Today, teens are facing greater pressures than their predecessors; greater access to information, influence and ideas have placed teens of the Twenty-First century in a unique position. Rubik’s cubes and Pokemon cards have been replaced by Instagram and Snapchat, and the pressure adolescents face today has increased dramatically. In this article, we will briefly explore pressures at school, college and how the internet is changing the way teens interact with each other.
The systemic pressure schools place on teenagers have increased massively over the last 30 years – parents and teachers alike expect students to learn more, retain more and score higher. In a study conducted by the US Department of Health and Human services, in 2016, researchers found that of the 787 teens surveyed, 44% of them felt a strong pressure to succeed, equating to 346.3 out of 787. In the same year, the UDHH found 3 million teens were either suffering, or had suffered, from some form of depressed episode, characterized by extreme feelings of anxiety or depression. The highest year on record.
College, brings further challenges to teens as they approach adulthood. Academic success is paired with pressure to succeed in sports and to fit in with fellow peers. Incidences of anxiety and depression have been cited as increasing across college students; pressure to achieve top grades coupled with increased competition for admission to prestigious post-graduate roles, place enormous amounts of pressure on adolescents who are just establishing their own sense of identity. Alarmingly, College counseling services reported that 30% of their students who attended counseling sessions had seriously considered suicide – further illustrating the systemic pressure placed on adolescents.
Collegiate sports have long been considered a cornerstone of academic life in Western society. However, the horrific revelations that unfolded surrounding US Olympic doctor, Lawrence Nasser, illustrated the grave threats teens face while pursuing academic and sporting success. Nasser was convicted of sexually assaulting over 300 female US athletes, including Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Gabriel Douglas. The scandal was dubbed the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history with a trial that lasted over two years. Naseer had been working as US Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor for over two decades, and, over the course of a string of trials, revealed 368 victims. Naseer was sentenced to 175 years in prison following several trials dating from September 2016 all the way up to January 24th 2018. The horrific incident highlights how vulnerable collegiate athletes are and the need for increased safeguards to protect them.
Increased stress in academic life puts students at a greater risk of injury when competing in sports. The link between success on and off the field highlights the susceptibility teens face to developing mental illness and physical injuries; both of which are heavily associated with stress. Emotionally or physically abusive coaching techniques can have a profoundly negative bearing on teens trying to find a sense of an identity in their first years of college. Pressure to succeed from parents at home, only make it harder for teens to feel grounded and able to begin to develop a sense of identity.
Greek letter organizations, Sororities and Fraternities, have been an integral part of college life for centuries, with the first fraternity being established in 1775, a year prior to the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Such is the clout of these organizations that over half of all the US’ 45 presidents came from a fraternity – demonstrating the academic pressures students face as ‘frat’ members. However, it is not the clout surrounding these organizations that is so disturbing, but the rituals undertaken by pledges – undergraduates – attempting to gain memberships to these fraternities. Widely known as ‘hazing’. Maxwell Gruver, a 19 year old former student at Louisiana State University, was conducting a fraternity pledge when a night of forced drinking spiraled out of control . Gruver died due to alcohol poisoning and asphyxiation – drowning in his own vomit – as a result of a night of hazing, where members of the fraternity would force pledges to drink alcohol excessively. The prevalence of such events have resulted in ‘hazing’ being considered a criminal misdemeanor, although many think this is not far enough.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom. While greater pressures are placed on teens to achieve in all facets of life, the advent of social media has made communication among peers far easier than ever before. A greater awareness of problems facing young people, and the planet as a whole, have seen a far greater value placed on their opinions. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram allow information to be disseminated to young people far quicker than ever before with Extinction Rebellion (XR) a prime example of this. The group of international activists, campaigning for action on climate and environmental issues, were able to spread their message way further than would’ve been possible ten years ago, increasing participation. Such was the efficiency of this that it resulted in a day of global ‘civil disobedience’ with XR events taking place across a number of countries including Australia, USA and UK on October 7th, 2019. With greater accessibility to information, young people are able to forge their own identities in a way never experienced before. Such access also stimulates a greater sense of empathy and awareness of the world around them contributing to further civil disobedience.
Forums provide further safe havens for teens to express themselves in ways not previously seen or heard of. Such increased access to information allows teens a safe place to find out information about mental health issues, sexuality and a plethora of other topics, while being protected by the anonymity of the internet. While today’s teens suffer from myriad pressures like those discussed above, they are also able to express themselves in ways that have not been experienced by previous generations. Greater dissemination of information allow today’s youth to be more accommodating and help create a more compassionate society.