Youth Life Situations: Ages 5-17
Ten life situations that kids ages 5-17 in the U.S. typically go through when growing up include bullying, school shooting preparation, rejection and fitting in, fear of death and loss, image, grades and performance, peer pressure, social media, college decisions, and dating and relationships. Each situation is examined more closely below. Note that while most situations can apply for any child between the ages of five and 17, some are skewed toward older kids who tend to confront a larger variety of situations and experiences.
Students of all ages, from kindergarten through high school, experience bullying. In fact, 20% of all kindergartners, 33% of all elementary aged children, and 15% of high school students have experienced bullying "often" while at school. The most common types of bullying that students have to deal with are verbal and social, so children need to develop the necessary skills to handle non-violent, but still upsetting situations. In addition, "most bullying takes place in school, outside on school grounds, and on the school bus," which are times when adults may not be able to immediately deal with the situations, forcing students to find solutions themselves. While bullying is a major concern in schools across the country, "only 20 to 30% of students who are bullied notify adults about the bullying," which means the majority of kids are learning to negotiate this life situation themselves.
School shooting preparation
The increase in school shootings in the United States has given rise to a new threat that school children of all ages must confront. Even though younger kids are more "egocentric" and don't tend to worry about school violence as much as teenagers do, they can still pick up on "the fears of their parents, and if they sense that Mom or Dad is afraid, they will take notice." In addition, participating in active shooter drills can cause anxiety in younger children who don't understand that they are preparing for an event that is statistically unlikely to occur. Older children begin to get used to the idea of a potential threat since by middle school and high school, they have been "exposed to a feared situation repeatedly" and begin to understand that "it's unlikely something bad will happen." Even so, 57% of all teens worry that a shooting could happen at their school, which means that even if they are desensitized to the preparation for such an incident, they are still learning to deal with the fear.
Rejection and fitting in
Rejection and fitting in are worries that begin in elementary school in the United States and persist through high school. At the younger age, they are just beginning to understand that "it’s a big world out there" and become anxious about finding their place in it. Humans are naturally social beings, so the desire to fit in is a feeling that typical kids experience when confronted with their first real social experiences independent from their parents. Learning to handle rejection and grow from it is a rite of passage of sorts, even though "rejection by one’s kind is rarely a welcome... development." This issue continues to persist as students get older and begin to break off into peer groups based on interests and other social factors.
Fear of death and Loss
Young kids between the ages of six and 11 begin to understand that "death is inevitable" and this knowledge, whether they have experienced death firsthand or not, causes anxiety as they develop an understanding that "something bad could happen to someone they care about." Learning to deal with mortality is a developmental stage everyone must experience, whether it is through losing a family member, friend, or pet. However, it is also when kids begin to appreciate "what's good in their life" and develop a sense of gratitude, which "has many benefits, including increased well-being, happiness, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity." Moreover, Loss can take many forms, including friendship, activities, divorce, or even familiarity, which can occur with moves and school changes. Beginning in elementary school, kids have to learn to recognize grief and realize that positively coping with those feelings are necessary for a well-adjusted life.
In middle school and high school, "nothing is worse... than standing out in a way they haven't chosen." At this age, kids are just beginning to understand who they are and how they fit into the world, but they aren't yet ready to celebrate their differences. Middle schoolers begin transitioning from a "family-based support system to a peer-based one," which means they begin to look to their friends for guidance in all aspects of life, from fashion to musical tastes and beyond. Learning to view their differences as assets rather than liabilities is a growing experience that nearly all U.S. kids endure. The importance of image doesn't end in middle school, though, as high schoolers must also adjust to their changing bodies and begin to compare themselves with their peers and other influencers. Developing a positive self-image at this age "is an important part of healthy self-esteem" that can last a lifetime.
Grades and performance
In the United States, middle school is when grades and performance begin to really matter and "adolescents begin to comprehend the consequences of failure." Kids who are naturally achievement-driven may begin to put pressure on themselves to always be successful, whether in the classroom or on a playing field or court. Children who are not necessarily driven by good grades or high achievement may begin to feel pressure from parents or teachers to perform at a higher level, which can lead to "depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, behavior problems, criticism from parents, learning problems, and lower grades." Learning how to balance effort and achievement and to deal with occasional failures are skills all kids need as they progress through life. In high school, the pressure to get good grades and succeed becomes even more intense as the need to make life-changing academic and career choices comes nearly an ever-present concern.
As previously mentioned, middle school is the age when kids start looking more to their peers for support than to their parents. It is a natural transition, but is fraught with exposure to new dangers and experiences that young teens are not always equipped to handle. Discovering ways to deal with the pressures to "date, drink, smoke, skip school, bully others, and rebel against authority," among others, is critical to every child's development. Even when parents take proactive steps to help their kids prepare for peer pressure, it is still "hard for children to resist," especially when combined with their additional concern about their image and social status. Middle school is only the beginning of peer pressure, though, as the issue "tends to grow in intensity as students move up through the grades."
With the average age of U.S. kids who sign up for social media accounts at 12.6 years, dealing with social media and the complicated cyberworld is an issue for many middle schoolers and most high schoolers. In fact, nearly 80% of high school students and 23% of "tweens" have at least one social media account. Technology isn't going anywhere and is actually becoming more prevalent, so U.S. kids must learn to balance screen time with other aspects of life. Moreover, since "students are incredibly mean to each other on social media," teenagers must also learn to cope with cyberbullies and inappropriate online behavior, which can often be overwhelming for kids whose brains are still underdeveloped. Since "teens who spend five or more hours online a day [are] 71 percent more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor," social media is a major concern that kids must learn to manage as they progress through school.
High school students in the United States face immense pressure to apply and get accepted to college, but the focus on college and careers actually starts much earlier. Many times, in students as young as 12 (6th grade) high expectations from themselves and parents lead to "stress and frustration over tests, assignments, ACT/SAT scores, and college applications" as students attempt to gain acceptance to their (and often, their parents') college of choice. In addition, over-scheduling becomes a problem as students attempt to participate in as many extra-curricular activities as possible in an effort to impress college recruiters. Some students do not even want to attend college, but are under the impression that it is "the key to success" and therefore, feel pressure from the "social stigma that makes students believe that they will be judged for not choosing to go to college." Discovering what they want to do after high school is a decision each U.S. student must make, and often, the process is daunting and stressful, as is learning how to balance the increasing demands on their time and to set reasonable goals.
Dating and relationships
Many students experience their first "real" romantic relationship during their high school years and this can introduce many other issues such as consent, sex, breakups, and domestic violence that must be addressed. These first forays into intimacy help form students' relationship expectations and provide them with opportunities to "practice" dating so they can develop a "sturdy foundation for dating in their adult lives." About 40% of U.S. high school students report having sexual intercourse, which means they are negotiating the corresponding risks of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy as well. This may also be the time when teens begin to explore and grow comfortable with their sexual orientation, as "8% of all high school students in America, report being lesbian, gay, or bisexual." This issue, although becoming more mainstream, can cause high school students to also need to confront bullying and ostracizing as they come to terms with their minority status.