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The Greatest Challenges for Teens Today

by Mark Gregston

Think back to your adolescent years.  For me, growing up during the 60’s and 70’s was pretty cool.  Long hair.  Great music. Sideburns.  Rock and roll.  It was a season of innocence and freedom.    

But, not so much with today’s generation!   

Today our teens are faced with complicated issues like gender neutrality, legalized marijuana, persistent negativity, blatant disrespect, unbridled narcissism, and a relentless fixation on social media.   

Like most parents, you’re probably thinking, “Mark, I’m so glad I don’t have to grow up in today’s culture.”   

But guess what?  Our kids do.  They can’t escape it.  And when our teens are dealing with heavy issues, parents will discover that using outdated methods will produce terrible results.   

So, how do we help our teens successfully navigate dangerous times?   

Well, it starts with identifying their real-life issues.  In this article, I’ll identify five major challenges our teens are facing today.    

#1 Overexposure to Everything 

Our kids are exposed to everything.  I mean, everything.  Because of the web, they have access to graphic images.  Their friends are choosing alternative lifestyles.  Sexual temptation is pervasive.  

Just walk through the local mall and you’ll find Victoria Secret luring customers into the store.  When I was a teen, this was unthinkable.  To see women’s underwear, I had to sneak peeks at the Sears catalog.  Furthermore, the Internet offers 4.3-million porn sites.  Make no mistake … if your child has access to a mobile device, he’s likely been exposed to porn.    

Here’s the point.  Try to understand your teen’s world and help them walk through it.  Acknowledge their overexposure to things that they cannot interpret through their young eyes.  Shift your parenting styles to reflect the pervasive nature of sex and find ways to discuss the temptations with your teen.   

#2 Anxiety  

Today’s teen is not mildly concerned.  Many are consumed by full-blown anxiety.   

Why?  Their whole world is about performing.  They are working overtime to meet expectations.  They feel relentless pressure to excel.  And our culture’s fixation on appearance makes them chase relationships that are based, not on connecting, but on measuring up.   

It’s no wonder why our teens turn to marijuana or alcohol as a means for anesthetizing their pain and disappointment.  If your teens are making these poor choices, it’s important that you understand that it’s coming from a place of disappointment and failure.  So try to help your teen recognize what they’re feeling and ask them questions to find out why it’s there.  Be available to talk.  If your expectations are adding to the anxiety, dial it down a little!  And if needed, break the cycle of behavior by taking your teen out of their world for a vacation.   

#3 Lack of Connection with Others 

God has blessed every human being with the innate desire to connect with people.  We are wired for relationships.   

This is why kids are spending so much time on their cell phones.  They text, they post, they chat, and it’s all about relating with others.  As parents and grandparents, when we understand this natural inclination, we shouldn’t over-react when they take this desire down the wrong path.  Even drugs and alcohol are often cheap substitutes for connecting with peers.   

One of our students at Heartlight told me recently that she started using drugs, and even overdosed, because of a disconnection with her dad.  He was never available.  Dad was in and out of the home, and in and out of his marriage, and it left her feeling unworthy.  When I asked her what she longs for, Analeisa said, “I want to be accepted and respected by my parents.  I want my parents to demonstrate that they love me, not just say it.  Show me.”   

#4 Overwhelming Negativity of Culture 

It’s fashionable to cut others down to size.  Everyone rips each other apart.  And teens feel under constant scrutiny.  Each day feels like a parade in which they’re rated by their peers.  If it doesn’t happen at school, it surely happens on social media.  Furthermore, the Internet lets everyone have a loud voice.  It’s like a megaphone for crazy people!  And you no longer need to earn the right to be heard.  You can broadcast yourself any time you wish.   

As parents, we need to create an atmosphere that’s positive and safe at home.  If your conversations have been seasoned with cynicism, your kids will pick it up, too.  So, when you’re offering commentary on your day, and on your teen’s life, keep things positive and upbeat.  Let your home become a safe harbor of rest, not another place where the dark cloud of negativity looms overhead.   

#5 Disrespect for Authority 

In today’s culture, parents have turned away from an authoritarian style of leadership, and lean toward a buddy-buddy friendship with their kids.  This gives our teens a twisted view of a parent’s appropriate role.  Teachers in public schools tell us that the biggest shift in the last thirty years is an abject disregard for authority.  In many schools, the teen is a customer, not a student under authority.   

Teaching respect doesn’t come from striking fear into your teen.  Nor does it come from becoming pals with your child.  Parents need to focus on building a strong relationship and winning the right to be heard.  We need to combine strong leadership with reasonable boundaries, age-appropriate rules, and natural consequences.  Finally, it’s helpful to admit to our teens that we’re not perfect.  Humility, not weakness, earns a child’s respect.   


Mom, dad, did you ever think that the issues and situations facing our teens and preteens would be as potentially damaging as they are?  I’m sure every generation has their challenges, but today’s generation is experiencing a shift in the way people relate, and in the way they seek help from one another.  That’s where you come in.  Your teen needs you.  They need your wisdom, your counsel, your time and your influence.  And they need it now more than ever.   

Even when you think they don’t, they do.  And when they don’t appear to be listening, they are.  So do whatever it takes to create a better arena for relationship … so that you can be that light in the darkness … a ray of hope in their confusion.  And a place where they are loved like none other.   

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.