Study Finds Today's Teens Aren't Grasping 'The Responsibilities Of Adulthood'

Bryan Michalek | September 21, 2017

In a recent study that overviews 40 years of survey data, researchers found that today's teenagers are much more removed from adulthood and have been putting off typical adult milestones.

While the study shows risky behaviors like underage drinking and sex have taken a backseat to staying in and watching Netflix, it also more teens are delaying things that have been considered to be rites of passage for teenagers from the '70s, '80s, and '90s. The study shows there are large delays in acquiring jobs and drivers licenses, as well as dating, and other moves towards independence. 

The study's lead author, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said: "The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they once did." 

The basis for the studies relied on seven nationally representative studies repeated over many decades with 8 million teens between the ages of 13 to 19. From these studies, Twenge and her co-author Heejung Park, assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, found several trends from the data. 

Both researchers came to the conclusion that all of the information leads to the same point, and that was the rate at which teens had become more detached from adult responsibility for longer. The two found that more people in their early 20s are acting like teens while young teens are more often acting like children. 

In a comparison from teens surveyed between 2010 and 2016 with teens surveyed in the early 90's, the researchers found some interesting statistics:

• 29% of 9th graders had sex, down from 38%.

• 29% of 8th graders drank alcohol, down from 56%.

• 32% of 8th graders had worked for pay, down from 63%

Among 12th graders, data on most behaviors goes back to 1976.  In 2010-2016:

• 67% drank, down from 93% in the earlier era.

• 55% worked for pay, down from 76%.

• 73% had drivers’ licenses, down from 88%.

• 63% dated, down from 86%.

• 62% had had sex, down from 68% in the early 1990s, the earliest that data was collected.

Once the two authors locked down the trend, they then set out to find the reasons behind it. The researchers had found that this trend had spread across all economic groups in all parts of the US and that these changes were not affected by a supposed increase in homework and extracurriculars. 

Twenge does believe the internet has had an effect, keeping teens locked into a virtual world rather than experiencing the real one. She also said the idea of a "slow life strategy" has taken root over the "live fast die young" mentality. This was attributed to a changing in parenting styles over the years.

"Helicopter parenting" has more parents taking a bigger role in children's lives, because they are having fewer children and freeing up more time to be involved. Twenge and Park agreed that it's not all bad and say that "One of the advantages is that it's safer." but discussed the more negative effects of this change. 

More and more teens are likely to arrive at colleges and jobs more unprepared than previous generations, and that will force them to learn how to solve complex problems later in life when the ball of adulthood is already rolling. 

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