1. Vaping

    While teens smoking cigarettes has been declining since the 1990s, vaping — or using e-cigarettes — is on the rise. A 2020 study published by the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse reports more than one-third of 12th graders vape. Is vaping safer than smoking cigarettes? No. A 2023 study at University of Southern California reports DNA damage caused by vaping is just as bad as smoking. Additionally, Ohio State cardiologist Dr. Jim Liu writes that vaping might be partly to blame for the rising rate of heart disease among young people. When teens vape, they inhale multiple dangerous substances, like formaldehyde and acrolein (a weed-killer), which are a “risk to the lungs,” writes Johns Hopkins lung cancer surgeon Stephen Broderick in his article “What Does Vaping Do to Your Lungs?” If your teen says they don’t vape, but you suspect otherwise, they might be stealth vaping, by which teens emit less smoke by using with a low-powered device or stealth vape mode. Perhaps they’re not exhaling at all, called zero vaping, which is regarded as “the ultimate in clandestine vaping”. The final takeaway? Tell your teen, repeatedly, that vaping is not safe.

  2. Edibles

    Edibles — treats containing marijuana — are widely available in the 21 states where recreational marijuana is legally sold. Teen consumption is on the rise, according to a survey updated in 2021 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Eating marijuana-laced cookies, brownies, and gummy bears might seem more benign than smoking marijuana, but it actually carries a higher risk of overdose. It takes longer to feel the effects of edibles, which can lead impatient teens to eat more and more because they don’t feel high right away. The dangerous result can be a toxic overdose with psychotic symptoms and/or accidental injuries. In some states, where edibles can be purchased legally, it can be a bit easier and more reliable to monitor the dosage. But when another teen is baking edibles, your teen cannot be sure the baker did the math correctly. Talk to your teen about the dangers of edibles — and strongly advise them to steer clear of marijuana altogether. Studies indicate that pot reduces cognitive function in adolescents, decreasing IQ by 5.8 points before they reach adulthood. Cannabis can also trigger depression or psychosis.

  3. Insufficient sleep

    Teenagers are not getting enough sleep. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that 73 percent of high school students are sleep-deprived, with the rates highest among female, Asian, and Black students. The consequences are disturbing. Research from Stockholm University in Sweden reports that teenagers who sleep less than seven hours each night have a 40 to 50 percent greater chance of developing multiple sclerosis. Sleep deprivation in teens is also linked to increased risk of lower grades in school, injuries, drowsy driving accidents, inability to self-regulate, substance abuse, risk of obesity, and mood disorders like depression, with severe sleep debt possibly triggering suicidal ideation. and poorer grades in school. How can parents help their teens consistently get enough sleep? The first step is separating them from their smart phones at night. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Youth Studies found one in five teens say they regularly wake up in the middle of the night to check social media. Another 2017 study published in the journal Child Development concludes that sleep deprivation is linked to depression, poor coping skills, and reduced self-esteem in teens. Give your teenagers a “digital curfew” — a designated time when all devices are placed out of reach — and work with your child to build a daily schedule that includes 8 hours of sleep every night.

  4. Online porn

    Today’s teens are exposed to online porn at earlier ages and in greater numbers than previous generations. Common Sense Media reports that 75 percent of teens have viewed pornography by age 17 — and that the average first age of exposure is 12. in her research, Professor Emily Rothman of Boston University School of Public Health found that twice as many teens had watched porn as their parents thought. Most of the kids in Rothman’s study said watching porn was how they learned about sex. Dr. Wes Crenshaw, a Kansas City-based clinical psychologist who specializes in adolescent development and who is writing a book about sex education that’s based on mutual consent, says teens looking at porn are “high-interest learners.” The problem, he says, is pornography tends to portray sex in a way that’s “masculocentric, degrading to women and wildly inaccurate and unrealistic.” The result can be teens with skewed ideas about sex, intimacy, consent, reciprocity, gender roles, and power. “These images,” Crenshaw says, “distort for [teens] what sex should be about.” The best way for parents to help? Talk to your teen and encourage them to think critically about what they see and how that relates (or doesn’t relate) to reality. In addition, Dr. Paul Weigle of Hartford Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Network suggests parents use parental controls to filter websites and consider keeping screens in public areas of their home (and not allow screens behind closed doors).

  5. Fentanyl

    Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. The pharmaceutical version is prescription-only, typically comes as a patch or a lozenge, and is prescribed to treat severe pain. The illegally made version comes in various forms, including as a liquid, powder, or pill. Fentanyl is often added to other drugs because it is so potent — it is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — which makes other drugs even more addictive and deadly. Liquid fentanyl has been found in nasal sprays, eye drops, and dropped onto paper resembling small pieces of candy. Powdered fentanyl looks like many other drugs, is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and meth, and is often made to look like different drugs (including tiny blue and rainbow-colored pills).

