Adults today say that the younger generation is more aggressive and teens tend to lead riskier lives. A new study, however, disputes that claim and says adolescents today grow up more slowly.
In fact, 18-year-olds can now be compared to the 15-year-olds from the 1970s.
"The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they used to," said San Diego State University psychology professor and lead author Jean Twenge.
While the adults in previous decades were busy worrying about driving, getting a job, dating, and drinking alcohol, teens today are not just into these things.
The proponents of the study looked into results of seven surveys that involved 8.3 million individuals between the age of 13 and 19 years. These earlier studies were conducted between 1976 and 2016. The questions of the surveys were designed to draw a clear picture of what teens love to do and what adult activities they engage in. Other factors such as the economy, education, family size, and life expectancy were taken into consideration.
Is Generation Z Just Really Boring?
Actually, the study does not answer that question but the results represent a broad-based cultural shift among American teens.
Twenge and other experts involved in the study found out that no one is really forcing teens of today to skip adult activities. Today's teens do it on their own. No nagging, no screaming for parents about not going to that party, no booze, and no sex. Adolescents now seem to be just busy with other things.
What's Keeping American Teens Busy?
"This isn't just about parenting. It's also about teens themselves and the economy and fertility rates and people living longer," Twenge said.
So, what's keeping teens busy? Definitely not homework and not other school activities, according to the study. The big shift might be due to the internet — teens are spending more time online. This does not mean adolescents today are lazy but the environment today shapes them differently compared to adults who lived in earlier decades.
And, of course, there are tablets, smartphones, and apps that keep teens preoccupied.
"Today's teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly - on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook," Twenge added.
Teens are growing more slowly. Eighteen is the new 15. Is this bad? According to the co-author of the study Heejung Park of Bryn Mawr College, not really.
"These trends are neither good nor bad, but reflect the current U.S. cultural climate," he said.
The study appears in the journal Child Development.