My name is Phoebe and I’m 15. It’s time we start breaking down why teens today feel a certain way and what causes these feelings.

Being a young person today is like walking a tightrope between the expectations of society and navigating our own emotions. We are all trying to work out where we fit in this world. Dealing with our worries and anxieties can sometimes overwhelm us, and it’s time we start breaking down why we feel this way and what causes these feelings.

Like many of the young people my age, our appearance can be one of our biggest worries, especially when you factor in the pressure of social media. We have grown up in an age where we are bombarded with filtered Insta photos and perfectly edited TikTok videos every day.

Despite it being normal to want to experiment with makeup and work out what your style is, being fixated on achieving unrealistic beauty standards can leave many of us feeling a bit down. I’ve seen girls at school where getting a pimple or having a bad hair day can seem like a massive failure.

We really don’t need anything else added to our list of things to stress about. It’s enough we need to focus on staying on top of our school work and assignments while building connections with kids our age.

The cost of being digital natives

Growing up in the digital age comes with many benefits, but it also adds social pressures among friends too. It’s not just comparing ourselves to celebrities anymore; we’re comparing ourselves to our peers and to people we’ve never even met but that we see every day online.

The number of likes on a selfie or comments on a post for some people has become a measure of their self-worth. It can negatively impact how we view ourselves and how valued we feel. This makes it easy to lose sight of our true selves.

We need to remember that what we see on social media is usually a curated version of reality, and what’s behind the screen is often something completely different. But even knowing this doesn’t always stop us from comparing ourselves to everyone else’s “perfect” lives and being filled with insecurities. I’ve learnt we can all be our own biggest critic.

Why we can’t talk to our parents

What’s even more challenging for some of us is finding the courage to open up about these worries and realising when it’s time to talk to someone. Sometimes the thought of confiding in your parent or guardian about something you think they might not understand is enough to turn many of us off the idea entirely. It’s not that they aren’t loving or understanding, but sometimes you just think they won’t get it. Or if it’s bad, you worry about burdening them when they have so much other stuff to worry about.

Lots of kids worry in the back of their minds that their close adult will judge them or get mad if they confide in them. I’ve had friends who were too worried to tell their parents stuff, whether it was getting a bad school grade, they broke something at home or they lost something their parents bought them. You worry what they are going to say or if they’ll think badly of you. Thoughts can come creeping into your mind: Will they get mad? Will I be grounded? Will they be disappointed in me? Should I even tell them?

Sometimes, as young people navigating our way into adulthood, we just want someone to listen to us without judgement or offering immediate solutions to solve our problems. We want adults to let us confide in them, to create a safe space where we can pour out our thoughts and feelings. It’s not about them having all the answers—it’s about feeling heard and understood.

When adults brush off our worries as insignificant or respond with things like, “Let me fix this for you or you should do this”, it can make us feel less empowered to make our own decisions or in some instances open up again.

About those friends

Speaking of bonds, navigating friendships and social circles is another one to pop on the “Things to worry about” list. When everyone around you seems to have a perfect social life, it’s hard not to compare your own routine. Trying to balance an already busy life of school, sports and training, extracurriculars, homework, part-time job and staying true to yourself, feeling the pressure to party and be social isn’t easy. FOMO is real.

We all need a little reassurance that it’s OK to be ourselves, even if that means going against the grain, doing something different from our friends, and especially when we make mistakes. We need to know that having a few close friends and our parents who truly understand us is far more valuable than having a large circle of acquaintances. Even though we hear it all the time, it’s almost impossible for us to put this into practice with the social pressures and worries we’re living in.

Adults can help by asking open-ended questions, making time to hang out with us, being interested in what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with, and encouraging us to embrace our individuality. A lot of the time that’s just by simply listening to what we have to say. And reminding us that we are loved, no matter what.

What do we do when we grow up?

Then there’s the stress of the future: University, gap year or straight into the workforce? The never-ending question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The pressure and expectation to have a plan can be suffocating. How am I supposed to know exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life when I’m still trying to figure out who I am at 15? It’s like we’re expected to have everything sorted out before we even finish high school.

What young people really want is guidance, not unrealistic expectations, and a safe ear to listen to them. The last thing you want from someone close to you is to feel pressure from them when you’re already feeling confused.

I also think it’s super important for adults to emphasise that it’s OK to change your mind along the way and you’re going to make mistakes but that they’ll be there to help ease future stress. You want to know that as a family, you’re all in this together and they’ll be there beside you every step of the way.

We need adults who listen to us, take our opinions seriously and help us channel our worries into positive action. Instead of diminishing our concerns with phrases like, “You’re too young to understand” or “You don’t need to worry”, engage us in conversations about current events and encourage us to think critically. This not only empowers us but also shows that our thoughts and opinions matter.

Despite these worries, there’s a silver lining. We’ve grown up in a time of crazy change from the fast-paced digital age to the major school disruptions brought on by the pandemic. I believe all this chaos has actually strengthened our adaptability. We’re more aware, more compassionate and more connected than ever before.

We’re using social media not only to showcase our lives but also to advocate for change and raise awareness about the issues that matter most to us.

So, if there’s one thing I’ve learned lately, it’s that I’m not alone in these worries. I have a wonderful family and parents who make me feel heard. We’re all sailing in the same storm, just in different boats.

Sharing our concerns, seeking support and embracing our individuality can be powerful steps towards approaching any of the worries along the way. And as I continue to navigate through to adulthood, I’ll keep reminding myself that it’s OK not to have all the answers right now. After all, life is a journey and I’m just getting started.

How to talk to a teenager? Check out this tip sheet from Act for Kids that walks you through the best ways to approach difficult conversations and topics which may cause you to worry.

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