It’s Tough Being a Teenager Today

By Pam Henderson

I have to laugh when I ask my daughter to pick up her shoes, and she says, “I’m exhausted. You don’t know what it’s like to sit in school for seven hours a day.”

Actually, I do know what that’s like. It’s been a few decades, but I still remember school.

In fact, sometimes I still have nightmares about it.

In one scenario, I can’t remember my locker combination. Anyone who recalls those 2 minute passing periods knows that every second of fiddling with the lock takes away precious time from hooking up with friends during a passing period.

In another scenario, I’m trying to get to a pep session, but I can’t find my way to the Red Devil gym. In my high school days, Elston had tunnels and a skywalk that could transport students from the far end of one building to the far end of another, and we’d never have to go outside.  We had pathways behind the pool, under the bleachers and in every other nook and cranny of our vintage building.

In another scenario, I’ve attended school for an entire semester, but realize just before finals that I forgot to attend a class. Now, I have to sit completely unprepared for my final.

It’s funny that these old high school dreams aren’t unique to me. I might notice that a colleague is drinking the biggest, blackest cup of coffee. “Are you feeling okay?” I ask. It never fails – my colleague had a fitful night of sleep trying to remember her locker combination

I laugh about it when I share my nightmares with others, but have come to recognize that one of these nightmares occurs without fail when I’m feeling a lot of stress. If nothing else, it should be a reminder of the stress that our teenagers feel from high school.

As if electron diagrams, frog dissections and measuring angles aren’t enough, high schoolers today have to deal with a lot of stuff that didn’t exist in my high school days. Undoubtedly, I had my worries and drugs and teenage sex were probably more rampant than I realized. Still, I believe that teenagers today face pressures that just weren’t around “way back when”.

Back then, we didn’t have IPads and cell phones. I think the news was on at 5 pm and 10 pm on channels 2, 5, 7 and 9. We didn’t have cable news stations. As a result, we didn’t have 24/7 access to the horrific news events in our world today. I heard about the London and Paris incidents from my daughter, who texted me. If there is a shooting or accident somewhere, she knows before me. That’s some pretty heavy, scary news for a teenager to try to process all alone during a lunch period or on the bus ride home.

One only has to pick up a newspaper to read about the pervasiveness of drug use in our community. Drugs have been around forever; the “Just Say No” campaign is more than 30 years old. Yet, today’s high schoolers have easier, cheaper access to illegal drugs, including heroin and prescription drugs that are stolen from mom and dad’s or grandma and grandpa’s medicine cabinet. Communicating to purchase drugs, I’m sure, can be done much more easily when deals can be made from the privacy of a cell phone rather than by relying upon mom and dad’s old land line with a 10 foot telephone cord. I grew up with five kids in my family and zero privacy.

Even common, easily accessible household items, like computer cleaner, nail polish remover and spray paint, have been turned into drugs of choice. These brain-damaging addictions can become fatal, but they aren’t obvious paraphernalia as is a needle and syringe. In my day, we didn’t have computer cleaner because no one owned a computer.

I was in school in an era of “Children will be children” when it came to bullying. Today, there is an entirely new level of bullying. Social media and texting are tools that weren’t around 30 years ago. Unlike face-to-face confrontations, uncomfortable whispers or mean written notes, what is written on social media stays out there forever. And, just like a horrific disease, it spreads virally. Sadly, it has taken school shootings and bullying-related suicides to deepen our attention as a society to the risk that bullying poses to students. We realize that the adage, “Children will be children” is unacceptable. Still, even with the adult awareness of the problem and attempts to eliminate it, it is likely that in every neighborhood, in every school, a child is being bullied.

And, long gone are the days where the visibility of nudity was limited to glancing (when no one was looking) in the brown-wrapped packages at a book store or thumbing through National Geographic at the library for stories about reproduction or pygmies. The internet makes pornography highly accessible, and cell phones make it easy to sext – to send illicit photos or messages by phone.

Some may say it’s relative, that each generation has its own problems. Perhaps that’s true, but I feel like it was easier in those days. Maybe time paints a rosier picture of how things were, but I grew up with much hope and ambition for my future. I may have been super naïve, but I didn’t worry about terrorism, war or peer pressure to use drugs. I know these are on my daughters’ minds, because we talk about them. We travelled to Germany earlier in the summer, and we talked about our safety. Thirty years ago, that topic wouldn’t have been on my radar.

Clearly, we have to be understanding of the worries and stressors our high schoolers face every day. I often go to The American Academy of Pediatrics for my parenting questions and information. I find great tips for opening a dialogue with my girls about topics that aren’t always easy to approach. Check out, and for more information. As always, if you have worries about your child’s physical, social or mental health, talk to his or her physician.

Some days, I really wish that I could go back to a time when I didn’t have to worry about paying the mortgage or addressing the broken washing machine, and I’d give anything to have my mom’s meatloaf for dinner. But then, I’m sure if I could go back, I’d find I couldn’t wait to grow up.