Physical Problems Troubled Teen Issues

Underage Drinking

Even though drinking by anyone under the age of 21 is illegal in the U.S., people aged 12 to 20 years drank 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States this year. Of this amount more than 90% was consumed in the form of binge drinking. Binge drinking is typically defined as five or more drinks consumed on one occasion and is one way to determine heavy alcohol use. On average 28.3% of underage drinkers (10.8 million persons aged 12 to 20) used alcohol in the past month. Research has shown that underage youth drink more than those of a legal age (4.9 drinks vs. 2.8 drinks).

Legal Drinking Age

  • The legal drinking age for different countries varies dramatically, from 0 to 21
  • 10 countries have no minimum drinking age
  • 13 countries have a minimum drinking age of 16
  • 43 countries have a minimum drinking age of 18
  • 1 country has a minimum drinking age of 19
  • 2 have a minimum drinking age of 20
  • The U.S. has the highest minimum drinking age at 21, but there are many exceptions to this general rule, that lead to underage drinking. 

Drinking and Driving

A yearly average of 4.2 million young people between the ages of 16 and 20 reported driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs during the past year.

Among high school students in the last 30 days:

  • 45% drank some amount of alcohol.
  • 26% binge drink.
  • 11% drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 29% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

Underage, teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to ride with an intoxicated driver and are more likely to drive after drinking alcohol or using drugs. The number of deaths in motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol, account for 38.6% of all traffic deaths. Reports show 6,002 young people ages 16-20 died in motor vehicle crashes in 2003.

Underage Drinking Deaths

Approximately 5,000 deaths of people under the age of 21 are the result of underage drinking each year:

  • 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes
  • 1,600 as a result of homicides
  • 300 from suicide
  • Hundreds more die from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drownings while they are intoxicated 

This is a big concern because reports show there were approximately 7.2 million people under the legal drinking age who were binge alcohol users in the last month.

Troubled Teen Issues

Delinquent Teens

Teens are the group most at risk for delinquency, and parents with delinquent teens may quickly feel like they are in over their heads. Luckily, there are ways parents can help delinquent teens, and resources for families who need help.

The teen years are a time when young people experiment with their identity and try to achieve independence from their parents. Most teens do this is relatively harmless ways, but there are some types of behavior that are illegal and may have negative long-term consequences for teens, such as:

  • Truancy or skipping school
  • Underage drinking
  • Using or selling illegal drugs or abusing prescription drugs
  • Vandalism
  • Shoplifting
  • Burglary or theft
  • Fighting
  • Breaking curfew
  • Running away
  • Arson
  • Less commonly, sexual assault and homicide 

Some parents may think these problems are confined to kids who are poor, male, urban, or from racial minorities, but in fact delinquent teens come from all kinds of neighborhoods and families. There are, however, some risk factors that make it more likely that teens will engage in illegal or delinquent behaviors:

  • A history of anti-social or aggressive behavior
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol by a family member
  • Illegal behavior by another family member
  • Problems or stresses at home, such as loss of a family member, divorce, or family conflict
  • Not feeling attached to or secure in their family
  • Having friends engaged in illegal behaviors
  • Doing poorly in school
  • Lack of positive goals and activities
  • Unsupervised, unstructured time, especially right after school
  • Rules and consequences that are too strict or too lenient
  • A history of abuse
  • Having a mental illness or traumatic head injury 

The most important way to help a teen who may be at risk for delinquency is to help him or her feel connected to his or her family, school, and community. Though many families and parents are very busy and have trouble finding time to spend on positive activities, even spending a small amount of time talking to a teen every day can help. Some things that may help a struggling teen or delinquent teen include:

  • Spend at least a few minutes everyday talking to your teen and listening to what they have to say. They may not always open up to you or agree with your opinions, but this will help show them that you care and may encourage them to talk to you if they have a problem later.
  • Tell teens often that you love them, and try to accept them for who they are as they experiment with different identities and interests.
  • Eat at least one meal together as a family every day, with the TV and cell phones turned off. This has been shown to reduce teens’ risks for delinquent behavior and improve their general health and well being. This may mean having breakfast or a late dinner together if parents’ schedules are not convenient for other meals.
  • Get help for teens who are struggling in school. Many schools offer after school tutoring for students. Emphasize the importance of getting a good education.
  • Encourage teens to be involved in positive activities. This can include clubs, sports, community groups, church groups, music, theater, a part-time job, volunteering, or even unstructured activities like art. This is especially important for teens who spend time unsupervised after school.
  • Set clear rules and expectations with reasonable consequences and enforce the consequences when the rules are broken. A good way to do this is through a behavior contract that clearly states what the rules and expectations are and what will happen when a rule is broken. The parent(s) and teen both sign the contract. Make sure rules and consequences are reasonable and not overly harsh, and pick your battles – don’t try to make a rule for everything, just the things that are important for a teen’s or family’s well-being.
  • Ask questions when a teen goes out about what they are doing, where they are going, and whom they will be with. Require them to call you if their plans change.
  • Monitor a teen’s use of electronic devices, such as by keeping TVs and computers out of bedrooms or installing parental controls. Don’t do this secretly – tell teens that you can see what they are doing online and that you want to make sure they’re not posting things online or visiting web sites that might cause problems for them.
  • Get treatment for any illnesses a teen may be suffering from, including ADD/ADHD, depression, or drug or alcohol addiction. 

