The Pressure on Our Youth Today
BY BEATRICE MAXWELL '25
While many say today's generation has it easy, our youth face many unseen pressures very different from the pressure on teens in past generations. The pressure from social media, beauty standards, academics, substances, and more causes unnecessary stress, leading to plummeting mental health. Contrary to the belief that youth are unnecessarily creating pressure on themselves, our rapidly developing society appears to be charging at a pace that is difficult for today’s youth to keep up.
In past generations, the major concerns for teens were drinking, cigarette smoking, teen pregnancy, and drugs, but more recently other risks have taken precedence over them. According to the American Psychological Association, child suicide rates have increased by over 150%, self-harm rates for teen girls have nearly tripled, and reported symptoms of depression have increased by over 50% in the past 10 years. Statistically, stress levels are much higher for Gen Z’s youth; these statistics are extremely alarming and signify a major mental health problem, but what’s causing it?
Many signs point to social media and technology. Social media definitely plays a major role in mental health as it causes teens to constantly be comparing themselves to highly curated and seemingly perfect lifestyles online, leading to them feeling insignificant and lesser than what they see on a screen. Additionally, technology is distracting, causing many teens who keep their phones or computers in their room to get significantly less sleep, hindering brain development. In the same way that video clips and memes go viral, snide remarks and cyberbullying propagate like wildfire from a few keyboard clicks.
Although social media affects today's youth, it is not the only factor that harms mental health. NPR’s Dave Davies interviewed Matt Richtel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who specializes in pressure on modern-day youth. Richtel disagrees that social media is the sole cause of declining mental health because the environment has changed for everyone. Technology and social media have influenced everyone's lives and become a part of society so it does not solely affect teens. However, teens undergo many other types of stress. College acceptance rates are at a record low in an age where a bachelor’s degree is becoming the baseline in the job market. All the while, the cost of higher education is only rising—Forbes reports that the cost of the average undergraduate degree has risen by 169% from 1980 to 2020.
Since depression and suicide rates are increasing—partially due to social media and increasing academic pressure—medical care should be able to accommodate an increase in mental health patients, but unfortunately, that's not always the case. Therapy is extremely expensive and not always covered by health insurance, and therapists with open slots are becoming increasingly difficult to find due to increased mental health awareness and the COVID-19 pandemic according to The Washington Post. Furthermore, high therapist rates have accentuated socioeconomic inequities in who has easier access to mental health resources.
Teens today face many problems, and while social media is one of them, it is not our only concern. Problems and coping mechanisms have changed dramatically since our parents were our age. Due to these pressures and the gap between us and previous generations, mental health can easily plummet in our youth.