Do not drink or drive, adolescents increasingly push back traditional markers of adulthood
When Quattro Musser, 17, goes out with friends, they don’t drink beer or drive around on dates. Rather, they stick to G rated activities such as rock climbing or talking about books.
They are in good company, according to a new study showing that teens increasingly delay activities that have long been considered rites of passage into adulthood. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, found that the percentage of teens in the United States who have a driver’s license, who have tried alcohol, who are dating, and who work for pay has fallen since 1976, with steepest declines in the past decade.
The declines have appeared across racial, geographic and socio-economic lines and in rural, urban and suburban areas.
Admittedly, more than half of adolescents still engage in these activities, but the majority has declined considerably. Between 1976 and 1979, 86 percent of high school students had a date; between 2010 and 2015, only 63 percent had done so, according to the study. During the same period, the share who had previously made money while working fell from 76 percent to 55 percent. And the portion that had tried alcohol fell from 93% between 1976 and 1979 to 67% between 2010 and 2016.
Teens have also reported a steady decline in sexual activity over the past decades. The proportion of high school students who had had sex increased from 54% in 1991 to 41% in 2015, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“People say, ‘Oh, that’s because teens are more responsible, or more lazy, or more boring,” but they’re missing the larger trend, ”said Jean Twenge, lead author of the study, who relied on seven major time-lag surveys of Americans. On the contrary, she said, young people may be less interested in activities such as dating, driving or finding a job, because in today’s society, they no longer need to be. .
According to a theory of evolutionary psychology that a person’s “life strategy” slows down or speeds up depending on the person’s environment, exposure to a “harsh and unpredictable” environment leads to faster development, while a more resource-rich and secure environment has the opposite effect, according to the study.
In the first scenario, “you would have a lot of children and you would be in survival mode, start having young children, expect your children to have young children and expect there to be more. diseases and fewer resources, “said Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, author of “IGen: Why today’s super-connected kids grow up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy – and completely unprepared for adulthood.”
A century ago, when life expectancy was lower and university education less widespread, “the goal back then was survival, not violin lessons at age 5,” Twenge said.
In this model, a teenager might think more seriously about marriage, and driving a car and working for a salary would be important to “establish the value of the partner based on the purchase of resources”, according to the study.
But the United States is turning more to the slower model, and the change is apparent across the socio-economic spectrum, Twenge said. “Even in families whose parents did not go to college. . . families are smaller and the idea that children should be carefully brought up has really taken hold.
The postponement of “adult activities” cannot be attributed to more homework or extracurricular activities, according to the study, noting that teens now spend fewer hours doing homework than they do. were doing in the 1990s and the same amount of time spent on extracurricular activities (with the exception of community service, which increased slightly.) Smartphone and internet use could also not be entirely the cause, according to the report, since the decline began before they became widely available.
Musser, who lives in Portland, Ore., Had summer jobs but never drank alcohol and said he wasn’t curious to try. To him, the idea that previous generations of teenagers had focused their evening activities on buying and consuming alcohol was puzzling to him.
“I haven’t heard of anyone going out and drinking specifically with their friends,” he said. “It’s not something you’re planning to do, like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to go out and get drunk. “”
In a city where it’s easy to cycle, take the bus, or carpool, he doesn’t really see the need to drive. And when it comes to dating: “It seems a little silly to seriously date someone in high school. I mean, what’s the plan there? Continue to attend university and eventually get married? It seems a little unrealistic.
Although the study did not include people under the age of 13, Twenge said she suspected that the postponement of adult behavior began in infancy, starting with decreases in the number of children who were born. going to school alone or playing unsupervised. In recent decades, parents have become more restrictive about independent activities, and some state laws have codified this, prohibit children from going out in public or stay at home without the accompaniment of an adult.
(The law has also delayed another adult activity: in the 1970s, the legal drinking age was as young as 18 in some states; it is now 21 almost everywhere.)
To Daniel Siegel, adolescent psychiatrist and author of “Brainstorming: The Power and Purpose of the Adolescent Brain”, it makes sense for adolescents to “reshape” their brains to accommodate a society that has changed since the 19th century.
“In a culture that says, ‘Okay, you’re going to go to high school, go to college, get graduate school and then get an internship, and you’re not really going to be in charge until your late twenties.” , well, the brain will react accordingly, ”he said.
Whether the changes are positive or negative depends on the reasons for the delay in adult activities, Siegel said.
If the deadline is to make room for creative exploration and forging better social and emotional connections, that’s a good thing. But “if it’s fear-based,” he said, “it’s obviously a concern.”
Today, among the teens, “there’s a feeling you get, ‘Wow, the world is pretty serious, so why would I rush to immerse myself? “. . . Why am I not staying with my friends and away from anything that has serious consequences, such as pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases? ‘ “
Adolescents are also more aware now of the possible repercussions of their actions, said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families.
“They’re starting to realize, wow, they have to really care about their resumes,” she said. “They come without the kind of reckless disregard of the consequences that a generation of more confident children had, who said, ‘I’m going to drop out of school and join the peace movement – what is it? ? ‘ “
With fewer career paths available for those without a college degree, Coontz said, young people can no longer afford that kind of nonchalance.
“They absorb the same kind of anxiety about the future that their parents have for them,” she said.
Chiara Power, 15, from San Juan Island, Wash., Has no interest in going out, driving, working for pay, or drinking alcohol – and the rising costs of education prevent him from sleeping.
“I’m already panicking and having nightmares about student loans that I’ll never escape, and I’m afraid I will end up homeless,” she said.
Her parents try to allay her fears. “They’re just like, ‘Dude, that’s not gonna happen in the next three years, so relax.’ I can’t relax. I’m not cold, ”she said. . . There are so many people who say, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be tough when you’re over there.’ “
Her mother, Penelope Haskew, 45, is mixed over her daughter’s preference for spending free time at home with her family.
“On the one hand, I know she’s safe, she’s not getting pregnant, smoking weed, drinking or doing all kinds of risky things that I can imagine suited her. age, ”she said. But Haskew wonders if her daughter is missing any life lessons these behaviors can teach. “Are these kinds of things necessary for human development? Do you have to take risks in adolescence to succeed in adulthood?
Still, she agreed with her daughter that the world seems more dangerous now than when she was a teenager. “Climate change is super real, and it’s obviously happening as we speak,” she said. “Maybe the scary things about being an adult are so much more real right now that it’s just safer not to become an adult.”