Kids today are different. Sure, people have probably been saying that for generations, but a fascinating new study says this time it's true.
It can be frustrating for parents who want to raise successful kids, but today's teens are delaying the traditional milestones of adolescence and adulthood, according to the study, published yesterday in the journal Child Development.
In some cases, they're making safer, healthier choices than their predecessors did; in other cases, it's more worrisome. Keep in mind, these are generalizations, but compared with their older siblings and parents, today's teens are different in that:
1. They're nowhere near as interested in dating.
Between 1976 and 1979, 86 percent of high school seniors had gone on a date; between 2010 and 2015 only 63 percent had, the study found.
"People say, 'Oh, it's because teenagers are more responsible, or more lazy, or more boring,' but they're missing the larger trend," the lead author of the study, Jean Twenge, told The Washington Post, which reported on the study. She added that it might be that kids are less interested in doing things like dating because in today's society, they no longer need to.
2. They don't care about driving.
The study is consistent with previous research in this area. (Frankly, of all the behaviors on this list, tracking what percentage of teenagers has a driver's license or drives frequently seems the easiest to do, since state governments and insurance companies already track this information.)
Regardless, the trend is stark. For example, in 2014, just under a quarter of 16-year-olds had driver's licenses; go back to 1983, and almost half did (46.2 percent, to be exact), according to another study.
3. They don't drink alcohol.
Back in the late 1970s, fully 93 percent of teenagers had tried alcohol at least once. The percentage now is 67 percent: obviously still significant, but a huge drop from a statistical point of view.
This is probably a healthier choice, assuming that they don't later "make up for lost time," as it seems a lot of kids who've never had alcohol during their teenage years wind up overdoing it when they leave home--for college, the military, or just to head out on their own.
4. They don't get jobs, at least not for pay.
This was once a rite of passage for sure, and I have to admit that finding makes me wonder about the samples in the study. But according to its authors, far fewer teenagers today work for pay than their predecessors. (The drop was from 76 percent to 55 percent.)
Two possible factors: First, more comfortable and affluent households (that's the part that makes me wonder if this was truly a representative study, across all income brackets), and second, the rise of unpaid internships.
"In a culture that says, 'OK, you're going to go to high school, go to college, go to graduate school, and then get an internship, and you're not going to really be responsible till your late 20s,' well then the brain will respond accordingly," adolescent psychologist Daniel Siegel told the Post.
5. They don't have sex.
This one is probably related to the idea that there's less dating, although of course these don't always go hand in hand. (I'll stop with the idioms here before I get myself in trouble.)
As the Post reports, "The portion of high school students who have had sex fell from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics."
Seems like we won't be seeing a remake of Fast Times at Ridgemont High anytime soon. That's probably a good thing.
6. They don't do as much homework.
This one is surprising as well. Every time I've written in the past about schools that decide not to assign as much homework, the reaction is largely from parents who wish their schools would try this strategy as well.
But the Post cites the study as saying that "teens today spend fewer hours on homework and the same amount of time on extracurriculars as they did in the 1990s (with the exception of community service, which has risen slightly)."
7. They don't rebel.
There are far more laws and societal rules today restricting teens' and children's activities than there were in decades past. The drinking age was once 18 in most parts of the United States; now it's 21 everywhere, for example. The minimum age to get driver's licenses has generally remained constant, but there are more restrictions now on new drivers.
All of which should, paradoxically, lead to more opportunities for today's kids to rebel against these restrictions. But it's just not happening, according to the study--for better or for worse.
So, why the changes? Of course, one easy target is the fact that internet usage is higher now than for previous generations--especially mobile technology. But the study downplayed the degree to which that might be affecting all the other things on this list, because the trends were high even in the earlier periods studied, before teens had the widespread mobile access they have now.
Instead, the study points toward the idea that today's kids just don't feel the need to engage in these behaviors. They're growing up in a more affluent society (even if they themselves aren't members of wealthy families) that encourages them to spend much more time preparing for adulthood. They're listening and acting accordingly.
What do you think? Do the teenagers you know reflect these generalizations? And overall is it a good trend or a bad one for America? Tell us in the comments.