As teens grow into adulthood, they can face some physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges. Their bodies change, they must overcome strong emotions, some suffer from mental health issues, and many deal with social issues as well. If your teen is having trouble making or keeping friends, you might feel stress regarding the situation. Read on to find out about some of the social challenges many teens face as well as tips on how to help adolescents get past these obstacles.
Some teens develop social anxiety. This is a type of anxiety that creeps up in social situations or when a teen needs to speak publicly. For example, they might find themselves getting very anxious over the very thought of giving an oral report in a class at school. Some teens do well when they are with their close friends but get anxious when they need to meet new people, attend a function filled with strangers, or otherwise interact outside of their comfort zones.
The symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Fear of being judged
- Feelings of humiliation and embarrassment
- Physical symptoms like shaking, flushing, sweaty palms, and nausea
- Refusing to take part in social activities
- Refusing to do common activities like using a public restroom, interacting with a clerk at a store, or eating in front of other people
Some lifestyle changes that might help include journaling and using relaxation exercises. If your teen’s life is being negatively impacted by social anxiety, however, it’s best to take him or her to a mental health specialist. Cognitive behavioral therapy and, in some cases, medication can help.
Bullying (Including Cyberbullying)
Approximately one-quarter of students report being bullied. Among preteens and teens, cyberbullying is common. Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that takes place via an electronic device or the Internet. It can include:
- Cruel texts
- Posting images or text on social media
- Impersonating a victim
- Forwarding embarrassing information to others via electronic messaging
Many teens who find themselves bullied (online or otherwise) won’t speak up and tell their parents. But they might become ostracized at school among their peers. Some bullied teens have even attempted or completed suicide due to their bullying, so it’s important to know the signs that a teen is being bullied.
If your teen does confide in you, encourage them or help them to report it. Depending on the situation, bullying might be a crime. Even if it’s not a criminal matter, you might be able to report it to the school for them to handle and/or to online service providers to have the accounts banned when cyberbullying is an issue. Don’t be afraid to seek professional counseling for your teen too if bullying is one of the social challenges that they are facing.
There are different types of peer pressure.
One type that is considered positive is positive peer influence. This is when teens who are hardworking, active, and doing well in school influence others to do the same. While it sounds great, this type of peer influence can cause stress and overwhelm in teens who find it difficult to keep up.
Another type of peer pressure is considered negative, and that’s when teens pressure or influence others to do things like try alcohol or drugs, shoplift, or have unprotected sex, which can result in an unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.
Teens who have low self-esteem might be particularly swayed by either positive or negative peer influence. Even teens who have a good self-image, however, can be vulnerable to peer pressure; kids this age often just want to fit in and since many teens feel awkward at times, that can make even a normally cautious teen act out in ways that their parents might not expect.
Talk to your kids about your boundaries and let them know that there are consequences for broken rules. Knowing that mom or dad is not going to hesitate to implement consequences for poor behavior can be a good deterrent. Also, encourage your teen to get involved in productive activities (a sports team, a volunteer group, the school play); teens who feel involved and part of a community are less likely to engage in destructive practices like trying alcohol or getting into trouble with the law.
While you might not think of depression as a social issue, it often becomes one when those with the condition begin to isolate themselves from others. If your teen is depressed, it’s likely that he or she might avoid situations where they need to leave the house or entertain guests, instead choosing to stay in bed or immerse themselves in a fantasy world such as with video games.
Other symptoms of depression include:
- Sadness, tearfulness, or uncharacteristic anger that lasts for more than two weeks or that interferes with your teen’s daily life.
- Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep at all.
- Eating too much or not having an appetite.
- Physical symptoms such as stomach aches, digestive problems, headaches, or muscle pains.
- Talking about death and dying, trying to procure weapons, or other signs that they might be considering suicide.
A teen with depression who is isolating him- or herself might need professional mental health care. There are some lifestyle changes that you can encourage them to make, such as exercising each day, getting out in the sun daily, eating well, getting enough sleep, and making plans with others. If these don’t work, however, or if your teen is showing signs of suicidal thoughts, get them professional help promptly.
Social Challenges Can Be Overcome
Social challenges that teens face can be stressful not only for the teens themselves but also for their parents. You want nothing more than to see your child grow up into a well-adjusted adult, and if they are struggling with social anxiety, bullying, peer pressure, or depression, it can seem that a happy social life might be very far off. Take consolation in knowing that these social challenges can be overcome and that the best time to get help for them is during the teen years, well before the pressures of adulthood begin.