While teens today face many of the same challenges that teenagers have always dealt with, it’s safe to say that many common issues today’s teens face are new and evolving. Only a few short decades ago, the most common problems teens faced were starting a family and finding a career path. In fact, the word “teenager” wasn’t even invented until the 1920s. In today’s world,  the teenage years are viewed as a distinct phase in one’s life, partially because of the distinct issues faced by teenagers across the U.S. and the rest of the world. 

In particular, social media has magnified peer pressure and put individuals under a spotlight like never before. This constant comparison to others can lead to high-risk behaviors including drinking, “study drug” abuse, sexting, truancy, and more. We hope this guide will help you gain insight into some of the common issues that teens face today.

What are the most common issues facing teenagers today?

According to a new Pew Research Center survey of youth ages 13 to 17, some of the major problems that teens face today are mental issues, such as anxiety and depression, bullying, and drug and alcohol use and abuse.

Anxiety & Depression  

Mental stress is a fact of life for many American teenagers. In the new Pew survey, seven out of ten teenagers say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers – a concern that is shared by mental health researchers and clinicians. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3.2 million adolescents had at least one major depressive episode in 2017. That means roughly 13% of teens are experiencing serious depression before reaching adulthood. 

Studies show that depression rates grew among adolescents, especially females, over the previous decade, and some researchers blame technology for the rise in teen mental health problems. While social media has done a lot over the years to help us feel more connected, it can have negative side effects too – and can increase social pressures

Teens today spend an average of 9 hours a day online, and 51% of teens visit social networking sites on a daily basis. This means teens spend a significant portion of their time seeing and comparing their lives to the “highlight reels” of others – whether fact or fiction. Because of this, there is an immense amount of pressure to be “picture-perfect” and to be “on” all the time. 

Spending too much time on electronic devices may also be preventing young people from in-person activities with their peers, such as sports, which can help ward off depression. Youths today also experience brand new conditions, such as FOMO or the “fear of missing out,” which further leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

Depressive disorders are treatable, but it’s important to seek professional help as soon as you notice something is wrong. If your teen seems withdrawn, experiences a change in sleep patterns, or starts to perform badly in school, schedule an appointment with your teenager’s physician or contact a mental health professional. Do not delay getting help for your teen if you notice any concerning symptoms.

Bullying & Cyberbullying

Issues of personal safety are also on U.S. teens’ minds. 55% of teenagers say bullying is a major problem among their peers, while a third call gangs a major problem. For the most part, bullying rates have held steady in recent years, according to a survey of youth risk behaviors by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one-fifth of high school students (19% in 2017) reported being bullied on school property in the last 12 months, and around 15% said they’d experienced cyberbullying (via texts, social media, or other digital means) in the previous year. In both cases, girls, younger students, and those who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual were more likely to say they’d been bullied. 

Feelings of insecurity and envy that result from the comparison can exacerbate cyberbullying. It is easy for perpetrators to hide behind the guise of an online profile and see little of the impact of their actions. This is one reason why cyberbullying is so intense: the bully doesn’t get the satisfaction of seeing his victim suffer in person, so they do extreme things to attain that feeling of satisfaction over the internet. The consequences of cyberbullying can be life-altering for a victim. Cyberbullying can spread like wildfire across social media, and because it’s online, it doesn’t end when the school day ends.


Based on the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance data, roughly 40% of U.S. high school students reported being sexually active. That means sexual activity has actually declined slightly over the past decade.  However, the internet has made teens sexually vulnerable in a new way.

Another result of all the social media is the pressure to sext. Sexting is defined as sending sexually explicit messages, photos, or video via cell phone, computer, or any digital device. 22% of teen females and 20% of teen males have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves over the internet or using their cell phones. Data suggest that minors are now sharing explicit photos of themselves on the internet – and moreover, that they have less supervision while spending time online. 

Many do it because they believe everyone else is doing it. Others don’t think anyone will spread the images that they are sending and receiving. Some teens simply don’t see any harm in it. But it’s important to know that most of these teenagers are unknowingly engaging in acts of child pornography, and it’s wise to advise your teen to not post explicit photos of themselves online.  

There are several dangers to sexting: 

  • Sexting can contribute to cyberbullying if images end up in the wrong hands. And, if teens feel like they can’t tell anyone about the images, they may be blackmailed into sending more and more pictures. 
  • Sexting can be used to lure someone into sex trafficking by using the explicit images as blackmail. Make sure your teen is aware of these dangers. 
  • There can be legal consequences if teens are caught with inappropriate pictures of other young people, because it can be considered child pornography when teens are under 18.

Unfortunately, many teenagers don’t understand the lifelong consequences that sharing explicit photos can have on their lives.  

Make sure you have a conversation about sexting with your teen. Discuss these dangers and ensure your teen feels safe to talk to you if they find themselves in any of these situations. Read more tips for addressing social media pressures in our downloadable PDF for parents.

