Why does the challenge of raising adolescents seem so overwhelming in the digital age?

by Sep 9, 2011

The usual stumbling blocks for teens—drug abuse, premature sex, and social pressure—are all compounded by the way teens use technology and social networking sites, like Facebook. Today, teenagers’ social lives run on a 24-hour cycle, so the demands of keeping up with peers can be crushing.  Although the means of communication among teens has changed drastically in the last ten years, teenagers’ core emotional and psychological development remains the same, so there’s a gap between sophisticated technology and teenage immaturity.

Now, as always, teenagers are extraordinarily sensitive to rejection, ridicule and ostracism by their peers.  For example, they’ll take dangerous risks to be invited to a party—and, just as important to them, to be tagged in pictures of that party on Facebook.  To be included, a teen may provide drugs and alcohol to peers and also abuse them.

Nowadays, teenagers don’t have to look far to find a dealer—another change brought about by technology.  By logging onto Craigslist and other sites, they can browse online for coded ads for cocaine, marijuana, Oxycontin, Adderall, crystal meth, and other illegal substances.

Other detrimental uses of the internet include web sites that promote self-destructive behavior.  For example, Pro Ana is a support site and chat room that encourages anorexics in their self-starvation.  There are similar sites that provide “tips” about committing suicide.

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to these web sites because they are still in the developmental phase of “magical thinking”—they don’t fully realize the finality of death, or they may see view it like video game, where people don’t really die or they come back to life.

It doesn’t help teenagers’ decision making can be impeded because the “reasoning center” of their brain, located in the frontal lobe, isn’t fully developed.  As a result there is often a “disconnect” between their actions and the resulting consequences.  They simply cannot look far enough ahead to understand, “If I do X, then Y will result.”  In other words, adolescents live by the spur of the moment, which only increases their impulsivity and poor decision making.

Parents are often unaware that their teenage children are walking through land-mined social terrain. The situation is precarious but not unmanageable.  Family life can be a bulwark against the tumult that teens face.  The empowerment and strengthening of families is key to keeping teens on track.  This is one important focus at The New York Center for Living.

The New York Center for Living is a New York City-based private, outpatient program specializing in teenage and young adult addiction and mental health treatment.  Located in a private brownstone on the Upper East Side, we offer drug addiction family treatment and coach parents in creating a family-centered home.  This begins with parents who are themselves centered and confident in their relationships with their children.

Every day, our professional staff holds therapy sessions for the families of  our adolescents and young adult clients receiving  mental health treatment and drug addiction treatment at The New York Center for Living.

The advice our licensed counselors give can be helpful for the parents of all teenagers and includes:

  • Walk the walk.  Model moderate and responsible drinking.
  • Keep your home as alcohol-free as possible.  Don’t stock liquor, wine and beer at home.
  • Safeguard prescription drugs that invite abuse, such as medication for ADHD, in a place that is unavailable to teens, such as a locked cabinet.
  • Discourage sleepovers.  You have no control over what goes on in other parents’ homes.
  • Establish and enforce a curfew.
  • When a teenager arrives home after a party or being out with friends at night, be awake and available.  Talk to your teen for awhile.  Does he appear to be sober?  Does he smell like alcohol or marijuana?

With adequate information and support, parents can help their children successfully face the hurdles of adolescence, including the pressures that new technologies bring to their lives.

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