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Life is so easy now that teens aren't growing up as fast, study shows
A new study shows that today's teenagers are delaying traditional markers of adulthood such as driving, dating, and working when compared to teenagers from previous generations. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

Life is so easy now that teens aren't growing up as fast, study shows

Teens today wait longer to drive, work, date, have sex and drink than teens in the 1970s, according a new study. Why? Because they don't have the same worries as their parents did at the same age. So they're not growing up as quickly.

Extended adolescence

High school seniors who have... (1976-1979 vs. 2010-2016 unless otherwise noted)

  • Gone on a date: 86 percent then, 63 percent now
  • Earned money for work: 76 percent then, 55 percent now
  • Tried alcohol: 93 percent then, 67 percent now (some of this is due to legislative changes)
  • Gotten a driver's license: 87 percent then, 72 percent now
  • Had sex: 54 percent in 1991, 41 percent in 2015

A slower "life strategy"

Today's teenagers don't feel the pressure to get married and get jobs quickly because the current social expectation is that when they graduate high school, they go to college for four years or more. That means true, independent adulthood might not set in until their mid-to-late 20s.

It's simple: a harsher and more unpredictable environment speeds up the rate at which teens develop into adults, while a more prosperous and secure environment slows the rate down. When you're not in survival mode, and life expectancy is higher, you don't have to worry so much about hurrying to start a family or get a job.

This writer's perspective

What should we think about these changes? Is it good or bad that children are growing up more slowly?

It's a little bit of both. As a father, I'm (selfishly) encouraged that kids are waiting longer to have sex or drink. It's dangerous for a person to be exposed to those things before they're equipped to handle them responsibly.

But it's not a good trend for teenagers to be less independent and self-sufficient. Teenagers should learn the responsibility of holding down a job. They should learn how to drive so they don't have to rely on friends or parents to get somewhere.

Adolescents need to mature into adulthood, even when they're not forced to, so they can contribute to the world and be prepared to handle adversity. Even colleges, where some people will spend much of their 20s, are becoming sheltered spaces that prevent exposure to the realities of the world.

We're blessed to live in a time of prosperity and security, when we have everything we need so that daily survival is something we take for granted. But that security is tenuous. It's not guaranteed to last forever, and our parents and grandparents can tell us about times when everything was great, until suddenly it wasn't.

In order for America to remain strong and to navigate the threats and challenges of our time, we can't become soft and complacent. It's up to parents, teachers and role models of all kinds to intentionally lead the next generation into adulthood at a reasonable, but expeditious pace. Don't stall. They might not need it now, but when they do need it, they'll be thankful someone pushed them forward.


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