The news has been pretty darn abysmal as of late, so I was delighted when a story popped up in my news feed telling me something every mother wants to hear: Teens are actually waiting longer to have sex, try drinking, and even get a driver’s license.
The new study published by Child Development sought to understand why teens seem to be missing out on what has been largely viewed as cultural rites of passage, such as dating, sexual intercourse, drinking, drugs, working, or driving. As a mom, I’m grinning ear to ear knowing there is a decline in some of these rites of passage, but others, such as getting a job and eventually moving out have me worried.
Since 1976, teens seem have switched from what researchers call “fast strategies,” or racing to be independence to “slow strategies,” or delaying independence from Mom and Dad. What’s more, this decline appears to be happening across lines of race, income, and geographic location.
Study authors wrote:
“In recent years, fewer adolescents engaged in activities rarely performed by children and often performed by adults, such as working, driving, going out, dating, having sex, and drinking alcohol. The declines in these activities were relatively recent, primarily appearing since 2000.”
All of this has some parents wondering, What gives?
Mom and writer, Gretchen Kelly tells Babble, “Some of this rings true for me with my son (a high school junior). He hasn’t had a girlfriend. When I ask if he’s interested in girls, he says he doesn’t want the drama of a relationship. He is driving and worked his first job this summer … I saw a big change in him, more independence from having worked. He isn’t really interested in partying or the things I did in high school (thank god). He would rather go fishing with his friends or play video games or meet up for a game of football/basketball. I worry about him being too sheltered, but I also love that he’s not out getting into trouble. I think (hope) we are preparing him for adulthood. He’s not innocent or unaware, we talk about all the gritty stuff around here, but his life experiences are so far removed from what mine were at this age.”
Kelly’s not alone. Mom Ashley Fuchs tells Babble, “My 14.5-year-old claims to be a future [teetotaler] and shows a strong aversion to romance or intimacy of ANY kind! She aspires to be a ‘crazy cat lady,’ and still loves to play imagination games.”
Writer Juliana Miner explained it this way, “Traditionally our definition of adulthood is defined by the ability to support yourself and provide for others should you choose to start a family. Even one generation ago that was consistently possible to do at 18. Or cultural expectation of 18-year-olds is so wildly different now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. These changes seem a very natural result of those both economically and social shifts.” She went on to further illustrate her point, “I’m 44, consider that my father’s generation went to war at 18 in Vietnam. His father’s generation fought in World War II, at the same age. Prior to that, 18 years represented 1/3 or 1/2 of life expectancy for US citizens. What it means to be an adult is solidly placed in that kind of cultural context, once physical puberty is reached.”
The times are indeed changing. Mom Rachael Pavlik tells Babble, “From what I see, the advent of the iPhone means more teens staying in, not interested in driving, dating, etc. It is bizarre.”
Researchers aren’t sure what’s causing the shift, stating, “The trends are unlikely to be due to homework and extracurricular time, which stayed steady or declined, and may or may not be linked to increased Internet use.”
Whatever is causing the decline in adult-like activities, let’s hope that the trend toward “slow strategies” might also mean a trend toward smarter and less reckless decision-making among teens. I’m looking at you, keg stands and 7 minutes in heaven.