Teenagers becoming more responsible, or more lazy, or more boring !

According to a new study, teenagers are leaning towards activities that are more suitable – reading, taking part in volunteering activities etc. while saving the activities that were once considered rites of passage to adulthood and ages over 25. These findings were published 18th September 2017 in a study entitled, “The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976–2016” the journal Child Development. The study looked at 8.44 million kids aged between 13 and 19 years across the country.

Teenagers hanging out. Image Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock
Teenagers hanging out. Image Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

The study noted that numbers of kids in the United States who have a driver’s license, or who work for pay or have tried alcohol for the first time are on the decline. This decline has been steady since 1976 with the sharp fall in the last one decade alone. No race, rural or urban or suburban residence, socioeconomic differences play a role in this delay of risky behavior among adolescents among a significant number of teenagers. Experimenting with adult activities declined significantly when some of the characteristic features were present. These include – median income of the family, college enrollment, life expectancy of the population, family size, age at which the first child was born, lower risk of infections and disease etc.

The study found that in the late 1970’s (between 1976-79), high school dates were seen in 86 percent while between 2010 and 2015, only 63 percent high school seniors went on dates. First experiences with alcohol were 93 percent among teenagers in the late 70’s and today only 67 percent experiment with alcohol during their teen ages. Working for pay was 76 percent in the earlier period of time and is now declined to 55 percent. Sexual activity too has declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015 says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

According to lead author Jean Twenge a psychology professor at San Diego State University, first glance, this trend might look like teenagers are becoming “more responsible, or more lazy, or more boring”. Actually what these trends mean is that teenagers today are less interested in driving or getting jobs that pay or dating. She has been working on this study to draw conclusions from seven large time-lag surveys of Americans. She explained that as the environment becomes richer in resources and more secure, the drive to do something declines among teenagers. They become more reluctant be become adults early because they do not need to. A century ago, or even half a century ago, life expectancy was lower and less number of individuals went to college and survival in the job world was a necessity rather than a luxury. The study was co-authored by Heejung Park, assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College.

Teenagers then were thinking about marrying and having kids soon, working in gainful employment and driving places says the study. Today the socioeconomic picture has changed significantly says Twenge. Kids, who have parents who never went to college, are also given an option to go to college and are being nurtured and protected. They do not feel the need to fly solo early.

The study further speculates that a change in attitude is not due to the fact that kids do more homework and are engaged in more extracurricular activities and hobbies. The study noted that the amount of homework done by kids then and now is similar and so is the time spent on extracurricular activities. Use of smart phones and internet too could not bring about this significant change says the study since the change was already happening before smart phones were available for all kids.

What did influence the behavior of teenagers to day noted Twenge, was the fact that kids were walking to school supervised more commonly than before. Kids today do not play unsupervised she said. Parents are more restrictive of kids doing stuff alone and the laws ban kids from being left home alone or going out without an adult accompanying them too. Legal drinking age too has risen from 18 to 21 since the 1970’s.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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