Substance Use & Abuse

In the Pew Research Center survey, 51% of teens said drug addiction was a major problem among their peers, and 45% reported that alcohol consumption is also a major concern. Fewer teens these days are drinking alcohol than in previous years, according to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey, but despite some ups and downs, the use of marijuana among twelfth-graders is nearly as high as it was two decades ago. In fact, marijuana was by far the most commonly used drug among teens last year, as it has been for decades.



The Michigan researchers also noted that vaping, both of nicotine and marijuana, has jumped in popularity in recent years. According to the latest data from the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 19.6% of high school students and 4.7% of middle school students – that’s 3.6 million teens altogether – were current e-cigarette users. Rates rose so quickly that, in December 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General declared teen vaping an epidemic. 

Most teenagers have been warned about the dangers of cigarettes all of their lives, but not about vaping. Vaping is marketed as a “safe” and “trendy” alternative to smoking cigarettes. Teens see their peers vaping and want to fit in. And because they don’t see too many negative health effects at first, many teens continue to vape, not realizing the true consequences until after they are hooked. 

Here are some indicators of use: 

  • Dealing with cravings or addiction, resulting in distracted and jittery behavior 
  • Having a hard time paying attention, learning new things, or communicating well 
  • Developing mood-related disorders, like unexplained depression, fear, or anxiety
  • Excessive spending and/or money disappearing
  • A decrease in normal activities or hanging out with his or her usual group of friends
  • Lots of devices that look like USB drives, pens, and/or asthma inhalers

Marijuana Use

While cigarette use has decreased due to high-risk perception, teen marijuana use has increased because of a lowered risk perception. Marijuana is often marketed to teens as “all-natural” and “a great way to relax.” Because of this, teens don’t see much harm in using marijuana, especially as it becomes legal in more and more states across the country. 

Additionally, some parents don’t see much harm in using marijuana, perhaps because they themselves used it when they were younger. However, it’s important to note that marijuana can be up to four times more potent today than it was twenty or thirty years ago.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Another challenge teens face today is the temptation to use prescription medications, including stimulants or “study drugs.” While many students are prescribed stimulants for ADHD or similar disorders, any use that is outside of their prescription is and should be considered abuse. Yet 1 in 5 high school students believe it is okay to misuse stimulants as long as the goal isn’t “to get high.”

Because of the increasing pressure to perform academically, teens reach for these drugs to increase their academic performance, even though studies show non-prescription stimulant users actually have lower grades than their non-using classmates. Additionally, using prescription drugs that aren’t prescribed to you is statistically correlated with heavy drinking and the use of other drugs such as marijuana. 

It’s no longer just the “troubled” teens who are dropping out of school. Some teens feel so much pressure to get into a good college and perform well academically that they’re burning themselves out before they graduate from high school. Stay involved in your teen’s education. Provide support and guidance, and be ready to assist your teen if he or she encounters problems.

Underage Drinking

Although drinking is illegal for those who are under age 21, 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is by individuals aged twelve to twenty. Nearly 30% of high school seniors report drinking alcohol within the past month. And almost 90% of the alcohol consumed by teens is in the form of binge drinking, or high-risk drinking. 

If a teen’s friends or those around them are drinking, it can be difficult for them to say “no.” And because teens are usually not well educated about the harms of alcohol use, it can be easy for them to abuse it. It is essential that teens understand why drinking is so dangerous, particularly for them and their mental development. 

There are many reasons why early drinking is dangerous, including: 

  • Because the brain is still developing until about age 25, underage drinking can cause developmental problems later on. 
  • Research shows that drinking at a young age increases the likelihood of alcohol dependency later in life. 
  • Because teens are already at risk for making poor decisions, being inebriated enhances their chances of engaging in risky behaviors like drink driving, unprotected sex, or drug use. 
  • Mixing alcohol with drugs, especially study drugs or marijuana, can lead to life-threatening situations.

Course Highlight: Parent-Wise

Luckily, there is a lot you can do to help teens cope with the stress of facing these common issues. One recommended way to help your teen navigate difficult issues is by enrolling in an educational program that increases parent awareness about the current issues that teens are facing. 

3rd Millennium Classrooms’ Parent-Wise is a multi-part, evidence-based program that guides parents through the process of making an action plan to help and guide their students as they learn about the challenges their teens are facing. 

Some of the most popular features of Parent-Wise are:

  • An interactive Symptom Checker that provides insight into the various issues your teen might be dealing with, 
  • Downloadable quizzes for parents to use with teens offline, 
  • Interactive skills training activities and videos, 
  • And even downloadable PDFs with additional information for parent intervention

With Parent-Wise, you can feel confident in your ability to begin difficult conversations and to help your teen develop better decision-making skills and coping mechanisms. Sign up for Parent-Wise today, and take the first step towards understanding and helping yourself and your teen.