Top 10 Health Risks for Teens

Teens are at greater risk today than ever. From online bullying and school shootings to alcohol and opioid abuse, teens are experiencing higher levels of stress than in previous years and suicide rates are increasing.

For parents and caregivers, this means difficult conversations with their increasingly independent children about how to make the right health and safety decisions. If you're one of those caregivers, arm yourself with facts on the top 10 adolescent health problems, as well as resources to help you navigate the troubled waters of adolescence.

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Car accidents

Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that seven teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die every day from motor vehicle injuries, and even more people are treated in emergency departments. for serious injuries .

Teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are at higher risk of death or injury in a car accident than any other age group .

Before your teen gets behind the wheel, it's important to understand the factors that contribute to teen car accidents. This includes:

  • Inexperience: teenagers are less able to recognize dangerous situations and have less developed driving reflexes than more experienced drivers.
  • Acceleration – Teens are more likely to accelerate and drive too close to the car in front.
  • Seatbelt use: Less than 60% of high school students wear a seatbelt every time they get into a car. In fact, of the young drivers who died in car accidents in 2017, about half were not wearing a seatbelt.
  • Drunk Driving: Statistics show that one in six teens has driven a drunk driver and one in 20 admits to driving after drinking .


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens. Between 2007 and 2017, the teen suicide rate increased by 56%. Statistics show that approximately one in eleven schoolchildren attempts suicide.

Factors that contribute to suicide include loneliness, depression, family problems, and substance abuse . Problems are complex and generally not the result of one or two factors. Teens who socialize well with at least one adult are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and less likely to become depressed.

Learn to recognize the warning signs of suicidal thoughts in teens, including:

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Be isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or unbearable
  • Increased use of psychoactive substances
  • Looking for a way to access deadly funds
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Talk or write about wanting to die
  • Suicide plans

If you suspect that your child is thinking about harming himself, ask if he is having suicidal thoughts, express your concerns about his behavior, listen carefully without judgment, let him know that he has been heard and that he is not alone, and refer him to professional help. .

Armed violence

While school shootings receive the most news coverage, they account for only 1.2% of school-age deaths from firearms. Gang violence and highway shootings are a problem in many cities in the United States. African American children and teens are eight times more likely to die from gun homicide than their white counterparts .

Regardless of your personal attitude towards a gun, it is important to talk to your children about its safety. If you have a firearm in your home, be sure to lock it up and unload it.

Research shows that about one in three guns is kept in the house loaded and unlocked, and most children know where their parents keep their guns. The majority of firearm injuries and deaths in children and adolescents are related to domestic weapons .

Homicide by firearms is the third leading cause of fatal accidents among 15-24 year olds .

Whether the child has experienced the use of firearms first-hand or learned of mass shootings from the news, the child will likely have the opportunity to discuss this important topic. The American Psychological Association offers the following advice to families:

  • Limit news coverage of traumatic events.
  • Hear what your child is concerned about.
  • Try to correlate your fears with the real risk, which is small.
  • Reassure your teen that adults are doing all they can to keep the school, home, and community safe.


About one in three teens is exposed to bullying, a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes injury or discomfort to another person. Bullying can be verbal, social, physical, or online in the form of cyberbullying and occurs most often at school. Approximately 30% of adolescents confess to having bullied others.

Constant bullying can lead to feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety , which can contribute to suicidal behavior; however, most teens who are bullied do not attempt suicide. While any teenager can be bullied, LGBT youth are at higher risk of being attacked.

Although many teens are bullied, only 20% to 30% of teens who are bullied report it to adults .

Signs that your teen may be bullied include:

  • Returning home with unexplained cuts, bruises, or scrapes.
  • Make up excuses for not going to school or resist going to school or riding the school bus.
  • Complaints of frequent headaches, abdominal pain or other physical ailments, trouble sleeping, or frequent nightmares.
  • Sudden loss of interest in learning or poor academic performance.
  • They seem sad, moody, tearful, anxious, or depressed when they come home from school .

