Society has taken several drastic turns in the past two decades, presenting positive change and advancements as well as new stressors that can have detrimental effects on today’s teenagers. There have been areas of immense progress in the last 20 years with the birth of the internet, the introduction of smartphones, and the popularization of social media. These accomplishments achieved by humankind have made knowledge not only increasingly available but has put information in our hands faster and more efficiently than ever.
Teenagers have so many resources available to them today, including alternative ways of gaining knowledge and expanding their learning, as well as a multitude of options to start businesses and generate their own income as they grow into adulthood. These opportunities were not available, nor even anticipated, in their parents’ generation. However, along with today’s advances and opportunities have come greater responsibility, pressure, competition, and inevitably, greater stress for teens. Adults are emotionally, cognitively, and even physically better equipped to manage stress and even among adults, chronic stress remains a great threat to overall wellbeing and quality of life. Teenagers nowadays are often confronted with adult issues, responsibilities, and stressors during a stage of development where they should be learning to cope with age-appropriate situations, not an overwhelming amount of duty and responsibility. Unhealthy stress develops when life circumstances are greater than what the teen has the ability, and especially the maturity, to handle.
Pressure to Achieve
Teenagers today feel greater pressure to pursue higher academic achievement. Beginning at an early age, many teens are told by parents and/or teachers that if they want to “make it” in life, they must obtain an education beyond high school. Thirty years ago, earning a four-year college degree was not only considered an admirable personal and professional accomplishment, but it was also sufficient to earn a good living, even with only one primary income in the household. Things have changed dramatically to the point that nowadays, as a result of greater economic inequality and higher cost of living, not only are two incomes often necessary in a household to maintain middle-class status, but more advanced degrees are often required in order to earn a decent living. The parents and teachers of today’s teens have lived (and struggled) through this social and economic shift in recent decades, therefore, a strong message is sent to teens: They must achieve higher education or risk living in poverty.
As a result of greater pressure to achieve, teenagers must endure the stress of greater academic responsibilities. Since many teens are seeking higher education and more teens are attending college after graduating from high school, colleges and universities have increased their admissions standards, making getting into college more competitive than ever before. It is not uncommon for universities to require or at least give greater preference to students with A-average GPAs, 1,000 plus hours of community service, and participation in several clubs and extracurricular activities. The bar is set much higher and young people are often warned by their parents’ generation that if they don’t get into college, they will be “stuck” earning minimum wage. A few decades ago, many high school graduates opted to take a break from school and go to work in order to gain experience and “find themselves” in order to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. Today’s teens don’t have that luxury, as they must decide what they want to do with their lives often before high school graduation. In days past, jobs requiring a high school diploma allowed a young person to maintain a simple, but adequate quality of life, independent from parents. Nowadays, earning minimum wage puts an individual at the poverty line, likely requiring government assistance in order to make ends meet. It’s no wonder teens and young adults are living with their parents well into their 20s: Cost of living is too high and the average entry-level job pays too little.
It is important to take into consideration the social and economic factors that are so different today in order to understand this generation of teenagers. It is quite possible that current day teens are more resilient, higher achieving, and even better prepared to face the world than generations past; however, the issue of stress still remains and this generation will have the added task of discovering ways to truly manage and control stress since it is quite possible that stress is something that this generation can’t escape.