When teens have already gotten into serious trouble or have developed patterns of illegal or delinquent behavior that are not easy to change, parents should seek outside help for their teen and family in addition to the above suggestions. Delinquent teens may have problems that parents cannot be expected to handle on their own. A doctor or counselor is a good place to start, and most communities have programs to help families who don’t have insurance to cover the costs of counseling.

Teen Delinquency Sources:

MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Adolescent Health, “Delinquency” [online]
WebMD, “5 Teen Behavior Problems: A Troubleshooting Guide” [online]
Nemours, KidsHealth, “A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Teen Years” [online]

Troubled Teen Issues

Peer Pressure

Teenage Peer Pressure

For teenagers, it can seem very important to “fit in.” Teens are very concerned about their images, and they are worried about what others think about them. As a result, peer pressure is very influential in many teens’ lives. Peer pressure is basically the influence that people your age have on you. For teenagers, it is the influence that other teens have on their behavior, dress, attitude and practices. Often, teenagers do what others are doing so that they can fit in – or at least not stand out. Teens like to do what their friends are doing, and be accepted. This peer pressure, though, can lead to undesirable behaviors.

Statistics on peer pressure

There are some startling statistics about peer pressure, and what teenagers feel pressured to do. This pressure may be fairly straightforward, with some teens pressuring others to take part in certain activities. In some cases, though, peer pressure is a little more subtle, with clues given to teens that they won’t be “cool” if they don’t participate, even without the overt pressure to do what everyone else is doing. Here are some statistics about peer pressure:

  • The Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base reports that right around 30% if teens are offered drugs in middle school and high school.
  • According to the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 74.3% of high school students have tried alcohol.
  • 3.1 million teenagers smoke, according to the American Lung Association.
  • The Kaiser Foundation reports that about 50% of teenagers feel pressured with regard to sex in relationships. 

You can see that the peer pressure is on to engage in behaviors that may not be healthy, physically or emotionally, for your teenager. While some teens choose some behaviors when they are ready, many feel rushed into decisions that they are not quite ready to make. Many end up overwhelmed by the consequences of their efforts to fit in with their peer group. It is vitally important that you help your teenager develop the self confidence to withstand peer pressure, and make his or her own decisions.

How parents can combat peer pressure

There is always going to be a certain amount of bowing to peer pressure. Teens naturally want to project the “right” image. However, you can reduce the influence that peer pressure has on your teenagers by making the following moves:

  • Open lines of communication: It is vital that you be understanding and approachable. Teenagers are afraid to come to those who are judgmental or who will subject them to ridicule. Establish a practice of speaking with your child regularly, and listening. Sometimes, your child just needs to feel that you are listening.
  • Have clear expectations: Start when your children are young to have clear expectations for their behavior. Talk to your kids and teens about different subjects of interest. Health and Human Services reports that 59.8% of teenagers that talk with their parents about the dangers of substance use (including alcohol) are more likely to abuse such substances.
  • Know their friends: Get to know your teen’s friends. You should also try to get to know your friends’ parents. Try to make your home an inviting place for your children to bring their friends, so that you can keep an eye on them. Be there for your teen to talk to, and discuss activities that their friends may be involved in, and their inappropriateness if necessary.
  • Be involved: Show your teen that you care. Attend after school activities and sporting events. Listen to them talk about their lives. Show that you are interested in what they are doing. Take time to be together as a family. Teenagers who are involved with their families and have good support systems are less likely to succumb to peer pressure.
  • Talk about the issues: Talk about what is going on with others your kids’ ages. Talk about issues including teen drug use, alcohol, sex and other items. Talk about issues ranging from what’s going on with academics and local politics to how to make better decisions. This can facilitate conversations and help you make clear your expectations.
  • Pick your battles: Understand that some things are less important than others. Letting your teen wear all black or listen to the latest music is less of an issue in many cases. If your teen is not showing deviant behavior, and continues to do well in school, what he or she wears or listens to may not be worth an argument. Your teen will be more willing to listen to you when it really matters if you avoid nit-picking when it doesn’t. 

