The Pressures Facing Today’s Youths
ADOLESCENCE—even under the best of circumstances—can be a turbulent time. During puberty young ones are assaulted by new feelings and emotions. They face daily pressures from teachers and peers. They are exposed to the relentless influence of TV, movies, the music industry, and the Internet. A United Nations report thus describes adolescence as “a period of transition commonly characterized by stress and anxiety.”
Unfortunately, young ones are often too inexperienced to handle stress and anxiety in a positive way. (Proverbs 1:4) Without proper guidance, they can easily fall into destructive forms of behavior. For example, the UN report says: “Research shows that the onset of drug abuse often occurs during adolescence or young adulthood.” The same can be said for other forms of misbehavior, such as violence and promiscuous sex.
Parents who dismiss such things as happening only among “the poor” or certain ethnic groups often prove to be sadly mistaken. The problems young ones are experiencing today cut across economic, social, and racial lines. “If you think ‘juvenile delinquent’ only means a 17-year-old minority male from the inner city whose impoverished mother is on welfare, you haven’t been paying attention lately,” writes author Scott Walter. “Today’s problem child can be white, he can live in a middle- to upper-middle-class home, he can be under (far under) age 16, and he can just as easily be a she.”
Why, though, are so many young ones at risk? Did not youths of past generations also face challenges and temptations? Yes, but we live in a period that the Bible describes as “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) There are circumstances and pressures affecting youths that are unique to this particular time in history. Let us examine some of them.
Changes in the Family
Consider, for example, the changing family landscape. “More than a third of American children experience their parents’ divorce before reaching 18,” reports the Journal of Instructional Psychology. Similar statistics can be cited from other Western lands. As their parents’ marital ties dissolve, young ones must often cope with painful emotions. “In general,” says the Journal, “children who have recently experienced a family dissolution have a more difficult time with academic and social expectations at school than children from intact families or established single-parent or blended families . . . Additionally, parental divorce often affects the child’s sense of emotional well being and self-esteem.”
The increasing number of women who have entered the work force has also altered the family environment. A study of juvenile crime in Japan observed that it is harder for dual-income families to take care of their children than it is for families with one parent staying at home.
Granted, many families need two incomes simply to provide the necessities of life. Two incomes can also provide young ones with a more comfortable life-style. But there is a downside: Millions of children return from school to an empty house. When parents do arrive, they are often tired and preoccupied with problems at work. The result? Many teenagers are getting less parenting. “We don’t spend time together in my family,” one youth lamented.
Many observers feel that this trend does not bode well for young ones. “I believe that the parenting trends that have evolved over the last thirty years promote the development of unattached, uncommunicative, learning-impaired, and uncontrollable children,” says Dr. Robert Shaw. “Parents find themselves enslaved by a materialistic, overachieving society that leads them to spend so many hours at work and so much money that they can’t make the time to do the things necessary to bond with their children.”
Another threat to the welfare of teens: Children of working parents often have large amounts of unsupervised time. A lack of sufficient parental supervision is an invitation to trouble.
Changing Views of Discipline
Changing views regarding parental discipline have also had an effect on today’s youths. As Dr. Ron Taffel bluntly put it, many parents “abdicate their authority.” When this happens, young ones grow up with few, if any, rules or guidelines to regulate their behavior.
In some cases, it appears that parents are reacting to the negative experiences they had in their own childhood. They want to be friends with their children—not disciplinarians. “I was too lenient,” admits one mother. “My parents were real strict; I wanted to be different with my child. I was wrong.”
Just how far do some parents go in this regard? Reports USA Today: “A new survey of nearly 600 teens in drug treatment in New York, Texas, Florida and California indicated that 20% have shared drugs other than alcohol with their parents, and that about 5% of the teens actually were introduced to drugs—usually marijuana—by their moms or dads.” What would move a parent to do such an irresponsible thing? One parent confessed: “I told her I’d rather have her do it at home where I could keep an eye on her.” Others apparently feel that sharing drugs is a way to “bond” with their children.
Assault From the Media
Then there is the powerful influence of the media. According to researcher Marita Moll, one survey revealed that on the average young ones in the United States spent four hours and 48 minutes a day in front of a TV or computer screen.
Is that necessarily bad? An article published in Science magazine reported that “six major professional societies in the United States,” including the American Medical Association, came to the unanimous conclusion that media violence is linked to “aggressive behavior in some children.” “Despite the consensus among experts,” observed Science magazine, “lay people do not seem to be getting the message from the popular press that media violence contributes to a more violent society.”
Consider, for example, music videos. Parents are often shocked at just how graphic and sexually explicit some of these videos are. Can they really affect the way some teenagers behave? According to one study of 500 college students, “violent music lyrics increase aggressive thoughts and feelings.” According to another recent study, “teens who spend more time watching the sex and violence depicted in . . . ‘gangsta’ rap music videos are more likely to practice these behaviors in real life.” This study of over 500 girls revealed that heavy viewers of gangsta videos were more likely to hit a teacher, get arrested, and have multiple sexual partners.
Teenagers and Computers
In recent years the computer has also taken on a prominent role as a molder of young minds. “The number of personal computers in the home has increased dramatically in recent decades,” says the journal Pediatrics. “Nationwide [in the United States], two thirds of households with a school-aged child (6-17 years of age) had a computer . . . The percentage of children who were 3 through 17 years of age in the United States and lived in a household with a computer increased from 55% in 1998 to 65% in 2000.” Computer use has increased in many other lands too.
A young person does not need to own a computer to have access to one, however. One researcher thus claims that “about 90% of young people ages 5 to 17 use computers, and 59% of them use the Internet.” This gives young ones unprecedented access to information—a good thing if the computer is used responsibly, with sufficient adult supervision. But far too many parents have allowed young ones unfettered use of this medium.
As evidence of this, researcher Moll writes in Phi Delta Kappan that according to a 2001 survey of Internet use, “71 percent of parents thought they knew a ‘great deal or a fair bit’ about their child’s Internet use. Yet when children were asked the same question, 70% said their parents knew ‘very little or nothing’ about their online activities.” According to this survey, “30% of 9- to 10-year-olds said that they visited private and adults-only chat rooms. The problem gets worse, with 58% of 11- to 12-year-olds, 70% of 13- to 14-year-olds, and 72% of 15- to 17-year-olds reporting such activity. . . . In a British survey of Internet use at home, one in seven parents admitted having no idea what their children were viewing online.”
Unsupervised Internet use may expose young ones to pornography. The risks, however, do not stop there. Taffel, quoted earlier, laments: “Our kids are making friends at school and in cyberspace—and, as a result, spending time with children whom we often don’t get to meet.”
Clearly, today’s youths are exposed to pressures and problems unknown to past generations. Little wonder that many youths are acting in disturbing ways! Is there anything that can be done to help today’s youths?
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“I believe that the parenting trends that have evolved over the last thirty years promote the development of unattached, uncommunicative, learning-impaired, and uncontrollable children.”—DR. ROBERT SHAW
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The entrance of more women into the work force has altered the family environment
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Unsupervised youths can easily get into trouble
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Researchers have linked violent music videos to violent behavior
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Do you know what your children are viewing on-line?