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20 must know facts about teens

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Every two years Dolly, Australia's most popular magazine for teenage girls, takes a look at the constants in the lives of teenagers – such as school, sex, relationships, alcohol, family and body image – and tracks their thoughts, behaviours and the trends that shape them. Using a mixture of surveys and focus groups the Dolly Youth Monitor has been tracking teenage trends for over two decades.

As director of Parentingideas, I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the interpretation and presentation of the data to various groups for two Dolly Youth Monitor surveys. Based on the up-to-date insights provided by the survey, here are twenty things you should know as an educator or parent involved with teenagers today.

1. Today’s teens grow up in small families with 45% having one or no other siblings. One in three has parents who never married or who are no longer married. Most listen to their parents, but they also agree that it’s healthy to have different opinions or beliefs from their parents.

2. Family is very important to teenagers but the thing they can’t live without is their phone. The number of teens with smartphones has doubled in two years. 80 per cent of teenagers now have a smartphone.

3. Bullying is still one of the biggest concerns for young people. Online bullying of teenage girls has increased massively in two years. In 2011, 9% said they’d been bullied. In 2013 it is 36%.

4. Most bullying of boys occurs at school. 74% of teenage boys who are bullied say their bullying happens at school, while bullying of girls is shared more equally between school (55%) and online (43%). The online nature of bullying magnifies the impact of the bullying as everyone can see what’s happening.

5. Losing their virginity begins in this age group. Sixteen per cent of 14 to 17 year olds admit to having sex, with most saying they lost their virginity to a girlfriend or boyfriend. Four in five who are sexually active use a condom. The safe sex education message is getting through.

6. Smoking is on the outer. Only 12% smoke and eight in 10 would like their parents to stop smoking.

7. However, drinking alcohol is still popular. Forty-one per cent say they have been drunk, and the average age that this group first tasted alcohol was 14.

8. Everyone does it. Ninety-nine per cent say it’s acceptable to drink alcohol occasionally.

9. And their parents make it easy for them to drink. Thirty-four per cent of teens in the 14-17 year old age say their parents have bought them alcohol.

10. How a girl looks is linked to her weight. The number one reason girls want to lose weight is to look good. Interestingly, the same reason holds true for boys. 52% of girls would like to lose weight, but only 33% think they are overweight.

11. Hyper-networking drives teen life ... and most of it is online. One in two teenagers feels constant pressure to keep up-to-date with social media. If they don’t keep up they may miss out on invitations to parties, knowing what’s going on, gossip and the latest trends.

12. Teens are a lot smarter about using Facebook than two years ago. They have fewer Facebook friends, and now are more likely to use Facebook to stay in contact with ‘real world’ friends rather than purely collecting ‘virtual’ friends and ‘likes’.

13. They are safety conscious too. Only 4% of teens have a totally public profile, which means they are learning about the all-encompassing nature of Facebook.

14. Girls are selective in their use of social media. They are using Facebook* to connect with friends, Tumblr* as a creative outlet and Instagram* as an artistic form of self expression. *Don’t know what these are? You should. Google them to find out.

15. Teens today are uncertain about the future. Their biggest worry is getting a good job, followed by the need to make money and achieve financial security. This is perhaps due to the global financial crisis of 2008 and the resultant conservative approach to finances shown at home.

16. Here’s a disturbing statistic that may be a sign of the times. Twenty-seven per cent of girls and 36% of boys think their generation won’t be better off than their parents.

17. This leads girls in particular to invest in their future. Forty-six per cent of girls (compared to 26% of boys) are saving for the future with 27% of girls (and only 5% of boys) saving money for university.

18. They like to help. Eighty-one per cent of teens say they would like to volunteer their time to help others. The harder edge to this is that most admit volunteering would look on the resume.

19. Girls drive themselves harder than boys. Eighty per cent of girls, compared to 72% of boys, believe they need a tertiary education to succeed. This hasn’t changed in two years.

20. Stress is coming from everywhere. In 2011 most teen stress came from teachers at school. In 2013, pressure from school is still a factor but it’s been joined by pressure from parents and themselves to do well. Pressure to stay up-to-date and present the best possible image on social media is also a source of stress.

There would have been few surprises here for many teachers or parents who are in touch with the lives of young people today. In fact, these findings will confirm much of your experience.

However the thing that stood out for me throughout this process was that young people today live with pressure. ‘They always have,’ I hear you say. Yes, today’s teens worry about their bodies, school, family, friendships and the opposite sex just as they always have. But social networking, the current economic climate and the rate of technological change is adding a new dimension to the pressures that today’s young people experience.

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