Teens say anxiety, depression among top serious challenges for peers
Feb 21, 2019
The vast majority of teens — 7 in 10 — say anxiety and depression are major challenges for their peers, ahead of bullying, drug use and alcohol consumption, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
Concern about the mental health issues is something “shared about equally among boys and girls and across income levels,” Juliana Menasce Horowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center, told the Deseret News. “Whether or not they are experiencing it themselves — and we didn’t get into that in this survey — they are certainly seeing it among their peers and in their communities.”
Anxiety has been gaining national attention as a serious mental health concern that frequently travels with depression. New York-based Child Mind Institute notes that in the last decade, diagnoses of anxiety disorder in youths have increased 17 percent. As many as 30 percent of children and teens may struggle with it, but only a small percentage will seek professional help.
Anxiety is a challenge big enough that the Deseret News spent a year looking at the topic through a series of articles in a project called Generation Vexed. The project found, among other things, that girls are more likely to feel stressed and demonstrate anxiety in easily recognized ways, while boys may shut down or become belligerent and act out. Meanwhile, on college campuses nationwide, anxiety has surpassed depression as the challenge that most often sends students in search of mental health services.
The Pew Research Center survey included 920 teens ages 13 to 17, and was conducted from Sept. 17 to Nov. 25, 2018.
Horowitz said the study wasn’t designed to look at what causes anxiety and depression in teens, though it did offer some hints. About 60 percent of the teens said they felt pressure to get good grades, which coincides with the high number who said they planned to attend four-year colleges— about 68 percent of girls and half of boys. Horowitz noted that data suggest actual college enrollment is lower than that, so “some may not end up doing that. But it’s something they want to do.”
Boys and girls
The Pew survey found some other differences between girls and boys, said Nikki Graf, Pew research associate and co-author of the report released Wednesday.
“Girls are more likely to say they worry a lot about getting into the school of their choice and that they feel a lot of pressure to look good. They are more likely to say that they often feel tense and nervous, but also that they get excited about something that they study on a regular basis. And they are more likely to say that they never get in trouble at school.”
Pew found no significant difference between genders when it came to pressure to get good grades.
Boys are more likely than girls to say that they want to earn a lot of money from their job when they get older. But when it comes to expectations of having a job and other factors related to adulthood, they are pretty similar, Graf said. Having jobs they like and getting married are important to both girls and boys in the survey.
The survey also asked parents a question. Both parents and teens were asked if they thought they spent enough time together. Parents of teens said no, they aren’t together as much as they would like. Low-income youths were more likely to say they didn’t have enough time with their parents — 4 in 10 said that — compared to youths from higher-income families, where about 20 percent said they didn’t get enough togetherness, Graf said.
By the numbers
Among the study highlights:
— Fifty-five percent of teens found bullying to be a major problem, while 10 percent said it’s not a problem. Similar numbers were recorded for drug addiction. Drinking alcohol, poverty, teen pregnancy and gangs were all seen as still less of a problem.
— About 29 percent of teens feel pressured to look good, with more girls saying so than boys. It breaks down to 35 percent of girls and 23 percent of boys.
— Just over 21 percent report pressure to be good at sports or be involved in extracurricular activities.
— Nearly a third of teens said they “feel tense or nervous and wish they had more friends almost daily.”
— A quarter of teens report that someone puts them down almost daily.
In a companion report, Pew highlighted differences between teen girls and boys in terms of how they spend their time.
Teens in general are getting more sleep and spending more time on homework than teens did a decade ago, while spending less time socializing or working for wages, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, analyzed by Pew, from 2003-2006 and 2014-2017.
Time playing sports has held steady at 45 minutes a day over the last 10 years. But other leisure activities are getting less of teens’ time.
Girls are spending a few minutes more a day shopping or going to the mall, and they spend more time than boys on grooming — about an hour a day, compared to 40 minutes a day for boys.
Girls also spend about 71 minutes a day on homework, compared to 50 minutes on average for boys during the school year. That pattern, the report said, has held steady for more than a decade, even as the overall amount of time has risen for both boys and girls.
About 6 in 10 kids say they get a hug or kiss from their parents almost every day, and another 27 percent say they sometimes get hugs and kisses.
Thirty-one percent get help or advice from parents on homework or school projects almost daily, and nearly half say that’s true at least sometimes. Close to 20 percent say they argue with their parents almost every day; 40 percent say they sometimes argue.