- Extreme fatigue
- Extreme mood swings
- Sudden decline in academic performance
- Social isolation
- Aggression, angry outbursts
- Complaining of continuous headaches, stomach problems, vague pain
- Signs of substance abuse
Initially, the teen will be assessed by a medical doctor who can determine if there is a possible health issue associated with sleep problems, weight changes, or fatigue. If it is found that there is no such medical condition, the teen will be referred to a mental health professional for further evaluation.
A psychiatrist will engage the teen by interviewing him or her about current emotional issues and the presenting symptoms to gain some insights about what might be going on. The psychological evaluation involves an interview with the teen, an interview with the parents, a review of any mental health history, and the use of psychological assessment tools. Once the diagnosis is arrived at, the teen will be provided with a treatment plan. This will likely be a combination of psychotherapy and medication, depending on the diagnosis.
Sometimes the teen’s mental health status will deteriorate, regardless of outpatient interventions. This indicates the need for a more targeted treatment protocol such as is available at a residential mental health program for teens. The residential setting offers an excellent opportunity for the teen to concentrate on getting well, while also being tutored by an in-house academic liaison. This allows for an extended stay at the center while limiting the impact to the teen’s academic standing.
Residential teen mental health treatment provides a customized approach, taking into account the unique features associated with the diagnosis, psycho-social issues, and selecting the right mix of treatment elements that are relevant to the teen. Teen mental wellness centers should strive to create an environment where the teen is actively engaged in their treatment, often made possible through offering such activities as:
- Recreational therapy, such as surf therapy or hiking
- Holistic activities, such as yoga, journaling, and meditation.
- Experiential activities, such as art therapy, music therapy, and drama therapy
- Equine therapy, which involves caring for a horse.
An effective teen treatment plan with be infused with both evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, solutions focused therapy, contingency management, mindfulness based cognitive therapy, and family-focused therapy, and the experiential offerings that can enhance the clinical effects overall.
Our teens are truly coming of age at a unique time in history. The many paradigm changes the culture is living through can profoundly affect people of all ages, but in particular the young who do not yet have fully developed executive functioning—that is the region of the brain that regulates mood, impulsiveness, decision-making, and other functions. But by knowing the warning signs and intervening in a time manner, parents can get their teen the help they need when they are going through a difficult patch.
BNI Treatment Centers of Los Angeles for Teen Mental Health Treatment
BNI Treatment Centers is a residential program designed for adolescents ages 12-17. When a teen’s mental health is deteriorating, even while under a doctor’s care, it may be that a more intensive approach is necessary. BNI Treatment is aligned with the interests and needs of teens through a diverse menu of experiential activities that helps connect mind with body and spirit. This ensures that all aspects of the teenager’s life are included in the healing process. For more information about getting treatment for teenage issues today, please reach out to our team at BNI Treatment today at (888) 522-1504.