    Teens can buy it on social media sites like Snapchat and many eCommerce websites. The appeal is a potent euphoria, endangering teen pot users seeking a greater high. Not only is fentanyl potent, cheap, addictive, and widely available, it’s deadly. In the U.S., about 150 people die from fentanyl every day. Fatalities are escalating quickly, growing 1,000 percent from 2013 to 2019. Teen use has increased, with teen overdose deaths tripling from 2019 to 2021.

    Be on the lookout for the signs of fentanyl use. Talk to your teen about the dangers of fentanyl and its street names: Apache, Dance Fever, Friend, Jackpot, Murder 8, China Girl, Tango & Cash, Goodfellas, King Ivory, and others. Let your teen know that you cannot see, smell, or taste it, so the best bet is to avoid drugs, unknown parties, and new “friends” who distribute drugs (even for “free”). Another option is testing strips, which tend to be inexpensive and work in just 5 minutes.

  6. Eating disorders

    Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are increasing in teenagers, particularly in girls. Susan Gray, medical director of the University of Virginia Teen and Young Adult Health Center, says, “In the last two years, the number of patients that we’ve admitted to the hospital with serious eating disorders has doubled.” More than half of 13-year-old girls are dissatisfied with their bodies — and the figure grows to 78 percent for 17-year-olds, according to statistics on the National Organization for Women’s website. A primary reason for this spike is social media use. Teens compare themselves to Instagram models and other unattainable figures, resulting in crippling insecurity and body image issues. The consequences of eating disorders are alarming. In the U.S., one thousand women die every year of anorexia, and up to 15 percent of young women (mostly white) have eating disorders. What can parents and family members do? The National Eating Disorders Association has a Parent Tool-Kit with advice on identifying risk factors, emotional and behavioral signs, tell-tale symptoms, and how to seek professional treatment, which is the best way to combat the mental and emotional components of eating disorders.

  7. TikTok challenges

    Your teenager probably watches TikTok, the fastest-growing social media platform in the world, especially in their age range. If you think TikTok is harmless, you need to understand it carries the risks of using any social media site, including increased risk of anxiety, depression, bullying, eating disorders, sleep deprivation, and more. But an additional risk are the “challenges” that urge the platforms’s one billion viewers to do crazy, potentially self-harming activities. Sure, the Tide Pod challenge that went viral in 2017 is pretty much over, but since then there’s been a host of stupid and dangerous challenges to choke yourself or others, light parts of your body on fire, mess with outlets, snort various things, and more. There was the 2021 bone-breaking milk crate challenge, the 2022 cooking chicken in Nyquil challenge (sharply criticized by the FDA), the subway surfing challenge that killed a 15-year-old in New York City who was riding the J train when his head struck a metal beam, and the Kylie Jenner lip challenge, which has resulted in stitches and scarring in multiple cases. It all sounds stupid, and it is. Talk to your teen about what drives teens to participate in these challenges and urge them to ignore the crippling, sickening dares. If that seems difficult for your teen, seek help for your child from a counselor or therapist.

  8. Catfished by predators

    Video chat site Omegle advertises itself as a “great way to meet new friends.” But insufficient moderation makes it a hotbed for perversion and crime. A November 2022 article in Mother Jones, “The Internet Is Full of Predators. Omegle Lets You Meet Them” describes how pedophiles use this platform and other social media sites to lure and exploit children, exposing them to porn, encouraging them to do sex acts, and even meet them in real life. A “catfish” is a person who sets up false personal profiles to take advantage of others. They regularly manipulate teenagers into terrible situations. In Mississippi in December 2022, a sophomore boy was convinced by a catfish on Instagram to send a sex tape. The fraud then demanded $1,000 or they’d send the tape to all the boy’s friends and relatives. Panicked by this “extortion” the boy committed suicide. Kidlox.com offers extensive advice on how to protect your loved ones from catfish. Primary tips: Monitor your child’s online activity, keep the lines of communication open, and reassure that no matter what you will be there for your teen.

  9. Video gaming addiction

    A 2021 Common Sense Media report shows teens spend 1 hour, 46 minutes each day playing video games. The average for teen boys is 2 hours, 19 minutes. Fortnite, League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and Assassin’s Creed are some of the most addictive video games. Research has shown that video game addiction is correlated with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and autism. And if teens are having trouble self-limiting their time, school work and sleep can both suffer. What can parents and family members do? There are treatment centers and therapists who can offer proven strategies, such as establishing time limits on how long your teen is allowed to play, encouraging other activities (like outings with friends), and observing game-free weekends once each month.