Young adulthood has become an increasingly difficult time in the lives of humans that find themselves too old to be considered children and too young to be taken seriously as adults. Tweens, teens, and college age people are no longer completely dismissed by culture, as the purchasing power of children ages nine to fourteen has increased to become a force to be reckoned with and society sometimes seems to cater to their sensibilities. With so much information continuously coming at them through the internet, the television, magazines and movies, young adults often have trouble finding the path for which they are best suited, and many find themselves victimized by sexually transmitted diseases and crime. Because it is such a confusing time in the life of humans, young adults simply try to learn about adulthood while enjoying the last carefree days of youth.
The first thing that must be addressed when discussing young adults is their burgeoning sexuality. Biologically, young adults are either reaching or already in their sexual maturity, when hormones are raging often beyond their control. The question of teenage sexual activity is one that may be misleading, due in large part to the evolution of society and its more relaxed attitude toward sex. Less than a century ago, it was routine for teenagers to get married and begin families fresh out of high school. However, now that education is considered something that requires many years if a person expects to succeed in society, the cycle of marriage, sex, and starting families has also been postponed until much later in life. So, when teens reach biological maturity and begin to feel sexual urges, they experiment and often subject themselves to terrible consequences such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
The overwhelming and often tragic figures that explore teenage sexuality are hard to ignore. Compared to older adults, adolescents between the ages of ten and nineteen are at higher risk for acquiring STDs for a number of reasons, including limited access to preventive and regular health care and physiologically increased susceptibility to infection (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005). And among these young sexually active teens, minorities and teenage girls have been particularly hard hit by HIV/AIDS. Young African Americans represented 65% of AIDS cases reported among 13-19 year olds in 2002, suggesting that they are less likely to practice safe sex than white teenagers. Latino teens represented 20% of new AIDS cases, and in 2002, girls represented 51% of HIV cases reported among 13-19 year olds, compared to 30% of cases reported among people over age 25 that same year (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005). These figures suggest a problem that is difficult to curb.
Current sexual education is not nearly adequate enough to deal with the trends. Most teenagers are skeptical by nature, as well as inpidualistic when it comes to being told what to do, and the standard line of abstaining is not practical and does not work. Abstinence vows may work for some teens, but are largely nothing more than lip service. Teens have simply become more adept at avoiding pregnancy and retaining their “abstinence,” including abandoning the practice of vaginal sex and opting for oral or anal sex. Many teenage girls feel that unless the sex they have is vaginal, they are still technically virgins. This goes to show that the moral and religious leaders that push for sexual education are merely confusing the issue rather than illuminating it.
While some teens are at higher risk for sexual activity, including those that have been abused or use drugs and alcohol, all teens experience raging hormones and sexual impulses. It is a mistake to expect a denial of their human impulses, so an intelligent compromise must be reached regarding teenage sex. Whether this involves more sexual education from a young age that is informative rather than dogmatic, or changing society to allow teens to pursue valuable relationships instead of merely focusing on school and future careers, teenage sexuality must be addressed and dealt with in an honest and effective way. In addition to sex, teens also experience many difficulties with alcohol.
Debate continues in the medical community as to whether alcoholism is a physical or psychological disease, but the connection between alcohol and mental health is undeniable. Because of the cavalier attitude the United States takes towards alcohol consumption, the stresses that come with everyday life in the fast-paced modern world that encourage chemical solutions, and the overwhelming statistical evidence suggesting that alcoholism is a national epidemic, alcohol abuse resembles a mass mental health problem that can only be curbed through therapy and education. And, this problem is intensified when it concerns teenagers. While alcohol consumption is illegal for teenagers, that fact does little to curb teenage drinking. Teens drink whether authorities and parents like it or not, and the problem leads to many problems beyond just breaking the law, and can significantly impact their education and their future.
As a highly powerful drug, alcohol may not receive the professional medical endorsement as some pharmaceuticals, nor contain the powerful anesthetizing characteristics of many illegal narcotics, but its cost and ease of availability makes it a popular drug for millions of American teens. According to a survey released by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, it was found that by the time the state’s teenagers reach their senior year in high school, more than 80% of them admit to having some experience with alcohol (Westbrook, 2007). The same study also found that most of the students consider it easy to get alcohol. The fact that Texas is a zero tolerance state for underage drinking exemplifies the futility of current methods of trying to keep teenagers away from alcohol, which usually include nothing more than a repetitive mandate telling them not to drink.
It would seem that the only remedy to alcohol abuse in society is through better education and programs designed to counter the overwhelmingly supportive stance taken on alcohol by current social organizations. In addition to providing such information, prevention programs should teach inpiduals about the role that alcohol expectancies play in regard to heavy and abusive drinking, and help restructure expectancies among abusive or potentially abusive drinkers (Frone, et al., 1993, p. 556). By convincing more people that alcohol cannot truly eradicate or alleviate their problems, and in fact make their problems worse, mental health professionals stand a better chance of discouraging inpiduals from participating in future alcohol abuse.
However, unlike many health issues, professionals must compete with an industry that spends billions of dollars a year to attract consumers. Alcohol abuse has been and continues to be a mental health epidemic in the United States, encouraged by a society largely accepting of alcohol use and the many stresses of school and home life that drive people to seek alcoholic therapy. Alcoholism can even impact the aspirations of a young adult, like John.
Even though John was a freshman, he was a starter on the varsity volleyball and basketball teams. He was offended when he failed to make the varsity football team, but while he thought he should have made the varsity team as a freshman, the coach explained how all freshmen had to play on the freshman team. John proved the coach wrong by midseason and was starting as a running back on varsity by the fifth game. John was one of the few freshmen in the state to make all-conference in three sports, and he even began to attract the attention of multiple colleges. John’s popularity in school grew with every athletic victory, and girls did not escape his attention. Soon, John was engaging in promiscuous sex and partying with the upperclassmen. While this did not seem to affect his performance on the playing field, as John had an equally impressive sophomore year, and continued to enjoy his success socially and athletically. However, when John was drinking with friends one weekend, he broke his ankle in a drunk-driving accident.
He had to drop out of football entirely his junior year because he could barely walk, let alone play. He had a huge cast on my ankle and had to walk with crutches for months. When volleyball and basketball began, he was still rehabbing my ankle and working with physical therapists to try to strengthen it enough to endure the stresses of continuous jumping. This made him miss considerable time, and his sophomore season was nothing like he had imagined the year before, and the scouts stopping showing up and calling. He continued to drink and party, though was also severely depressed. However, he continued conditioning, doing physical therapy, and he planned on making his senior year the one that would finally allow him to shine athletically and hopefully attract enough attention from colleges to get scholarships.
However, John once again injured himself while drinking, this time breaking his wrist while on a dare. This in effect not only ended John’s athletic aspirations for his senior year, but also prevented him from getting into any college on a scholarship. Because John spent so much time playing sports and partying, John’s academics were anything but stellar, and college was difficult for him to get into. The last report on John was that he was living in the same town with his parents and had no job or aspirations, but still partied all the time with his friends. If it were not for alcohol early in John’s young adulthood, there is no telling how far he might have gotten, if only to get the chance to go to college and truly begin his education.
The trials and tribulations of young adulthood are enough to deal with without being inundated by confusing messages that are constantly bombarding young adults. Sexual experimentation, youth drinking, and lost dreams of irresponsible teens are only the most extreme examples of young adult behavior. What cannot be discounted are the millions of young adults that are responsible and become upstanding and contributing members of society. The only difference between the young adults that do well in adulthood to those that do not is the quality of the education they receive. And, the education that young adults receive is the responsibility not only of themselves, but also the adults from which they learn.
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