The teenage years are considered one of the most crucial developmental stages in a person’s life. It’s a sort of junction where a growing child starts viewing themselves as a responsible adult.
A teenager goes through many emotional, physical, hormonal, and social changes. A carefree mama’s child starts to long for independence. Teenagers strive to develop their own ideology and worldview, separating and differentiating from their parents in the pursuit of individuation. Looks suddenly become more important. All these changes of adolescence are overwhelming and exciting at the same time.
While teenagers explore their interests and talents to engage in economically gainful activities, they also forge new social relations. This independence and the resulting responsibilities can lead to emotional turmoil. When no appropriate support system is in place, the transition from childhood to adolescence can trigger stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in teens.
Psychological and emotional problems in adolescence
In recent years, mental health issues have been on the rise among high-school students. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there has been a 40% increase in experiences of persistent sadness in teenagers since 2009. This means that more than 1 in 3 high-school students struggle with feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
The World Health Organization reports that 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health issue in a given year. Half of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 75% by 24. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability and illness in adolescents.
Among adolescents, suicide-related thoughts and plans have increased by 44% since 2009. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15- to 19-year-olds. A report on youth risk behavior shows that 1 in 6 young people reported making suicide plans in the previous year.
Importance of connectedness for teens
Connectedness can greatly help teens cope with emotional and psychological problems. Studies suggest that strong relationships at school play an important role in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression in students. Staying connected with student-led clubs and peer development programs can help in getting the necessary support for sharing and reflecting on distressing thoughts.
A large volume of research supports the fact that teens are greatly influenced by their peers, who gradually replace parents as role models in the journey to self-sufficiency. They start following the trends their peers follow to establish a sense of belonging. They also tend to reach out to their peers for emotional support, guidance, and motivation.
Benefits of peer support in teen years
Parents find it difficult to accept that their babies have grown and prefer their peers. Given the increasing prevalence of psychiatric problems among youth, parents not only need to provide essential adult support but also ensure that their teenager gets plenty of peer support.
Research conducted in Western Australia among 108 boys and girls aged 13 to 16 highlighted this necessity. The adolescents in this sample, who represented a disadvantaged community, were followed in real time and had to fill five online questionnaires daily for seven days. The common stressors they listed were:
- failing a test
- breaking up with a partner
- facing racism
- being responsible for younger siblings
- living in a separate home from rest of the family
- working extra hours to meet basic needs
The study found that teenagers who were with peers immediately after facing a stressful event experienced less worry, jealousy, and loneliness. Conversely, those who were with their parents or other adults were less happy and took more time in recovering from a stressful situation.
Another interesting finding from this research was that it didn’t matter if the teen was with peers or communicated with them online. Both interactions yielded similar positive reactions, indicating that peer support helps teens with anxiety.
Why do teens needs more peer support?
As parents, we need to understand that adolescents go through physiological and emotional changes while transitioning into adulthood. A secure, predictable, and safe childhood equips them with the resilience and social skills they need to grow into responsible and successful adolescents. We have to understand that giving our children freedom as adolescents allows them to prepare for the realities of life.
Teens go through many changes while linking to others.
- They have more intense emotions. Teens react more emotionally in situations that are not that intense. They also tend to see more emotions in others, which is why they become more easily irritated, angry, or sad. These mood swings are common in adolescents, so they can be more empathetic towards each other. Suggestions from someone experiencing similar emotions are easier to accept.
- “Same old” is boring for them. Teenagers want to experiment and try new activities. Novelty and risk motivate them, but at the same time, the unpredictable can become stressful. Having peer support can help balance thrill, adventure, and rationality.
- Peer attachment is a basic need. Adolescents need to develop connections with their peers because these attachments help them move ahead on their own. This change in emotional dependence sometimes upsets parents and can create unnecessary conflict between parents and teens.
Peer support leaders at school
Some schools take peer support to a new level through their peer support leaders. These adolescents receive proper training in counseling, listening, reflecting, detecting warning signs, and engaging an adult professional when deemed necessary.
In a national poll, C.S. Mott Children’s hospital asked the parents of teens aged between 13 and 18 about the effectiveness of peer support leader programs. According to 72% of parents, it is effective as it encourages teens to talk about their mental health issues with others. For 75% of parents, peer support leaders are able to better understand the emotional challenges of teens as compared to school counselors.
Most parents thought that getting their child trained as a peer support leader would help them develop leadership skills (65%), make them more empathetic (66%), and motivate them to support or serve the community (63%).
Online peer support platforms
Not all adolescents have access to educational institutions with peer support programs in place. Living in a war-affected area, having financial difficulties, fearing stigmatization, and hesitating to reveal their identity are some factors pushing teenagers away from face-to-face peer support.
Fortunately, there are various online formats making it possible to reap the benefits of peer support for teens dealing with mental health issues. Examples include virtual chat rooms, online discussion groups, and digital bulletin boards. A systematic review of online peer-to-peer support with mental health issues revealed that web forums can reduce psychological, social, financial, and time-related constraints hindering access to help. With more than 93% of adolescents reporting regular use of the internet, these online support platforms can be another good alternative for receiving peer-to-peer support.
To ensure online psychological safety, it’s important to take precautions when using these platforms. Remaining anonymous and accessing platforms where professionals serve as moderators can help make online peer support effective.
Research indicates that young people use the internet to connect with others. Reaching out to peers with similar mental health problems, listening to their experiences, and learning coping strategies from them can temper the feelings of helplessness, depression, and anxiety in teens.
Some final words
The teenage years are an important junction, preparing adolescents to face the economic, social, and emotional responsibilities of adult life. This transition into adulthood can be made smoother with positive peer support.