Washington: Today’s teenagers are growing up more slowly than their counterparts from previous decades, and are less likely to take part in activities, such as driving and working, typically undertaken by adults, according to a study.
The study examined how often teens in recent years (compared to teens in previous decades) engaged in adult activities such as drinking alcohol, working, driving, or having sex.
It found that today’s adolescents are less likely than their predecessors to take part in activities typically undertaken by adults.
“The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they used to," said Jean M Twenge, professor at San Diego State University in the US.
The researchers examined how often teenagers engaged in activities that adults do and that children do not, including dating, working for pay, going out without parents, driving, and having sex. They analysed seven large surveys of 8.3 million 13- to 19-year-olds between 1976 and 2016.
The surveys were nationally representative, reflecting the population of US teens in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geographic region. In the surveys, teens were asked how they used their time, including their engagement in one or more adult activities, allowing researchers to compare teens in the 2010s to teens in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s.
The researchers also examined how changes in family size, life expectancy, education, and the economy may have influenced the speed at which teens take on adult activities.
The study found that adolescents in the 2010s are less likely to work for pay, drive, date, drink alcohol, go out without their parents, and have sex than adolescents in previous decades.
The trend toward engaging in fewer adult activities cannot be explained by time spent on homework or extracurricular activities, because time doing those activities decreased among eighth and tenth graders and was steady among twelfth graders and college students.
Researchers note that the decline may be linked to the time teens spend online, which increased markedly. The context also mattered, with teens less likely to engage in adult activities during time periods in which milestones in life occurred later, including when people had longer life expectancies, women gave birth at later ages, and people completed education later.
Adult activities were also less common during time periods when families had fewer children and higher median income, and when fewer people died of communicable diseases.
“Our study suggests that teens today are taking longer to embrace both adult responsibilities (such as driving and working) and adult pleasures (such as sex and alcohol)," said Heejung Park, assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College, who coauthored the study published in the journal Child Development.