Are today’s teens riding a slow boat to maturity? Compared to teens in the 1980s and 90s, this generation of teenagers are not in any hurry to grow-up, according to a new study.
In some ways, that’s a good thing. High school kids today are less likely to drink alcohol or have sex, compared to their counterparts a couple of decades ago.
However, they are also less likely to go on dates, have a part-time job or learn to drive – all conventional steps to adulthood.
Are these changes in development good or bad? Actually, they are both, researchers said. It depends on how you look at it.
Jean Twenge, a professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, said there are “trade offs’ to each path.
"The upside of slower development is that teens aren't growing up before they are ready," she said. "But the downside is, they go to college and into the workplace without as much experience with independence."
Being unprepared for work or college is definitely a problem for many of today’s adolescents, according to one specialist in teen mental health.
"I think if you ask any college professor, they'll tell you students these days are woefully unprepared in basic life skills," said Yamalis Diaz.
Diaz, who was not involved in the study, is a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.
Today's students may be sharp academically, Diaz said -- but they often have trouble with basics like planning, time management and problem solving.
The findings, published online in the journal Child Development, are based on nationally representative surveys done between 1976 and 2016. Together, they involved over 8 million U.S. kids aged 13 to 19.
On the upside, many of today’s teens aren’t attracted to activities that can be destructive such as drinking alcohol, drug and tobacco use and having sex at an early age. Those are important changes that bode well for young adults and make parents happy.
So why the change in attitude and priorities? It’s complicated. Technology has altered how many people, particularly teens, communicate. Many are spending less time in face-to- face conversations, choosing to text or post on social media.
Parenting styles have also seen a transformation. The “helicopter” or “hovering” parental style has gained in popularity. Some parents are involved so heavily in their kids’ lives that they make all the decisions for them and try to keep their kids from experiencing any type of failure.
In recent years, Diaz said, parents have become much more "child-centric," compared with the days when parents would send their kids outside with instructions to be back by dinner.
And while that is well-intended, Diaz said, kids today may have few chances to deal with relationships, work through their own problems -- and otherwise "stand on their own two feet."
"On one hand," Diaz said, "today's parents should be commended for sending their kids the right messages about what's appropriate for their age."
But, she added, "sometimes parents want to keep doing everything for their kids."
Diaz suggests that parents give kids the space they need to develop necessary skills, like problem-solving, time management and the ability to hold down a part-time job. She also advised parents to create some "no phone" time every day at home -- and to encourage their kids to do the same when they're with their friends.