In the end, you need to encourage your teen to choose good friends who will be supportive of them. And you need to help your teenagers withstand peer pressure by providing a safe support system.


Student Credit Cards for Teens

This article on student credit cards is the first of many on teaching teen’s responsibility. Written by parents for parents.

One of the debates raging right now regarding teenagers centers around teen credit cards. While some insist that teen credit cards can help teach important money management skills, others say that teen credit cards do little more than get teenagers used to the idea of using plastic to pay for items.

What are teen credit cards?

Teen credit cards are actually “prepaid” or “secure” credit cards. They aren’t true credit cards in the sense that they belong only to a teenager and are open and revolving lines of credit. Instead, programs like Visa Buxx and MasterCard Allow, are designed so that the only money teenagers can spend is money that is already on the card.

Here’s how it works: You sign up for the account. You are on the account, as well as your teenager. You begin with an initial deposit that serves as the “limit.” Every month “payments” are made, increasing what is available on the card (or simply replacing the money that is spent).

The best practice, from the standpoint of teaching money management to teens, is to have the teenager make the “payments” and keep track of his or her spending. This can help teens get a better idea of how much money they are spending, and get used to the idea that even though they are using a credit card, they still have to pay for what they spend.

It is important to impress upon teenagers the importance of keeping track of what is spent on these cards. Overages can result in fees. Once fees are assessed, another “payment” adding money to the account won’t be worth as much, since fees are deducted as soon as the account gets back in the black. Personal finance software or a ledger can help your teenager keep track of expenses and update balances. Make sure you show your teenager how to balance the statement at the end of each month, and explain the importance of this action.

Opening one of these types of accounts in your teenager’s name can help him or her build credit, offering a head start in life.

Adding your teenager to your credit card account

Another option in teen credit cards is to add your teenager as an “authorized user” to your credit card account. This will give the teenager his or her own credit card to use, but it is in your name. This allows you to see exactly where the money is going.

In order to ensure that your teenager is learning money management skills, many experts suggest that you let your teenager know how much was spent each month, and have him or her pay for that portion. You might even consider figuring the amount of interest that your teen’s purchases accrue. Be sure to go through everything with your teenager so that he or she sees that spending money on a student credit card results in interest charges beyond what is originally spent. Explain that using credit to buy things is like getting a loan, and that it costs money to borrow money.

It is important to note that with new rules from Fair Isaac, an “authorized user” no longer gains the same credit score status as it used to. This means that adding a teenager to your credit card probably won’t help him or her build credit particularly well.

Opening a new credit card account for your teenager

It is important to note that technically, debt cannot be offered to someone under the age of 18. This means that teenagers should not have their own credit card. Teen credit cards get around this by using the “prepaid” and “secured” credit cards, as well as by having parents as the primary borrowers.

If you want to open a credit card account for your teenager, you will have to open with you as the primary borrower. Even if the teen makes the payments on the credit card, it is still technically yours. However, in such cases it is possible for your teen to begin building credit. A credit card account opened in this manner is very similar to co-signing on a loan. You will get copies of all the statements, and you can watch for irresponsible behavior, such as missing payments.

Teaching teens to use credit cards responsibly

Teen credit cards can be great tools in helping teach money management. If opened correctly, they can also help your teenager begin building credit. However, it is important to stress appropriate use of credit cards. Watch carefully. If your teenager misses a payment, it is a good idea to revoke credit card privileges. You also need to make sure that your teenager is exposed to the very real consequences of interest, and the fact that credit cards aren’t “free money.”

If your teen or young adult has a job then you can help them build credit in college or high school and learn some basic finance skills. In a world were good credit is becoming more and more important you can help your young adult become qualified to purchase a home at a younger age as well as life-long skills.

Ideas on how to teach your child about credit by allowing them to use a college student credit card:
1. Keep the credit card limit to $250 or $500.
2. Make sure they understand they must pay the bill.
3. Show them expense tracking and budgeting.
4. Eliminate bad cash spending habits.
5. Set rules for spending (what is ok to buy).
6. Explain the fees, interest, and grace period.
7. Pay-off credit card balance each month.

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  • Points, Miles, or other rewards


While teaching your young adult good spending habits and financial responsibility make sure to discuss the dangers of too much credit. This would include: over-extension, debt accumulation, credit scoring and how it works, and the problems with debt at a high rate of interest.

Use your good judgement on deciding if a college student credit card is right for your young adult or teen. It may be too early to transfer such responsibility, but the sooner you discuss these types of things the better off you’ll be in the long run.


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