TEEN SCENE – FEBRUARY 6, 2023
By Himani Dixit
For the 2023 NYC-Parents in Action Teen Scene, a panel of 16 teens, from 9th to 12th grade and ages 14-18 years old, spoke virtually with NYC-PIA Chairman and panel moderator, Lucy Martin Gianino, about their experiences in high school post-COVID.
How has the post-pandemic transition been?
Most of the kids are excited and happy to get back to normal.
“High school is starting to become fun again.”
“Face to face socializing brings so much more joy.”
There is lingering anxiety for some because they started a new high school and only got to know kids through zoom, and meeting them face to face for the first time can seem daunting. For some, it is the first time they are getting to do normal high school activities like homecoming, which “feels weird.” There is a sense of lost time and opportunities.
What is happening with social media? What apps are popular these days?
Tiktok, Instagram, and Snapchat are still the most popular social media apps. Some kids did get “somewhat addicted” to social media especially during the pandemic, since in-person socializing was not as common. Tiktok in particular has an “aggressive algorithm that gives you more content based on what you are scrolling / liking, so it’s easy to get addicted.” Most of the kids do not create content on Tiktok, but just like to follow influencers or famous people. Posting on Instagram or Snapchat is more common.
Most kids felt that social media is a “double edged sword” because while it provides a way to socialize and connect with friends, it also generates negativity. They felt it can be “toxic” because it “generates the image of a perfect person with a perfect life.” Some of the kids like the Be Real app because it provides a more realistic version of someone’s life.
Do you worry or think about your digital footprint when posting on social media?
Some kids felt that there is so much content online, that posting an inappropriate comment on someone else’s feed, for instance, would not really be that detrimental. “I’m not sure if something that minor would follow you around.” The teens were very aware, however, that a digital footprint is a very real thing, and most kept their social media private for that reason. “It’s pretty common knowledge that kids know not to leave a paper trail.”
In terms of implications for college applications, one teen said, “Most college counselors spend eight minutes on each application, so them going through your social media is not really likely.” They acknowledged, however, that “anything you post is stored forever somewhere.”
At this point, most kids would not get rid of social media, but many said it was more negative than positive. A couple of teens also said their parents were on social media a lot also.
Is it hard making friends post-pandemic?
“It’s harder for kids who were new to the school when the pandemic started,” echoed a lot of the teens. For some kids who had been at the school since elementary, the transition was a little easier. “A lot of 9th and 10th graders didn’t really know how to be a part of the community,” said one teen.
How, where, and when are kids socializing these days?
There was a wide variety of answers on this topic based on parental rules, age, and the school attended. Some kids felt that their parents encouraged them to go out, while others felt that their parents were more hesitant “due to things like crime, unsafe subways, drugs, etc.” It’s more common to hang out at someone’s house with a small group of friends, but the kids said they do go out more especially in 11th and 12th grades. “It’s common for someone to host a group, and the parents either clear out, stay in another room, or even go to their second home,” when there’s a party.
When going out, going to dinner is most common, but some kids do go to clubs or bars with fake IDs, which are common, inexpensive and pretty easy to acquire. “Ticket parties” where a senior rents out a venue and everyone has to pay a certain amount to get in are also prevalent. Kids who play sports will sometimes “pregame” with their team.
Drinking- how and when does it start?
“Some kids start as early as 7th grade, but high school is most common.” A lot of the kids said 10th or 11th grade was the first time they tried alcohol – White Claw, hard seltzers, and vodka with a mixer are common alcoholic drink choices.
There is less stigma now for those teens who choose not to drink. “Most of my friends that don’t drink – no one judges them or thinks it’s weird.”
Should parents encourage or allow drinking at home or teach their kids safe ways to consume alcohol?
“Yes, I think starting to teach them a little at home is a good thing, so they know how to be safe.”
How prevalent are drugs, weed, and gummies?
“Now, with pot being legal, people go to stores with fake IDs. Or they go to a designated dealer.”
“Fentanyl is not a big player, because it is perceived as unsafe.” There is a fear of buying things off the street, so it’s not as common. Xanax and vaping, with either nicotine or marijuana, are more prevalent.
