Generation Z avoids sex, alcohol, and driving, study finds

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Today’s teenagers don’t seem to care much about hitting the open
road, scoring a six-pack with a fake ID, or asking their peers
out on dates.

According to a new study from the psychologists Jean Twenge and
Heejung Park, teenagers instead prefer to sit at home, avoid
drugs and alcohol, and scroll through a litany of social-media
apps.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, analyzed
survey responses from 8.3 million teenagers between 1976 and
2016. Overwhelmingly, today’s teens were found to be less likely
to drive, work for pay, go on dates, have sex, or go out without
their parents.

By the early 2010s, the researchers wrote, 12th-graders were
going out less often than eighth-graders did in the early 1990s
and going on dates about as often as 10th-graders did in the
early 1990s. Kids were also trying alcohol later and having sex
far less often: About 54% of high-school students in 1991
reported having had sex, while only 41% did in the early 2010s.

“This isn’t just about parenting,” Twenge told Business Insider.
“It’s also about teens themselves, and the economy, and fertility
rates, and people living longer.”

Of course, since the study’s conclusions are based on personal
survey responses, the findings may not apply broadly to all of
Generation Z, generally defined as people born in the early 1990s
to mid-2000s. There are also bound to be members of the
generation for whom the traits don’t apply, as with any
demographic study.

But Twenge chalked the findings up to an overall shift in the way
society has operated. She is the author of “iGen:
Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious,
More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for
Adulthood,” which explores the conditions in which today’s young
people are being raised. Contrary to popular belief, Twenge said,
teens aren’t lazy or square, but are a product of their
environment, like every other generation.

In the mid-20th century, she said, people adopted what
evolutionary psychologists call a “fast-life strategy.” Life
spans were shorter and work was more imperative, so kids grew up
relatively quickly without as much parental supervision. By 2000,
though, the US had taken up a “slow-life strategy” — people were
living longer, resources were more abundant, and parents started
raising their kids to stay kids longer.

Because there seems to be less of a need for modern teens to
become adults, Twenge and Park’s research suggests that today’s
18-year-old more closely resembles a 15-year-old of the 1970s or
’80s.

However, one of the most disturbing characteristics of Generation
Z, or “iGen” in Twenge’s parlance, is suicide rates surpassing
homicide rates. Twenge thinks smartphones may play a crucial
role. Gen Z is the first generation to be raised according to
this slow-life strategy amid the prominence of smartphones. (Its
members, after all, are the first to have no concept of life
without the internet.) Instead of working or playing outside,

teens are more likely to feel isolated
and tethered to their
devices.

“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
wrote recently
in The Atlantic. “Those not invited to come
along are keenly aware of it.”

But getting rid of smartphones shouldn’t be parents’ first goal
if they want to safeguard their kids’ mental health — according
to the study’s findings, Twenge said, it should be encouraging
independence. If kids are more concerned with working or getting
involved in their community, they’ll naturally have less idle
time to fill with their smartphone.

At the same time, not all of Gen Z’s traits are problems that
need to be solved, she said, like the lower incidences of
drinking and sex.

“Let’s have those go to zero,” Twenge said. “That would be just
fine.”



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