It isn’t easy being a teenager. Young people face many difficulties as they move from childhood to adulthood. There may be changes in family life to manage. They may be thinking about starting a sexual relationship, or facing choices about social and illicit drug use.

There is evidence to suggest that confident young people who feel supported by their families and friends are better able to successfully negotiate any potential pitfalls. However, it should be remembered that adolescence is typically a time for experimenting with risky behaviours, despite good parenting practices and role modelling.

Alcohol
Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in Australia. According to a recent survey, eight out of 10 secondary school students had used alcohol, with one third reporting alcohol use in the week the survey was taken. For teenagers, alcohol use is associated with a range of health risks, including:

  • Unsafe sex
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Drink driving and road accidents
  • Fights
  • Criminal activity.

Body image and associated problems
The potential difficulties associated with body image may include:

  • A negative body image – where the teenager dislikes their appearance
  • Crash dieting and associated malnourishment
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa
  • Obesity, since physical activity levels tend to decline
  • Steroid use among young people who are keen to develop the muscular ideal.

Bullying
Estimates suggest that around one in six Australian children are bullied. Young people are bullied by their peers for a number of reasons, including:

  • Appearance, such as being overweight
  • Resisting the pressure to conform
  • Background, including race and socioeconomic factors
  • Academic achievement
  • Sexual preferences or behaviour
  • Being ‘the new kid’ at school.

Cigarette smoking
Despite massive media campaigns, cigarette smoking is still popular amongst teenagers, particularly young women. There is some evidence to suggest that parents are so alarmed at the thought of their children using ‘harder’ drugs, that smoking is considered a lesser and therefore more acceptable ‘evil’.

Family life
Young people can be faced with a host of family related difficulties, pressures, and changes, including:

  • Difficulties with family dynamics
  • Domestic violence
  • Child abuse including neglect, and physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Separation and divorce
  • Stepfamilies.

For some children of course these changes can be a good thing. For example if there has been a lot of conflict in a family, separation can be a positive change.

Illegal drug taking
Marijuana is one of the most commonly used illegal drugs amongst teenagers; more than one third have tried it at least once. Other common illegal drugs include hallucinogens, amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy, with rates of use ranging between four and nine per cent. It is commonly believed that teenagers turn to drugs to alleviate depression or anxiety, but most try drugs simply for fun. Young men are more likely than young women to experiment with illegal drugs. Teenagers who smoke and drink are more inclined to try drugs than teenagers who abstain.

Media
The media including print media, television and movies has been implicated in socialising teenagers in unhelpful or harmful ways, including:

  • Offering up a diet of violence, which may desensitise viewers
  • Emphasising the cultural ideal that only thin is beautiful
  • Propagating the overriding importance of money, consumerism and status symbols.

Sexual relationships
Teenagers need access to frank and honest information on sexual issues if they are to negotiate adult relationships safely and happily. Issues confronted by teenagers include:

  • Safe sex practices
  • Contraception
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Peer pressure
  • Cultural definitions of gender roles.

Suicide
After car accidents, suicide is the most common cause of death among teenagers. According to research, more young women than young men attempt suicide, but young men are far more likely to succeed in taking their own lives. In the past 30 years, the suicide rate for males aged between 15 and 24 years has tripled. Young men living in country areas are twice as likely as their city counterparts to kill themselves.

Unwanted pregnancy
Improved access to contraception and sex education has reduced the incidence of teenage pregnancy. Around five per cent of Australian children are born to teenage mothers. Difficulties faced by young mothers include:

  • Emotional trauma
  • Alienation from family and friends
  • Higher complication rates during pregnancy and birth
  • Higher risk of poverty if the child is kept.

Things to remember

  • Cigarettes and alcohol are the drugs most commonly used by adolescents.
  • Young men are more likely than young women to take drugs, drink alcohol and commit suicide.
  • One in six Australian children are bullied by their peers.