Teenagers are participating less in harmful activities, but they are also not engaging in “responsible” teenage behaviors like working a job for pay.

When a study emerges with data showing that teenagers aren’t drinking alcohol as much or being as sexually active as previous generations, that is generally a reason to cheer. However, a recent report from the journal Child Development gave us reason to pause.

Yes, the analysis shows declines in the number of teenagers who have participated in teenage activities considered “irresponsible”: trying alcohol, abusing drugs or having sex. But the report also gives reason to think that teenagers are abstaining for reasons other than morality. The real reason for their timidity? They don’t want to grow up. Mix this predisposition with coddling by their parents, and we see the other teen trend identified in the study: the decline in the number of teenagers who have ever engaged in “responsible” teenage behaviors like working a job for pay.

Confusing Data

There’s no denying that plenty of teenagers still engage in all of these activities. For example, 67 percent of teenagers between 2010 and 2016 said that they tried alcohol. But that’s a far cry from 93 percent between 1976 and 1979. The same goes for teenagers with a job. Only 55 percent of teenagers between 2010 and 2015 had earned money from a job, compared to 76 percent between 1976 and 1979.

Are teenagers more responsible than before, or just lazier?

Explaining the Data

Of the findings, lead author of the study Jean Twenge said:

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s because teenagers are more responsible, or more lazy, or more boring,’ but they’re missing the larger trend. Youths may be less interested in activities such as dating, driving or getting jobs because in today’s society, they no longer need to be.”

This is the idea that teenagers just don’t need to grow up as fast as they did in decades past. Many in the Greatest Generation or those within the Baby Boomer generation can explain how they had to do very adult things as teenagers, often just to survive. In many ways, a person’s environment or circumstances determine how quickly that person develops responsibility and adult-like qualities.

With that in mind, modern teenagers’ disinterest in adult activities seems to make sense. Whereas before, teenagers were required to work for the family or even go to war, today’s teenagers only need to worry about school, their social media accounts and the latest entertainment news. Obviously, that’s an overgeneralization, but the concept holds true.

What Should Parents Think?

Parents should take the good with the bad – be thankful for the progress made in keeping teenagers from alcohol and sex. But the bad is difficult to ignore.

Parents want their teenager to be responsible and grown up, and they should want them to stay as far away from alcohol, drugs and sex as possible. Let’s not forget that teenagers are capable of participating in the right adult activities – work, driving and in some cases dating – while still steering clear of the irresponsible activities associated with previous teenage generations.

Some parents ask if teenagers need to learn the life lessons taught by drinking, sexual encounters and general risk taking in order to become successful, responsible adults. To put it plainly, no. Lessons can be learned in so many other ways than through making mistakes that may irreparably scar a person for the rest of their life.

Let’s have high standards for today’s teenagers. Let’s protect them from the dangers and educate them about the challenges, but also expect them to act as the mature adults they are capable of being.

Here are some resources to help you in your parenting journey!

Briley Hughes

Briley Hughes

Communications Director


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