If you suspect that your teen is being bullied, you can help them address the issue indirectly by asking about friends or talking about the bullying on the news. Most importantly, keep lines of communication open and provide a supportive environment. Don't underestimate the situation by telling your teen to worry or get tougher.

Sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases

Talking about sex with your child can be uncomfortable, but it's important to make sure your teen understands the risks of sexual activity, how to practice safe sex, and the importance of consent. The health consequences of adolescent sex, namely pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) , can have lifelong implications. Arming yourself with facts can foster a productive conversation.

Adolescents are at higher risk for sexually transmitted infections than older adults. Research shows that 46% of sexually active teens did not use a condom the last time they had sex.

In the United States, about one-fifth of new HIV diagnoses each year occur in people ages 13-24, while half of all reported STDs are in people ages 15-24 .

On the other hand, teen pregnancy rates have declined in recent years from their highest levels in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2012, only about 29 out of every 1,000 women ages 15-19 got pregnant. By 2016, the number had dropped further to 18 per 1,000 people, according to the CDC. This decrease is due both to the increase in the number of adolescents using contraceptives and to abstinence practices .

Another important sexual topic to discuss with your teen is consent , an agreement between two parties regarding sexual activity. Not reaching an agreement with the couple can have legal consequences. Explain to your child the importance of communicating, setting limits, and respecting your partners.

Make sure your child understands that it is never okay to force someone into activities they are not prepared for or to benefit from someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Similarly, if a teenager feels pressure or discomfort in a situation, it is important to speak up and walk away if necessary.

Tobacco use

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and almost all nicotine addictions begin in young people. By the time they reach high school, more than two-thirds of children have tried or are using tobacco products regularly.

While the use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products has declined dramatically over the past 25 years, the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems ("vaping") has grown exponentially.

Vaping was originally thought to be safer than smoking cigarettes; However, in 2019, a new lung disease known as EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping, product-related lung damage) was identified.

According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 27.1% of high school students and 7.2% of high school students reported using a tobacco product in the past 30 days, an increase over last year. During this period, the use of electronic cigarettes by young people increased by 77.8%, and one in five schoolchildren regularly uses vaping .

The American Lung Association offers the following tips for talking to your kids about smoking and vaping:

  • Tell your teen honestly and directly that you do not want him to smoke cigarettes, vape, or chew tobacco .
  • Learn about the dangers of tobacco products for you and your teen.
  • Set a good example by not smoking or using tobacco. If you currently smoke, quit .

If you catch your teen smoking or vaping, avoid threats and ultimatums and instead talk to him to find out why he's using nicotine and help him find healthier ways to cope.


Excessive alcohol use in young people can lead to many problems, including difficulties in school, poor judgment and impulse control, legal problems, and health problems . According to a 2019 survey, 30% of high school students reported having drunk alcohol in the past month, and 14% admitted to drinking alcoholic beverages (defined as drinking four or more alcoholic beverages at a time for females, five or more more drinks at a time). for men).

The CDC reports that more than 4,000 underage teens die from binge drinking each year, and there are approximately 120,000 emergency room visits for children ages 12 to 21 related to alcohol use.

It is important to constantly discuss with the adolescent the issue of alcohol consumption among minors. Encourage two-way conversation with your teen and be clear about your expectations. Ask open-ended questions that will encourage your child to tell you how he feels without lecturing.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends keeping communication channels open and highlighting some key points:

  • Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the body and mind.
  • Being under the influence of alcohol affects coordination and slows down your reaction.
  • Drinking alcohol affects your vision, thinking, and judgment, which can lead you to do things you wouldn't do while sober.
  • People often misjudge how weak they are after drinking alcohol.
  • It takes two to three hours for a drink to leave the body.
  • Alcohol affects young people differently from adults and can have long-term intellectual consequences for the maturing brain.

While most parents don't want their teens to drink, it's important to stay in touch, especially when it comes to driving while intoxicated.

