Today’s teenagers and young adults are increasingly reporting feeling anxious and stressed. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, 91 percent of Generation Z experienced symptoms associated with stress, such as depression or anxiety. But why are teenagers experiencing so much anxiety?
At first glance, it may seem like today’s young people have it pretty good. Generation Z has grown up with technological marvels that their Gen X and older Millennial parents never dreamed of when they were teenagers. Want a pizza, a new pair of shoes, your favorite music video? It’s available instantly at the touch of a button. No one has to hunt for a pay phone to call a ride, everyone can connect instantly with their best friend from school or with like-minded friends on the other side of the world. You can even connect with your therapist by instant message or video chat. But is this high-tech world causing more stress than it’s curing? Take a look at some of the reasons that teens are so anxious.
Too Much Information
While debates about the merits and drawbacks of screen time for children and teenagers are always a hot topic, in a practical sense many parents have relied on screens to keep their offspring indoors, supervised, and safe. It’s become much more rare to see children roaming the neighborhoods without adult supervision than it used to be. Parents, concerned about safety, have been exerting more control over their teens than their parents did over them in an effort to keep them safe from any number of real and perceived dangers – from kidnappers and street violence to allergens and sunburns. Although violent crime has been on a downward trend for decades, the 24-hour news cycle and push notifications ensure that many parents feel as if doom is just around any corner for their teens, so it’s safer to keep them home and allow more screen time.
These parental attitudes affect children, of course, and by the time they become teenagers, many have internalized the idea that they are not safe in the world. This is compounded by their own access to 24-hour news and push notifications. It’s easy for children and teens to feel that they’re always under some kind of threat. Teens who make most of their connections online instead of cultivating in-person friendship and support networks may end up feeling isolated and unsatisfied.
School Shootings and Violence
And of course, there are real dangers. Gun violence is a serious concern for Generation Z, and this is no surprise – people in this generation were beginning to be born around the time of the Columbine shooting. Many are old enough to remember the Sandy Hook shooting. And on Valentine’s day in 2018, Generation Z watched in horror as some of their same-age cohort in Parkland, Florida sent out text, picture, and video documentation of their own school shooting live as it occurred. Technology makes these events seem very close even for teens who are located physically far away. The nature of the news cycle also makes these tragedies seem hopeless – stories are breathlessly reported as they happen, but then moves on to the next tragedy, with seemingly nothing done to prevent another mass shooting from occurring. The looming threat of the next school shooting would make any teen anxious.
Today’s teens also live in a politically polarized world. Gen Z might be too young to have a clear memory of 9/11, but they’ve been living in the shadow of it for most or all of their lives. Many fear acts of terrorism. Domestic political unrest also poses a threat. Teens are seeing both acts of violence and violent rhetoric in the news and in their communities. Many do not trust the government to protect them or keep them safe. Teens in various marginalized groups especially are both more aware of threats to their safety and may also see those threats increasing in their communities.
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Learning today looks drastically different than it did a few decades ago, and this has resulted in more academic pressure for teens. With everyone carrying around a miniature computer in their pocket, there’s less emphasis on memorizing things like dates and formulas, and more emphasis on higher-level thinking. Schools and teachers are under pressure to produce positive results, and this results in more pressure on students at all levels. Today’s kindergarten classrooms are closer to first or even second-grade level by the standards of Gen X and older Millennial parents, and this acceleration continues on up through the grade levels. High school students who plan on going to college may be doing hours of homework a night, much of it in classes that would have already been considered college level a few decades ago.
College-track students have financial concerns as well. As college costs rise, teens are well aware that they face either taking on increasingly burdensome financial obligations in order to receive a college education or confronting an increasingly limited job market if they and their families can’t afford college. This means that teens may feel intense pressure to achieve excellent grades, participate in sports, and join in other activities that may possibly lead to college scholarships or other opportunities, even if they feel overwhelmed. There are fewer and fewer options for teens who don’t go on to earn a college degree, so teens who know that they won’t be able to attend college without significant financial help may experience extreme anxiety about their future options.
Here again, teens from marginalized groups – girls, immigrants or first-generation Americans, racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, teens from low-income households, and LGBTQ teens may be especially stressed and anxious. Gen Z is less likely than previous generations to view America as a meritocracy, and marginalized teens have valid concerns that they won’t get a fair shake in the academic world, in the job market, and in society in general.
What Should Generation Z Do?
There are many valid reasons why Generation Z may be feeling anxious, but it’s important for teens to learn how to manage that anxiety. Anxiety can be treated in a number of ways, including medication, therapy, and various stress management techniques. If you or your loved one is struggling with anxiety, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. A professional can help teach you ways to manage your anxiety so that you can live a happy and productive life.