“If you allow kids some freedom and are non-judgmental, they are more likely to be transparent / honest with you.”
What are the top mental health and anxiety stressors?
“School, homework and academic pressure” was the most common answer. Social media, getting into college, and the “culture around hearing kids talk about grades and colleges” were also cited as stressors.
“Our generation is more likely to treat mental health as a medical issue and there is not as much stigma associated with it.”
What can parents do to help with these stressors and where should a teen go for help?
“Set reasonable expectations, and don’t put too much pressure about college.”
“The most important thing is to establish a good relationship with your child so they will feel comfortable going to you and opening up to you.”
“Compassion, and knowing that your parents will have your back no matter what” is really important.
One teen stated, “It’s ok to have some expectations. For example, you have to get good grades to continue to be able to go out.”
When do teens start thinking about college?
Most kids said around 10th grade they have to start thinking about “what they are doing in the summers like an internship, doing certain clubs for college, etc.”
Most kids will not do an activity solely for a college application, but they know of kids who do that.
What is dating and sexuality like at this age?
A teen from an all girls’ school said that “most relationships are private or kept on the down low, especially since the boys would not be going to the same school.”
There is mostly a hook up culture, as most teens are not in steady or serious relationships. In general, there is less stigma around sexuality.
“No one really cares who you are hooking up with.”
“There is a lot more fluidity in general.”
One teen from an all boys’ school said, “There is still more stigma at his school” and it was “not a very open culture to be gay – it is not as celebrated as nationally.”
Teens, money, and allowances
“Some parents are emotionally unavailable and they compensate by giving their kids lots of money.”
Most kids have some sort of monthly allowance that pays for food, movies, Ubers, etc.
How have the past 3 years changed you?
“I sweat the small stuff less.”
“I am more confident in who I am as a person.”
“I’ve learned to be less complacent, and do more things I enjoy in the future.”
“It’s easy to measure merit concretely, but it’s harder to be your authentic self.”
“I measure my self-worth as a human being rather than my accomplishments.”
“Be nice to people, you never know what they are going through.”
“I have learned the value of my own voice, but I’ve also learned to step back and listen more.”
“I’ve learned how to succeed and be more self-reliant, and also be original, don’t just follow.”
“Take an opportunity when it comes.”
“Appreciate being around friends.”
“Enjoy life and do things that make me happy.”
“It’s good to be content being alone sometimes.”
“Perseverance is important and do not procrastinate.”
There was a short discussion after the seminar ended (off camera) in which the teens were asked what some good strategies would be to keep kids engaged and on point with academics. They all felt the “reward system” works nicely. Parents have to be careful how it is used, but it does help a teen stay focused.
The teens were also asked about CHATgpt. Two teens said that their peers had used it unsuccessfully and were put on probation. Another said his friend used it and the teacher never knew and the friend got an A or A+. They all said that they felt it was here to stay and could be used as a study tool rather than as a finished product.
Lucy thanked all of the teens for their insights and time. In keeping with the evening’s conversation, Lucy brought the seminar to a close by reading a poem from a book by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris, “Teenagers Learn What They Live:”
If teenagers live with pressure, they learn to be stressed.
If teenagers live with failure, they learn to give up.
If teenagers live with rejection, they learn to feel lost.
If teenagers live with too many rules, they learn to get around them.
If teenagers live with too few rules, they learn to ignore the needs of others.
If teenagers live with broken promises, they learn to be disappointed.
If teenagers live with respect, they learn to honor others.
If teenagers live with trust, they learn to tell the truth.
If teenagers live with openness, they learn to discover themselves.
If teenagers live with natural consequences, they learn to be accountable.
If teenagers live with responsibility, they learn to be self-reliant.
If teenagers live with healthy habits, they learn to be kind to their bodies.
If teenagers live with support, they learn to feel good about themselves.
If teenagers live with creativity, they learn to share who they are.
If teenagers live with caring attention, they learn how to love.
If teenagers live with positive expectations, they learn to help build a better world.