How Concerned Should We Be About Our Teens

I am raising three teenagers. Their behavior frustrates me. The risks they take terrify me. But a new Federal survey conducted among 50,000 teenagers shows that I’m dead wrong to be so amped up. Because today’s teens are actually far more mature and responsible than I was at their age.

Here’s the good news for 2017.  American teenagers today

  • Have sex less
  • Drink less
  • Binge drink less
  • Watch TV less
  • Use heroin less
  • Smoke less
  • Fight less

Than parents who grew up in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Some highlights: teen smoking has decreased dramatically, down from 70% in 1991 to 32% in 2015. Binge drinking is down from 31% to 18%. Drinking (period) is down by nearly half. Suicide attempts have decreased from 29% to 18%. Despite increased legalization, marijuana usage is down for the third year in a row. Over 93% of teens use seat belts. Almost 60% use condoms.

There is, of course, bad news. Vaping is up. Social media usage, including cyberbullying, is rampant. Teens seem to consistently find new ways to abuse drugs, with the latest being prescription medication stolen from adults’ medicine cabinets. And, disturbingly, kids today eat fewer vegetables than we did.

None of these problems should be dismissed. We parents are not all cleared to go on an adults-only cruise to Cabo for the next ten years. We still have teenagers to raise.

But we can back off and sleep a bit more easily.

Government awareness campaigns, and advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have powered the declines in smoking, drinking, and risky driving behaviors. Adult and government intervention can change teens’ behavior, no matter how much they roll their eyes at us. Additionally, experts believe that one of the key explanations for today’s responsible teens is that parents now are closer to, and communicate more openly with, our kids than prior generations. This seems to be driving down teen pregnancy rates and other behaviors that wreak havoc with teenagers’ lives over the longterm.

So: talk to your kids about the risks of being a teenager. It’s a critical part of parenthood, and it works. In closing, consider this observation:

 

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

 

The Greek philosopher Socrates, who lived from 469-399 BC, reportedly said this about the next generation. But like Socrates over 2000 years ago, we parents who fret and complain are almost universally wrong about today’s teenagers. They are clearly among the best-behaved teenaged cohorts since Socrates, although this may be hard to prove because the government data only goes back to 1972.