American teens living by the “no sex, dating and alcohol” mantra

Going out for a “drink with the boys” is no longer cool for American teens, neither is driving around town accompanied by dates. Instead, they are giving themselves time to grow up and consciously delaying activities which are considered typically “adult.” These are some of the findings of a new study published in the journal Child Development on Sep. 18, 2017. Compared to youngsters in past few years, the percentage of present-day American adolescents who drink alcohol, go out without their parents, indulge in sexual activity or work for pay has significantly declined.

The trend was observed across all ethnic, geographic and socio-economic groups, and in rural, suburban and urban areas. Although over 50 percent teens still engage in adult-related activities, the numbers have reduced sharply. The survey compared trends during the periods 1976-79 (the 1970s) and 2010-16 (2010s) for the following parameters:

  • Alcohol: Teen alcohol drinking plunged from 93 percent in the 1970s to 67 percent in the 2010s.
  • Dating: In the 1970s, 86 percent of high school teens had been on a date, compared to 63 percent in the 2010s.
  • Work for pay: 76 percent of teens worked for pay in the 1970s compared to 55 percent in the 2010s.

In the 2010s, 73 percent teens held a driver’s license, down from 88 percent in the 1970s. In 1991, 54 percent high school teens engaged in sexual activities, that declined to 41 percent in 2015. According to Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and lead author of the study, “In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did.”

Slowing down of adolescent “developmental trajectory”

For the study, Twenge and co-author Heejung Park, assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, collected data from seven large, nationally representative surveys covering 8.4 million American adolescents aged 13-19 years. According to them, the declining trends are not reflective of more homework, greater participation in extracurricular activities or higher smartphone and internet usage; rather, change of circumstances in which teens are growing up. Due to smaller families, parents have greater involvement in their children’s lives and can suitably restrict their activities.

Twenge states that the “developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed.” Earlier decades were characterized by larger families, reduced life expectancies and lower prevalence of college education. Teens transitioned into adulthood much earlier, possibly because “the goal back then was survival”. Marriage was also a priority – teen boys had to earn money, work and drive a car to attract a suitable match. In the present scenario, smaller families mean more resources and well looked-after teens.

This shift towards this model is evident across all socio-economic groups, even in cases where parents are not college educated. According to Twenge, the delay in adopting adult habits commences during early childhood in the form of parental supervision. Moreover, some U.S. state laws enforce restrictions on unaccompanied children. In the 1970s, the legal drinking age was 18 in some states, which has now increased to 21 almost everywhere.

Help available for teens with problems

Director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, Stephanie Coontz, says that teens are more conscious about the repercussions of their actions especially, risky behaviors. According to her, adolescents are realizing that unhealthy habits can affect their resumes. With college education becoming expensive and fewer career options available without a degree, teens cannot overlook the consequences of reckless actions. She believes that just as parents are concerned about their children’s prospects, “youngsters are absorbing the same kind of anxiety about the future.”

Alcohol abuse and use of other addictive substances is common among most teens. What begins as a fun activity or the means to cope with life stressors soon develops into an addiction that’s hard to quit. White River Academy, a leading therapeutic boarding school located in Utah, provides help to teen boys aged 12 to 17 years who struggle with alcohol-related problems. It offers evidence-based treatment for alcoholism in a safe and comfortable environment. If you know a child in need of help, contact our 24/7 helpline or chat online with a representative to locate the best alcohol rehab centers in Utah.

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