What are the 10 top fears teens are experiencing in 2021?
While child psychology has shown that teenagers are at the stage in their development where they may feel invincible or fearless, studies show they aren’t big risk-takers. And, in fact, teenagers have some very real, very legitimate fears. As parents, we can’t always protect our kids, but perhaps if we can better understand what teens fear most, we can arm them with a stronger sense of self that will serve them into adulthood.
A Note About Coronavirus
The list below covers basic fears teens face, but in the middle of 2020 and into 2021 young people were also faced with the coronavirus as well. Just as parents feared empty store shelves and if they’d lose their jobs, many young people took on those worries as well. They were also faced with it every day, by not being allowed to see friends or attend school, extracurricular functions, and major life events like graduation.
We cover COVID concerns at the end of this article. But first, here’s the list of fears impacting teens on of all backgrounds.
1. Peer Pressure/Not Fitting In
One of the most difficult parts of adolescence is navigating the complex social life as a teenager. Teens can often feel peer pressured into engaging in more adult behaviors like experimenting with sex and drugs. In a survey from Stage of Life, 40% of teens reported fearing peer pressure. The angst of not fitting in could easily lead to feelings of increased anxiety and depression. Roberto Rodriguez, 17, reveals that his biggest fear in life is “honestly, the feeling of being left out, like, by my friends.”
While some teens become sexually active, others are afraid to. Unfortunately, sex education is woefully inadequate in the US. It’s a difficult subject for many parents to broach, but if you learn how to talk with your teen about sex, it will ensure that if they do become sexually active, they’ll be safe and comfortable when it happens.
Whether it’s tests, auditions, dating, or life in general, teens fear failure — just like adults. Many simply don’t want to disappoint their parents, friends, teachers, or themselves, which is why it’s considered one of the top fears in 2020 and 2021. Fear of failure is a pervasive emotion for teenagers
4. Climate Change
This year at DAVOS, Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg pleaded her generation’s worry over the plight of climate change to the World Economic Forum (WEF). Teens all over the world fear the inevitable effects of climate change going into the third decade of the century. Recent studies show that in the UK and other parts of Europe, teens fear climate change as much as they do terrorism. American teens share those fears as well, since they will be expected to solve the crisis.
5. Money (Poverty)
Teens, even those who aren’t in the workforce, have seen and felt the effects of the rising costs of living coupled with stagnant wages. Many of them have witnessed it with their parents, and 56.4% of teens surveyed by Stage of Life expressed that trying to earn enough money for themselves or their families is high on their list of fears. Parents teaching kids about money — and letting them make mistakes with it — can help.
6. The Future/Growing Up
Today’s teens worry about a lot more than the hottest new song or going to prom. Aside from real quagmires like climate change and social revolution, teens fear an uncertain future. This includes the above-mentioned fears of life with COVID, but it’s more than that.
Young people are still dreaming of college, life after graduation, and their career paths, but they fear what’s beyond the comfort of their teenage years. Adulting is hard, and they know it. If you can recall being a teenager yourself, allay their fears with some parental words of wisdom.
Bullying is no longer limited to schoolyard scuffles. Now, contemporary teens must worry about bullying in the real world and online. A 2018 Pew Research study found that 59 percent of US teens have been bullied or harassed online. Cyberbullying has become a growing problem due
8. Lost Identity
Teenagers are generally in a hurry to grow up. On the cusp of adulthood, they tend to struggle with finding themselves during this formative time. From what we know about the teenage brain, when teens lose their pre-adolescent self they’re in desperate need of a new identity. (How many of us knew exactly who we were at 15?)
While many of our personality traits don’t fully evolve until later as adults, many teens are torn between knowing who they want to be and finding who they really are. This can include exploring their gender identity and/or sexuality.
With an increase in bullying, assaults, school shootings, and other violent acts perpetrated across the US in recent years, teenagers are afraid. These kids shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when just getting an education is difficult enough. Make sure you’re there to hear their fears. And, if they seem interested, encourage them to get involved with civic groups so they can have a voice in what’s happening in society.
If there’s one fear that teens can agree on, it’s being embarrassed in front of their peers. Teens hurl dreaded ridicule from the lunchrooms to the chatrooms, and anyone unlucky enough to do something embarrassing in the digital age will be doomed to relive their embarrassment online for all eternity.
As parents, we should encourage our teens to accept those embarrassing moments. Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, stresses that “being embarrassed is part of life.”
According to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) we are now seeing children and adolescents with higher rates of depression and anxiety resulting from the required isolation and loneliness of COVID-19. This has resulted in kids acting out, and in more extreme cases, suicides or attempted suicides.
There are some simple ways to combat it, such as exercise, listening to music, and writing about their feelings. Learn more about COVID’s impact on children’s mental health.
Dealing With Teens’ Fears
Whatever your teen’s top fears of 2021 are, they can be overcome. If you listen to what they’re afraid of, validate their fears (don’t dismiss them or you risk losing their trust), and come up with solutions together, they’ll be more apt to talk to you in the future when they need your parental guidance.
Above all, if you suspect your child is suffering from anxiety and depression, talk to your family doctor for a mental health professional referral. You child may not need that level of help, but let a professional assess the situation and give a proper recommendation.
Top Fears 2021– Sources
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated by the Parentology team every couple months through to April 2021.
Stage of Life
Guttmacher Institute – Fewer U.S. Teens Are Receiving Formal Sex Education Now Than in the Past
Pew study on climate change
Psychology Today – Teens fearing the future
Pew study on bullying
Psychology Today — The teenage brain