INFLUENCES THAT AFFECT THE HEALTH OF ADOLESCENTS IN SOCIETY.
Adolescence is the period in life just before maturity; it is the transition from childhood to adulthood. This transition is quite often very difficult one as the child adjusts, and has to come to terms with the responsibilities that they face as they progress in life. This essay will look at peer pressure and the other causes of stress, along with the implications of poor diet. It will consider the consequences of relationships and sexual activity, boredom, drug use and depression, and how much social and economical aspects play a part in their well being.
One of the biggest pressures faced by adolescents today is the one from their own contemporaries. Peer pressure plays a huge part in any teenagers’ life and being accepted, and having the approval of friends is very important. This can be anything from listening to the right music to wearing the right jeans. Peer pressure is not always negative; sometimes the adolescent will strive to do well in certain sports or activities to gain the respect from their friends. (Witmer, D 2004) Gaining this approval gives the teenager a feeling of being accepted and being popular.(Lingren H.G 1995) Anyone who appears not to fit in may run the risk of being bullied.
Bullying is a source of great stress for adolescents. Being picked on can mean they develop a low opinion of themselves. But in the some cases the damage is much worse. Each year between ten and twelve children commit suicide in the UK because they are being bullied, and many more attempt suicide as a way of drawing attention to their plight. Hundreds more lose out on education through truanting and absence because of the fear they have. (Marco, D 2002) The reason that a child might bully another child must also be considered. Adolescents can bully for all sorts of reasons, some may bully because they enjoy the sense of power, others may be troubled, pressured by school or family life, or even depressed, and deal with their own fears by frightening others. (www.youngminds.org.uk)
The pressure for adolescents to perform well in exams is immence, this maybe the first serious kind of stress that they encounter. (Adams, C 2000)
The Social and Public Health Services Unit at Glasgow University studied 2,700 school pupils and discovered that the mental health of teenagers has deteriorated. Two groups of 15-year-olds were interviewed in 1987 and 2003 using a standard questionnaire. The results showed that stress levels have almost doubled in the last 15 years. This was mainly due to exam pressure. (Eason, G 2002)
Adams (2000) suggests that all schools should hold pre-exam stress seminars and have assemblies with stress management as the main topic. Relaxation techniques would also benefit the students and help to focus the mind.
Some teenagers do not know how to deal with stress and they find other ways of releasing their frustrations. They may become very verbal, which is usually aimed at parents, siblings and friends. In more severe cases this can manifest into more serious actions like self harming. Some young people self-harm on a regular basis while others do it just once or twice. For some adolescents this is part of coping with a specific problem and they stop once the problem is resolved. Others go on to self-harm for years whenever certain kinds of pressures or feelings arise. A few people who self-harm may go on to commit suicide, but usually this is not the case. In fact, self-harm can be seen as the opposite of suicide as it is often a way of coping with life rather than of giving up on it. (Barber, T 2003)
Another common cause of unhappiness in adolescence is being overweight; this can cause a vicious circle to develop. Overweight teenagers who are criticised or made fun of, become depressed and grow to dislike themselves. This leads to inactivity and comfort eating, which worsens the weight problem. (Bell, M 2004). Poor nutrition, in terms of high-calorie fast food and drink and this lack of exercise has led to the generation of unhealthy teenagers. The percentage of overweight teens has more than doubled over the past two decades. If this scenario continues, we will see a massive strain on the NHS in years to come.
(Baker, M 2002)
At the other end of the dietary scale we also have more teenage cases of eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia than ever before.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder affecting mainly girls and young women, although boys or men can also suffer from it as well. It usually starts in the teenage years. Surveys suggest that up to 1 per cent of schoolgirls have anorexia nervosa. The image portrayed by the media of the perfect body has without doubt led to young girls almost starving themselves in pursuit of an image that is both unhealthy and in some cases life threatening. Anorexia nervosa can have severe medical consequences, because the individual does not consume enough calories or nutrients to support the maintenance of the body, all body processes slow down, to conserve energy. This slowing down has serious physical, emotional, and behavioural effects. (Dawson, D 2001).
One of the main reasons a teenager might try to pursue this idea of perfection is the overwhelming pressure they feel to attract a partner. The need to have a partner is probably more to do with proving they are attractive and successful, to both themselves and the people around them. Starting relationships at such a young age brings its problems. There is the temptation, and sometimes pressure to be involved in sexual activity.
Kath Sanderson (2000) suggests that there are many factors which influence teenage sexual activity. These factors include unclear messages from adults, lack of information, aspirations, educational achievement and the degree of control.
