If most parents are to be believed, teenagers are increasingly more reckless and promiscuous in every generation. However, science is here to prove parents wrong. As it turns out, teenagers in the 2010s are actually less likely to date, have sex, or go out drinking than any teens since the 1970s.
Research published in the journal Child Development reviewed seven large studies on adolescents, between the years of 1976 and 2016, representing 8.4 million kids from the ages of 13 to 19, Quartz reports. When examining how many of these teenagers in every generation were involved in "adult activities" such as drinking, having sex, dating, and working, they found that teenagers now are delaying becoming adults longer than teenagers before them.
“In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did," Jean Twenge, Ph.D., professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the lead author on the study, told Quartz. Teenagers in the 2010s are also less likely to have a paying job or to drive, according to the study.
While some may believe that teenagers are having less sex, fewer dates, and are less likely to do other "adult activities" because they have more homework and extracurricular activities, the researchers say that's not the case. The amount of homework and extracurriculars stayed steady over the years. Instead, Twenge and her team connected these trends both to greater involvement from parents in their kids' lives and to advances in technology.
Since families are often smaller than they were in the 1970s, parents are more interested in — and have more money to spend on — their children. Therefore, kids have the ability to act younger for longer. That coupled with the fact that teenagers in the 2010s grew up with the internet, Twenge writes in an article for The Atlantic, could explain the shift.
Yet, Twenge and her team can't make a solid case that technology is to blame; and teenagers started to have less sex, fewer dates, were less likely to drink or have a job, before the iPhone ever showed up on the market — though the data does show a sharp decline after the early 2000s, when smart phones were becoming more popular.
Whether or not technology or our parents are the reason teenagers have delayed becoming adults, Twenge warns not to look at it as a purely good thing, even though less underage drinking seems like a plus. Because it also means we're less prepared for adulthood, and that's causing problems of it's own.
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