Parenting News

Why today's teenagers are not as wild as their parents were

Today's teens will be 18 years old before they try the same things their parents were doing at 15.

By Karyn Henger

Parents usually worry that their teens are growing up too fast but that's not the case for Gen Z - with new research from the United States showing that, compared to teens of previous generations, our teens are growing up slower than ever before.

They're delaying everything - drinking alcohol, taking up driving, working and even trying sex for the first time - and the amount of time they spend online is the reason why.

The study was conducted by American researchers, who analysed seven large surveys of 8.3 million 13- to 19-year-olds between 1976 and 2016.

In the surveys, teens were asked how they used their time, allowing researchers to compare teens in the 2010s to teens in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s.

Says the study's lead author, Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University: “In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did."

Adolescents in the 2010s are less likely to work for pay, drive, date, drink alcohol, go out without their parents and have sex than teens from previous decades - and this is across the board.

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Researchers say the delay is most likely due to the amount of time teens spend online.

Teens now spend nearly nine hours a day online.

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So parents should be happy, right?

Of course it's great news that they're delaying sex, drinking and even driving - the longer they delay, the better their decisions around them, Kiwi parenting expert Jackie Riach from the Triple P Parenting Centre says.

(Just because they're not having sex, it doesn't mean they're not watching sex - that is, porn - she also cautions.)

But it's not so awesome that so much of their time is spent online, she adds.

While being 'plugged in' or connected 24/7 is part of the world we live in, Riarch reminds parents that they shouldn't use this as a reason not to set boundaries around time spent online.

"Be clear in your own mind, first, about what's acceptable and then have a discussion with your teen about it and be open to being flexible. In my house, for example, we have set hours when my teens are allowed to be online but when my son pointed out that they weren't the times everyone else was online, we changed them."

No phones at the dinner table should be an absolute must, as well as no devices in their bedroom overnight. Role model the behaviour you want - how much are you checking your phone at night?, Riach asks.

Tap into what your teen is interested in (that doesn't involve being online) and support them to engage in those activities.

"Support them if they want to do the tennis lessons, the parkour sessions, the sports... if it's getting them out of the house then that's a good thing.

"My son likes playing games so if I ask him to play cards with me, he'll happily oblige. I have a colleague whose daughter likes making videos so she supports that, because making a video is better than watching one."

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Riach suggests that it also pays to be a little skeptical about the research.

"Remember that public transport is better than it was back then, and the process for learning to drive is also much more robust."

Riach adds, "Children are in the education system longer... And sexuality education and life skills programmes in schools are a lot more comprehensive, so maybe they're taking something away from those."

She also suggests that the amount of time kids spend online is quite possibly due in part to parents' over-protectiveness.

"It's become quite seductive for parents to have their kids at home online - they'd rather know where they are than worry about them going to parties.

"So it's a double-edged sword isn't it - we can keep them safe at home, but the cost is they're probably spending too much time online."