By Cathie Ericson
We have a question on our Facebook page: “What are parents most concerned about?” and it may come as no surprise that the number one answer is “Everything.” One poster asks, “What am I NOT concerned about?” Another writes, “What I’m not worried about is a shorter list.”
More than 100 parents respond with worries familiar from our own childhoods, such as peer pressure, school bullies, and drugs. But parents are weighing in with new concerns to worry about as well, like vaping and social media. Here are today’s top three parental concerns, according to members of our Facebook parent group:
Middle School Bullying
Friends, peers, and relationships are recurring themes throughout the responses. A large majority of parents mention bullies, particularly those of the “mean girl” variety. Girls, of course, don’t have the corner on bullying. But parents tell us that girls are bullying kids in ways that are specifically hurtful to the often still-fragile concepts of self that most tweens and teens are developing. Middle school is especially fraught, we hear from parents, loud and clear.
“Middle school is terrible. The kids make fun of sneakers, haircuts, clothes—anything and everything.” Another parent puts it succinctly: “Middle school is a dumpster fire.” One mom voices her hope that her children would “come out of middle school with the same confidence, self-assurance, motivation, determination, and strength they went into it with.”
Even those with older kids remember the angst of their middle school years. One parent comments, “Looking back, I wish I knew how hard middle school was socially. Every parent I’ve talked to had kids who dealt with mean girls and social shunning plus overall bullying with both boys and girls.”
Bullying can start even earlier than middle school. One mom notes bullying behavior that began in fourth grade. “A girl has been fixated on my daughter since the beginning of the year, voicing snide remarks on the playground, spreading lies, and trying to break up her friendships. And it has even spread to TikTok.”
While it is beyond painful to discover our kids have been bullied, one parent points to a silver lining—the experience of being bullied offers our children a chance to develop adaptive qualities and coping mechanisms that will suit them well as they grow older. “While my daughter was hurt, she has grown a thick skin and will move forward with better tools to deal with girls like this,” the mom adds.
And, as we often see in our Facebook polls, fellow parents offer support. One mom offers this advice: “Remember that middle school is transitional. Just be as upbeat and positive as you can with your child. Encourage them to be kind to everyone and to be proud of the good person they themselves are.”
Problems with Social Media and Teens
Concern about social media is interwoven with concerns about friends and relationship building. Many parents lament about the amount of time their children spend on social media. Parents worry about the effect of social media on their teens’ self-esteem. Unrealistic beauty standards, the ever-present fear of missing out (FOMO), and the need for affirmation from clicks all trigger parental concerns.
While one mom worries about her kids’ “false belief that they have to have 800s ‘friends’ to be popular,” another parent shares, “I worry about the lack of ‘real’ social interaction, as opposed to online relationships. My daughter loves to hang out in real life, but most girls are too busy with their phones to be any fun.”
Even a school counselor jumps in to validate and agree with parental concerns about social media, saying that “Parents REALLY need to be worrying about what their kids are doing on these social media accounts.”
Teen Mental Health
Teenage mental health is a huge concern for many, many parents, and it ties in with the two topics above. Although mental health problems seem more prevalent these days than decades ago, an upside is that they are now more apt to be acknowledged and treated, rather than swept under the rug.
One parent points to bullies triggering her child’s suicidal thoughts. Another suggests why their kid might be a target: “My kid is more quiet and stays in her own lane, but she looks sad a lot of the time which the other kids notice. They tend to be mean and that of course makes her more sad.” Another mentions the broader concept of “social-emotional well-being,” adding that “There is a lot of stress and anxiety, and kids can be really cruel to each other.”
Even without specific problems, many echo an overall concern about mental health. “I am most worried about his mental health—there’s no particular reason or concern, other than I don’t want him to have a childhood he has to heal from.”
Hang In There
Most kids escape these rough times and emerge more prepared as they grow into adulthood. However, that doesn’t make any worries less real in the meantime, and it’s why Your Teen Magazine aims to tackle these topics every day—on our website, newsletter, and on our Facebook page. We invite you to join us, share your thoughts, and seek support from other parents who give solid advice, like parent: “I have long talks with my teen and use any teachable moment when the opportunity arises. The goal is that between home and school they become happy, centered, and kind human beings.” Parenting is hard sometimes, and you don’t have to do it alone.