TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — High school certainly seems different in 2018 than it did when parents of high schoolers were teens. Education standards, methods of teaching, and the increased worry of violence in the classroom set this generation of high schoolers apart than the generations before.

But on a daily basis, high schoolers deal with the same issues their parents did: a desire to fit in, to look, or not look, a certain way, and pressure to use drugs or alcohol.The difference today is that technology is impacting how teens handle these challenges.

Psychologist Nick Joyce, Ph.D., who counsels students at the University of South Florida, cites recent news reports that find Instagram and Snapchat are among the worst things to happen to kids’ self images, due to young people constantly comparing themselves to highly filtered, highly idealized images of other people. Dr. Joyce says exposure to those images may lead some high schoolers to over exercise, develop an eating disorder, or generally feel bad about themselves, which may lead to depression.

Teens, Dr. Joyce points out, thrive on positive feedback, which makes them feel as though they’re fitting in. High school students today use online feedback as their guide, which explains why YouTube challenges are so popular. When a young person gets positive feedback from doing one of these challenges, or something else that may be silly or risky, they encourage others to do the same.
“If I do that same thing, I’m going to get that same type of response and so we end up doing risky behavior,” says Dr. Joyce.

Risky behavior in high school, now, and for decades before, often includes alcohol, drugs and smoking. These days, manufactured pharmaceuticals are a big issue. Pain meds or stimulants are easy for kids to get their hands on, often from classmates with a prescription. Changing societal views and laws about marijuana use can pose a challenge for parents, who need to explain why pot’s OK for some people, but not okay for others. And the popularity of vaping among teens is on the rise, which may seem innocent enough for teens, but equally damaging to their bodies.

So, what’s a parent of a high schooler to do, to keep kids from these dangerous things? Dr. Joyce says it’s important for parents to find the common thread with your teen. What dumb stuff did you do? How can you relate to feelings of self doubt or peer pressure? If you’re not sure where to begin, pull out your old yearbook and see if you can trigger those feelings once again. You may realize that why it seems so much has changed since high school, it really hasn’t.