A new study found teenagers are having sex, dating and drinking less than they used to. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, found that the rate of teens in the United States who have driver’s license, who date, who have drunk alcohol, and who work for pay has declined since 1976.

In other words, the researchers found that adolescents are delaying activities that have been long seen as steps towards adulthood.

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The decline was seen among all U.S. teens, regardless of race, geographic, and socioeconomic lines, as well as in rural, urban, and suburban areas.

Teens nowadays engage in less dating, drinking, driving, and working as they used to

The researchers noted that while half of the teenagers still participate in these activities, the majorities have plummeted considerably. For instance, the study claims between 1976 and 1979, 86 percent of high school seniors had gone on a date, but between 2010 and 2015 only 63 percent had experienced dating.

During the same study period, the percentage of teens who had earned money from working dropped from 76 to 55 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of adolescents who had tried alcohol declined from 93 percent between 1976 and 1970 to 67 percent between 2010 and 2016.

Furthermore, the researchers also found a drop in the percentage of teenagers who had sex, from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics.

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s because teenagers are more responsible, or more lazy, or more boring,’ but they’re missing the larger trend,” said Jean Twenge, lead author of the new study, according to Chicago Tribune.

Twenge says that, in fact, teens may be less interested in activities such as drinking and dating because, in today’s society, they no longer need to engage in them.

The researchers at San Diego University and Bryn Mawr College used data from seven national surveys conducted between 1976 and 2016, including some carried out by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. Overall, the studies involved over 8 million teens, ages 13 to 19, who varied from racial, economic and regional backgrounds.

The scenario has shifted towards a slower model

Twenge and her co-author, Heejung Park, an assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, initially thought the results meant that teenagers today are doing more homework or engaging in more extracurricular activities. However, the findings suggest the frequency of these events has been stable in the past years, if not on a slight decline.

Teenagers using their smartphones simultaneously. Image Source: Huffington Post
Teenagers using their smartphones simultaneously. Image Source: Huffington Post

“Our results show that it’s probably not that today’s teens are more virtuous, or more lazy – it’s just that they’re less likely to do adult things,” said Twenge, according to Scientific American.

She noted that regarding adult behaviors, 18-year-olds now look more like the 15-year-olds of the past. The researchers believe the internet –among other new technologies—could have something to do with this decline in passage rites to adulthood.

Twenge says that, for example, a century ago, when life expectancy was lower and college education less prevalent, the goal was survival, “not violin lessons by 5.” In that scenario, a teenage boy might be thinking more seriously about marriage, driving and working for pay, to establish “mate value based on procurement of resources,” the study states.

However, the current scenario has shifted –and continues to do so—toward a slower model. Twenge said the change is apparent across the socioeconomic spectrum.

“Even in families whose parents didn’t have a college education… families are smaller, and the idea that children need to be carefully nurtured has really sunk in,” she said, according to Chicago Tribune.

Teens have ‘remodeled’ their brains to adapt to society

Although the new study did not look at those younger than 13 years of age, Twenge said she believes the postponement of adult behavior begins in early childhood. The shift can be seen, for instance, in the decrease in children walking to school by themselves or playing without adult supervision.

In recent years, most U.S. parents have become more restrictive about letting their children engage in independent activities, while laws in several states have backed up this, banning children from going out in public or staying at home without adult supervision. Plus, laws have also delayed another key activity on the road to adulthood: drinking. Although the legal drinking age was 18 in some states in the 1970s, it is now 21 almost universally.

Daniel Siegel, an adolescent psychiatrist, says that it makes sense that teens would “remodel” their brains to adapt to a society that has largely changed since the 19th century.

“In a culture that says, ‘Okay, you’re going to go to high school, go to college, go to graduate school, and then get an internship, and you’re not going to really be responsible till your late 20s,’ well then the brain will respond accordingly,” he told Chicago Tribune.

Source: Chicago Tribune