Emphasize to your teen that they should never drive after having a drink or getting into a car with a drinking driver. Let them know that they can always call you if they need a ride, no questions asked.

Recreational drugs

Recreational drug use poses a serious health risk to adolescents. About half of all high school students report that they have tried marijuana, one fifth have taken prescription drugs that have not been prescribed for them, 6% have tried cocaine , and 3% of male adolescents have used steroids to improve health. performance.

Opioids represent the greatest drug-related health risk for adolescents, with more than 4,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 25 who overdose and die each year. Highly addictive opioids include both prescription pain relievers and illegal drugs, such as:

Opioid dependence can have serious, life-threatening consequences. Many people start taking prescription pills, become addicted, and switch to heroin because it is cheaper.

The FDA recommends talking with your teen more often about the dangers of opioids and other drugs. Encourage your child to make an exit plan if he is offered drugs, for example, send a keyword to a family member and learn to say no with confidence.

If you suspect that your child is addicted to opioids or drug abuse, seek professional help. Talk to your child's doctor or school counselor, or call the National Drug and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) .

Eating disorders

Eating disorders usually appear for the first time during adolescence. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa , bulimia nervosa , and overeating, which are often misinterpreted as a lifestyle, are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses that alter behavior, thoughts, and emotions.

Eating disorders can develop in both genders, but girls are more prone than boys. If your child seems preoccupied with food, weight, and body shape, this could indicate an eating disorder.

Other signs to look out for include:

  • Get on the scale or take regular body measurements.
  • Limit food intake
  • Severe weight loss or gain
  • Spending more time in the bathroom due to vomiting after eating or taking laxatives or diuretics .
  • Chronic sore throat, hoarse voice, or swollen lymph nodes in the neck as a result of self-induced vomiting
  • Stealth or secret food
  • Eat large portions very fast
  • Anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

If your teen shows signs of an eating disorder, it is important to seek treatment, which may include psychotherapy, medications, and nutritional activities. To find resources in your area, call the National Eating Disorders Association Support Line at (800) 931-2237 .


An estimated 20% of adolescents in the United States meet the medical definition of obesity : a body mass index (BMI) at the 95th percentile or higher for children of the same age and sex.

The health consequences of childhood obesity are serious and include type 2 diabetes , heart disease , asthma , and fatty liver disease . It can also lead to psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and bullying. Childhood obesity also sets the stage for obesity and health problems in adulthood.

Factors associated with excessive weight gain in teens include:

  • Eating sugary, fatty and refined foods (including fast food)
  • Lack of physical activity
  • A sedentary lifestyle, such as watching television or playing video games.
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Family and peer problems
  • Family history of obesity

In fact, about 87% of high school students do not eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, while more than 25% eat more than two servings of high-fat foods a day. According to the CDC, about 33% of high school seniors do not get enough exercise and only 36% of percent attend daily physical education programs.

Teen weight problems can be tricky. Most teens grow dramatically during these years, and teens often gain weight before they get taller. Many teens are uncomfortable with their new body and can be sensitive to talking about weight.

If you're concerned that your teen is gaining too much weight, use the CDC BMI Percentile Calculator for Children and Teens or request a checkup at your child's next checkup. A BMI percentile of 85% is considered overweight and 95% is considered obese.

Treatments for obesity include weight loss and lifestyle changes, including an improved diet and exercise routine. Seeing a dietitian can help you develop a balanced eating plan. Eating a healthy family meal can help your teen without making him feel isolated.

Get the word of drug information

Adolescence can be a challenge for many parents. As children become more independent and form new friends, it becomes more difficult to control their behavior than when they were younger.

At the same time, teens need advice on how to deal with peer pressure and make smart decisions, so keeping lines of communication open is essential. Many parents find that these conversations with their teens are most productive when the conversation flows naturally, when they are doing something else, such as playing a board game, walking, or driving.

Armed with facts beforehand, you can facilitate a productive discussion. Ultimately, the most important thing is for teens to know that they are loved and that they always have someone to turn to with their problems.

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