10 Social Issues and Problems That Trouble Today's Teens

Technology can amplify the struggles teens face

Social problems teens struggle with

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

Social issues are problems that affect large groups of people and can affect how well a society functions. Teens can face social problems just like adults can. They may even be more susceptible to these challenges because their brains are still developing and their bodies are changing quickly. Social issues and what we might think of as "teenage problems" can affect emotional and physical health.

Advances in technology also mean that today's teens are facing new and different social issues. Electronic media has changed or amplified some teenage troubles: Digital communication has changed the way teens interact with their peers and romantic interests, for example.

Digital life also means that many teens lack essential interpersonal communication skills like knowing how to pick up on social cues. Much of this dysfunction can be linked to the use of technology (but on the flip side, virtual socializing and learning were essential during the COVID-19 pandemic).

Teens' social media and texting habits are changing the way they communicate, date, learn, sleep, exercise, and more. The average teen spends over eight hours each day using electronic devices.

While not all social issues are linked to technology, many have complicated relationships with tech and media use. These are the top 10 social issues teens struggle with every day.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 4.1 million adolescents in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2020. That means 17% of American teenagers may experience depression before reaching adulthood. Data from NIMH also shows that depression is much more prevalent in female teens (25.2%) than male teens (9.2%) and among teens who reported two or more races (29.9%).

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

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 If your teen seems withdrawn, experiences a change in sleep patterns, or starts to perform badly in school, schedule an appointment with your teen's physician or contact a mental health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


About 22% of teens in the U.S. experienced bullying in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Research suggests that social media has made bullying much more public and more pervasive. Cyberbullying has replaced bullying as the most common type of harassment that teens experience.

To help guard against these kinds of teenage troubles, talk to your teen about bullying regularly. Discuss what they can do when they witness bullying and talk about options if they become a target themselves. Being proactive is key to helping your child deal with a bully.

It's also important to talk to your child about when and how to get help from an adult. Talking about how someone has humiliated them is never an easy topic. But asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it's a show of courage.

Sexual Activity

In the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) survey, 38% of high school students reported that they had ever had sex; 27.4% said they were currently sexually active. That represents a decline over the past decade (46% had ever had sex in 2009; 34% were currently sexually active).

The teen birth rate has declined over the past decade as well. In 2020, the teen birth rate was 15.4 (births for every 1,000 females ages 15-19), a decline of 8% from 2019 and 75% from the 1991 peak of 61.8. These teen births accounted for less than 5% of total births.

The decline in pregnancy doesn't necessarily mean teens are using contraceptives, however. Just over half of sexually active teens reported using a condom in their last sexual encounter, according to YRBSS data, while about 31% used hormonal birth control and 9% used both.

Of the 26 million new sexually transmitted infections in 2018, more than half were among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Parents may not be aware that their children are sexually active. Talk to your teen about sex and the importance of safe sex practices, even if you don't think your child is engaging in sexual activity.

Drug Use

In 2021, about 3% of teens surveyed (in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades) reported using marijuana daily. Marijuana use exceeds cigarette use in teens now, and is at its . In fact, many teens believe marijuana is less harmful now than in years past. This new perception may be due to the changing laws surrounding marijuana.

Teen use of other substances is declining, according to the Monitoring the Future Survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While this decline has been noted since the survey began in 1975, decreases in 2021 were "steep and atypical."

Still, it's important to have regular conversations with your teen about the dangers of drugs. And don't forget to mention the dangers of prescription drugs, too. Many teens do not recognize the dangers of taking a friend's prescription or popping a few pills that are not prescribed to them.

Teens often underestimate how easy it is to develop an addiction. And they don't understand the risks associated with overdosing. Be sure you are talking about these risks on a consistent basis.

Alcohol Use

As of 2021, alcohol use and binge drinking continued to show a significant decline among teenagers. Still, 26% of high school seniors surveyed still report drinking alcohol within the past month.

Talk to teens about the risks of underage drinking. Educate them about the dangers, including the fact that alcohol can take a serious toll on a teenager's developing brain. Also, do not shy away from expressing your disapproval of underage drinking. Saying you don't approve can make a big difference in whether your teen decides to drink.