In the year 2002 there were 43,468 babies born to girls under the age of 20 in the UK. This doesn’t take into account the thousands of miscarriages and abortions that are performed on teenagers every year. Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. Because of this and the social disadvantages that tend to accrue to very young mothers and their children, the government set up a Teenage Pregnancy Unit in 1998 with the aim of halving the number of teenage pregnancies within 10 years. Between 1998 and 2003 we saw only a 10 per cent reduction. (Department of Health 2003)
Of course with the increase of teenage sexual activity there also comes an increase in the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The amount of reported cases in teenagers has increased dramatically over the past few years. In 2002 Doctors’ in London analysed data from patients aged 16 and under who attended a genitourinary medicine clinic over a two month period. They saw 144 girls, almost two thirds of the girls had a sexually transmitted infection. (Ledgard, C 2002).
Using drugs and alcohol is probably the biggest health risk that some teenagers might engage in. Teenagers experiment with a number of different substances usually starting with tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. Tobacco is the most widely used and the most potentially dangerous drug available. Recent surveys have shown that almost a quarter of 15-year-olds smoke regularly, and 85 per cent of teenagers who smoke become addicted. (www.teenage-drug-abuse.org). Teenagers are drinking more alcohol than before and despite the publicity about other drugs, alcohol is the most common drug which causes problems for adolescents. (James Kay & Julian Cohen 1998). Studies have shown that around a third of teenagers aged 13-17 drink at least once a week. Fruit flavored drinks known as Alco pops are particularly popular with young people, and quite often have very high alcohol content. (www.bupa.co.uk) Drugs associated with dance clubs have also grown in popularity over the years Ecstasy and Amphetamines are commonly used amongst teenagers. (www.teenage-drug-abuse.org). Most adolescents that use drugs or inhale solvents never get beyond experimenting with them, but some go on to develop a life long addiction . There is a danger that experimenting with soft drugs leads to the use of hard drugs such as Heroin and Cocaine which are incredibly addictive and completely destroy lives.
Changes in behaviour may be the first signs that a teenager is experimenting in alcohol or drugs. However, much less often, changes in behaviour and mood can mark the beginning of more serious psychiatric disorders. Although uncommon, manic depression and schizophrenia may emerge for the first time during adolescent years. Schizophrenia is a medical illness that causes strange thinking, abnormal feelings, and unusual behaviour. Schizophrenia is a particularly nasty illness. It strikes young people just when their lives should be getting into gear, and then debilitates them in such a way that halts further development. (National Mental Health Association 2004)
The family unit, the social surroundings, the household resources and parental guidance all play a massive part in the health and well being of adolescents. There have been many studies all over the world and most of them have had the same conclusion. The physically and mentally healthiest teenagers come from a stable background with two parents who have strong morals and strict guidelines and provide a good family income.
Madeleine Brindley (2003) reported in The Western Mail that, children raised in single parent households are more likely to suffer mental health problems and develop drug problems. The risk of suicide among single-parent children was more than double that for children raised by both their parents and drug abuse was more than four times higher, however lower incomes among single parent families is thought to be one of the major causes of such health problems rather than the long-term impact of parental break-up.
There are over 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK. Poverty is the biggest threat to the well-being of adolescents. Growing up in poverty can affect every aspect of a child's development. Living in a poor family can reduce teenagers’ expectations of their own lives and lead to a cycle where poverty is repeated from generation to generation. Poverty for teenagers means that they are excluded from doing things that are considered normal in society because of a low income in the household. . Problems with housing, such as shortage of space, damp walls or lack of adequate heating, are much more likely to be experienced by children in poverty. (Harrison, J 2004) In response to this we have seen a massive increase in the amount of families with both parents working in an attempt to make a more comfortable life for their families. Some researchers have found a negative impact on the bond with children. There is evidence that these children will have less chance of getting a job, and a greater chance of becoming pregnant as teenagers. However, it adds that extra money being brought in by both parents can lessen any negative effect. The negative effective is also less apparent in children of better-educated mothers. (www.bbc.co.uk)
Adolescent participation in preventable health risk behaviours, such as substance abuse, violence, and unprotected sexual intercourse, creates a bigger need for health care services. Adolescence is a time for trying out new experiences. Adolescents crave excitement in a way that most adults find difficult to understand and exciting activities may be dangerous ones. It is clear to see that adolescence is a very stressful time in a person’s life. It is a period of great change as the transition from childhood to adulthood takes place. Having good parental guidance and a stable financial upbringing provides a strong basis for coping with all the traumas that life brings. It is important that adolescents’ get the support of parents and teachers in order for them to cope with the day to day problems that they face. It is reassuring to know that most teenagers survive this testing time without any adverse effects and carry their experiences forward as they progress into adulthood.
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