Teenagers are be­hav­ing bet­ter these days

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

For the par­ents and grand­par­ents of ado­les­cents, there is good news and bad news.

The good news, gleaned from a re­cent sur­vey con­ducted by the fed­eral Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion, is that today’s high school stu­dents are no­tably re­sis­tant to all sorts of haz­ardous and un­whole­some ac­tiv­i­ties, from sex to smok­ing.

So what’s the bad news? This re­port will make it a lot harder to gripe about kids be­ing spoiled, out of con­trol and gen­er­ally not up to the im­pec­ca­bly high stan­dards of con­duct sup­pos­edly es­tab­lished by pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

The truth is, they seem de­ter­mined to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to make their el­ders look rel­a­tively wild. Bill Al­bert, spokesman for the Na­tional Cam­paign to Pre­vent Teen and Un­planned Preg­nancy, told The As­so­ci­ated Press, “I think you can call this the cau­tious gen­er­a­tion.”

On­line pornog­ra­phy and in­creas­ingly raunchy pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment, it’s of­ten as­sumed, have oblit­er­ated mod­esty and re­straint among young­sters. In fact, just 41 per­cent of today’s high school kids have ever had sex — com­pared with 47 per­cent in 2013 and 54 per­cent in 1991. The pro­por­tion that is cur­rently sex­u­ally ac­tive fell from 34 per­cent to 30 per­cent just in the past two years.

Drink­ing is sup­posed to be a rite of pas­sage for teens. But that fash­ion has faded. In 1991, more than half of kids drank at least once a month. Today, only 1 in 3 re­port­edly does.

And they are not re­plac­ing beer with mar­i­juana: The num­ber of teens who get high has also shrunk, de­spite the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational cannabis in some states. Cig­a­rettes have also lost much of their charm. For ev­ery five kids who smoked in 1999, only one does today. About 1 in 4, how­ever, uses elec­tronic cig­a­rettes and other “va­p­ing” prod­ucts.

Fur­ther­more, the CDC as­serts, young­sters also be­have more peace­ably than was once the norm. They are only about half as prone to get in fights as the kids of 1991, and the num­ber of teens who have taken weapons to school has fallen by two-thirds. More ado­les­cents even wear hel­mets when they ride their bi­cy­cles.

All this should not be com­pletely un­ex­pected, given the no­tice­able de­cline in teen preg­nancy, abor­tion and crime. But it is bound to sur­prise those who take the coars­en­ing of pop­u­lar cul­ture to be a ma­lig­nant in­flu­ence on young peo­ple. It turns out the kids can dis­tin­guish the mod­els pre­sented in mu­sic and movies from what they need to do to suc­ceed in real life.

It’s pos­si­ble, of course, that they’ve also been di­verted from for­bid­den fruit by mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.

“It may be that park­ing at the point has given way to tex­ting from your mom’s liv­ing room couch,” Al­bert said.

It may be that Snapchat beats get­ting stoned. Mod­ern teens have a lot more ways to avoid bore­dom than kids did 20 or 30 years ago.

They also have higher ex­pec­ta­tions. It could be that their par­ents’ fo­cus on pro­mot­ing kids’ self-es­teem has sapped their mo­ti­va­tion to mis­be­have. They may fig­ure: What’s the point of drink­ing or fool­ing around? You don’t even get a par­tic­i­pa­tion tro­phy.

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