About 22% of 12- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. are obese, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. Hispanic and Black children are more likely to be overweight or obese than White or Asian children. 

Overweight children and teens are often targeted by bullies. Obese kids also are at a much greater risk of lifelong health problems, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. They also may struggle with body image issues or develop eating disorders as an unhealthy way of changing their appearance.

Parents are not always aware of these issues. Surveys show parents are bad at recognizing when their kids are overweight. They tend to underestimate their child's size and the risks associated with being overweight.

Talk to your child's pediatrician about the weight and body mass appropriate for your teen's height and age and inquire about the steps you can take to ensure your teen is healthy. Then, if your doctor does recommend a healthier eating plan or exercise, find ways to support and empower your teen.

Academic Problems

About 5% of high school students drop out of high school each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A high school dropout is likely to earn $200,000 less over his lifetime when compared to a high school graduate, which can have a significant impact on a young person's future.

But it's no longer just "troubled teens" who are dropping out of school. Some teens feel so much pressure to get into a good college that they 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 they encounter problems.

Peer Pressure

While peer pressure has affected teens for generations, social media brings it to a whole new level. Sexting, for example, is a major cause for concern; many teens do not understand the lifelong consequences that sharing explicit photos can have on their lives. 

But sharing inappropriate photos is not the only thing kids are being pressured into doing. Teens face pressure to have sex, use drugs or alcohol, and even bully others. To keep your kids from falling victim to peer pressure, give them skills to make healthy choices, and to resist peer pressure.

Also, talk to teens about what to do if they make a mistake. Sometimes, kids may be afraid to seek help when they make poor choices. It's important that your teen feels safe coming to you when they have a problem. Demonstrate that you can listen without judging or overreacting and instead find healthy ways for them to make amends and move on.

Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be great ways for teens to connect with one another, but social media can be problematic for several reasons. Social media can expose your teen to cyberbullying, slut-shaming, and so much more. And, while there are some benefits to social media, there are a lot of risks as well.

Social media can have a negative impact on friendships and is changing the way teens date. It can even impact their mental health. And no matter what precautions you take, teens are likely to be exposed to unsavory people, unhealthy images, and sexual content online.

Help your teen learn how to navigate social media in a healthy way. Talk about ways to stay safe online. And most importantly, know what your teen is doing online. Educate yourself about the latest apps, websites, and social media pages teens are using and take steps to keep your teen safe. You may also want to take steps to limit your teen's screen time.

On-Screen Violence

Teenagers are going to witness some violent media at one time or another. And it's not just TV, music, and movies that depict violence. Many of today's violent video games portray gory scenes and disturbing acts of aggression. Over the past couple of decades, studies have linked these violent images to a lack of empathy and even aggressive behavior.

Other studies have shown the number one factor in determining how kids relate to media is how their parents think and act. That means the more violence parents watch, the more likely they are to think it's OK for their kids to view. 

Pay attention to your teen's media use. Don't allow teens to watch R-rated movies or to play M-rated video games. It's not healthy for them to consume that material in excess and unsupervised. 

Also, talk to your teen about the dangers of being exposed to violent images and monitor your teen's mental state. It's also important to talk about sexual situations and racial stereotypes that your teen might see.

Teens need to learn how to identify what is good and what is bad about the media. It helps them become a healthier consumer when they can think objectively about what they are seeing online, in the movie theater, or in a video game.

How to Talk to Your Teen

Bringing up any difficult subjects with your teen can feel uncomfortable. And your teen isn't likely to respond well to a lengthy lecture or too many direct questions. But having a conversation with your teen about social issues and other teenage troubles is not something you should shy away from.

Even when it seems like they are not listening, you are the most influential person in your teen's life. It is important to lay a strong foundation before the window of opportunity closes.

A good way to strike up a conversation about drugs, sex, vaping, or other uncomfortable situations is to ask a question like, "Do you think this is a big issue at your school?"

Listen to what your teen has to say. Try not to be judgmental, but make your expectations and opinions clear. It is important that your teen understands that you don't condone certain behaviors and that they know the consequences of breaking your rules

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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.