The effect that our society has on young adolescents is a profound and dangerous one. Our culture is filled with endless outlets of expression, advertising, and persuasion, many of which are used without any thoughts as to the moral consequences they bear. Magazines, movies, tv shows, social networking sites and many more sources of media have a daily influence on everyone that comes into contact with them and they maintain an especially great effect on young teenagers, struggling through a turbulent and confusing stage of life. Such influences can present extraordinary psychological challenges and upsets in the life of a young teenager and if they aren’t balanced out by the presence of advice and open communication from a loving parent or caretaker they can often overwhelm what might have been an otherwise healthy, stable, and mature young adult.
The media is often a source of anxiety for young teenagers not only because of the confusing and often contradicting messages it sends but also because of how deeply ingrained it has become in every aspect of our lives. Teenagers are constantly inundated with messages from various groups, each with their own agenda (almost always an aim to sell), and few that have a young teens best interests at heart.
Teenagers spend their days online visiting sites like facebook, twitter, myspace, as well as playing video games, watching tv, and even reading books that send them confused messages. Online teens see photos of drinking, partying, drug abuse, casual sex and other irresponsible behavior, while being sold on the idea of having a “sophisticated” lifestyle. Social networking sites have become preferred outlets for interaction and remove any subtlety or relevance messages contain leaving teens confused about the ideas and images their being show. Casual flirting can transfer across cyberspace as harassment and, even worse, harassment may not seem as serious or severe when experience through a computer screen. Ideas and information about serious topics such as sex, alcohol, violence, and so forth are watered down, joked about, and discussed nonchalantly online all the while giving teenagers false impressions about the gravity of the decisions they make and the effect those decisions have on their futures. The world has changed and with it emerging technologies have shifted how our teenagers view themselves and those around them.
When not connecting with friends online teenagers are exposed to endless other sources of mixed messages. They can innocently listen to their favorite singers new song online and then minutes later watch a video of them drunk at a party. Teenagers can spend time researching school homework via the internet only to find themselves bombarded with ads for online dating websites, single “hook-up” forums, and the like. The messages are mixed and unclear but with a dangerous undercurrent of what society wants their behavior to look like.
Magazines continue to portray the airbrushed goddesses young girls believe they should look like and are filled with little more than beauty and sex advice forcing teenager girls to play dual roles in society. Tv shows and movies tell them to be casual and carefree with their lives while still being responsible and taking care of everyone around them. They have to be smart but not enough to threaten the boys like, beautiful but without putting any effort into it, and sexy but certainly not sexual. The messages are inconsistent and impossible, leaving adolescent girls not only confused and frustrated by their deemed roles in society but also uncertain as to which parts of themselves are acceptable and which are meant to be fettered away.
Young boys suffer from a different plight but one that they are exposed to in a similar fashion. Teenage boys are meant to excel in sports, math, and science areas while shunning other pursuits and sticking to more masculine endeavors. They are pushed by the media to be conquerors, pushing through obstacles, achieving various rites of maturity, and obtaining as much pleasure from life as they can in the form of women, money, and power. They are show images of what men should look like, how they should behave (specifically towards women) and what it “means” to be a man - usually through the efforts of companies looking to sell products that will produce such results. Teenage boys are taught violence, a disregard for life, and a disrespect for those around them through the “shoot-em-up” video games they play, the obscene music videos and television shows they watch, and the graphic depictions of women in our cultures media and pornography industry.
The results are astonishing. Bright and eager young boys and girls enter adolescence and transform. They turn into sullen, moody, depressed teenagers with violent tendencies and destructive behavior. They take on the roles society pushes on them with uncertainty and fear while being egged on by friends who have already ventured down similar paths. Many begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol, pursuing the glamorous life that is portrayed to them through so many outlets. Parents that try to coach them back to more healthy activities are met with anger, reclusion, and defiance but if left unaddressed these problems often become more serious with teens dropping out of school, contracting STD’s or becoming pregnant, and running away from home. The elegant lifestyle promised by the media is little more than an empty shell leaving hollow and unhappy teenagers to fend for themselves out in the real world after years of disorienting messages telling them what they should want, how they should behave, and who they should be.
Fortunately, there exists hope for the teenagers of this generation and it resides in the dedication of aware and resourceful parents seeking to raise emotionally healthy teenagers. This is not an easy task by any means, but it’s fundamental that the development of young teenagers be taken on as a consideration of utmost importance and with the intent that it be a stepping stone - one that is paramount to the success of such a teenager later in life. Teenagers must be given rules to abide by in order to create a sense of structure and safety but they must also be allowed to explore and discover themselves. They need reassurance of the love and support that they have as well as the opportunity to test the boundaries of the world around them in a safe, non-destructive sort of way. Teenagers need to have frank discussions with their parents about the magnitude of the decisions that are made when they’re young. Important topics like sexuality, body image, relationships, peer pressure, and so on must be talked about in plain terms and the teenager should be encouraged to open up in a way that allows honesty and understanding to develop between parent and child. Parents should refrain from getting upset and reprimanding their children for past behavior and instead explain why different behavior would better serve the child's interests and well-being. It’s important that above all the child feel supported and loved. Parents shouldn’t focus on rule breaking or discipline but instead on fostering behaviors that will help their teens grown and progress through their adolescent years without major issues or mishaps. It’s also essential that a strong sense of family relationship be maintained throughout this time as this can provide a supportive contrast to the alienation that many teenagers may be experiencing with their friends as they take different paths.
In the meantime it’s also necessary that parents support the growth of a healthy teenager emotionally be discussing positive and negative images the media displays and how those can relate to a teenagers life. By dispersing myths and false images portrayed by the media a parent can counter-act the level of damage that might be done by such images and can prevent their teenager from adopting any of these negative false beliefs about themselves, their bodies, or choices they might make. Overall the best thing a parent can do is love their teenager and do all that the can to help them deal with the struggles of being young in our world today.