The study suggests that exposure to a “harsh and unpredictable” environment leads to faster development – meaning children are apt to try adult activities sooner – while an environment in which teans had more resources and felt more secure (perhaps more typical of this era) has the opposite effect, the study said.
It found that today’s adolescents are less likely than their predecessors to take part in activities typically undertaken by adults. In the past, kids couldn’t wait to get their driver’s licenses. Now? “In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did”. The surveys were nationally representative, reflecting the population of U.S. teens in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geographic region. The study looked at 8.44 million kids aged between 13 and 19 years across the country.
In seven large, nationally representative surveys of US adolescents 1976-2016 (N = 8.44 million, ages 13-19), fewer adolescents in recent years engaged in adult activities such as having sex, dating, drinking alcohol, working for pay, going out without their parents, and driving, suggesting a slow life strategy.
Compared to teens in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, today’s adolescents, “are taking longer to engage in both the pleasures and the responsibilities of adulthood”, according to San Diego State University’s Jean Twenge. They are not explained by the demands of homework and extracurricular activities, which have not significantly increased, contrary to popular belief, the study says. A century ago, or even half a century ago, life expectancy was lower and less number of individuals went to college and survival in the job world was a necessity rather than a luxury.
However, the current scenario has shifted -and continues to do so-toward a slower model. Today the socioeconomic picture has changed significantly says Twenge. While people in their early 20s now often act more like teens, young teens often act more like children, Twenge said.
In recent years, most USA 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.
“There are advantages and disadvantages”, she said. Plus, laws have also delayed another key activity on the road to adulthood: drinking. Legal drinking age too has risen from 18 to 21 since the 1970’s.