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Some surprising trends: The Youth of Today

(Photo: DesignPics)

RECENT STUDIES of young people in rich countries show youth are actually better behaved and less hedonistic today than teens were two decades ago. They use less tobacco, alcohol and hard drugs (marijuana use is still high) and are initiating sex at a later age. Juvenile crime is down and boys report that they find it easier to talk with their fathers. Yet today’s teens, with all their social media savvy, are lonelier than ever.

School surveys by the OECD*, a club of mostly rich countries, found that 15-year-olds are anxious and unhappy and are finding it harder to make friends.

The Jan. 13th edition of The Economist reported on these findings. Here is a sampling:

The average age at which Australians first try alcohol has risen from 14.4 to 16.1 since 1998.

In Britain a fifth of the 16- to 24-year-olds do not drink at all.

In Western Europe, the proportion of 15-16-year-olds who have tried cigarettes has been falling since 1999. 

In Sweden, the proportion of complete abstainers from anything mind-altering (including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, inhalants and sedatives) rose from 11% to 31%.

In America, all illicit drugs except marijuana have become less popular. The decline in teenage opioid use is especially steep. 

Juvenile crime has dropped across Europe. In 2007 the number of juvenile convicts in England and Wales was almost three thousand; by 2016 the number was below one thousand. 

Teens are also less sexually active. In 1991, 54% of American teens in grades nine to 12 (ages 14-18) reported that they were sexually experienced. In 2015 the proportion dropped to 41%. (The number of sexual partners also dropped significantly.)

But not all the news is good.

Paid work is down. In 2016 just 43% of American 16-19-year-olds were working in July, during summer holidays – down from 65% two decades earlier. (Conversely -- and this might be good -- there has been a rise in summer studying.)

Some teens are using social media as an alternative to face-to-face relationships. This can alter their perception of reality. After all, online “everyone else is always happy, good-looking and at a party.”

The OECD’s PISA surveys show that the share of 15-year-olds who say they make friends easily at school has dropped in almost every country.

The Economist makes some interesting observations on why these changes have occurred and what (if anything) should be done about them. It is well worth reading their editorial “Teens and screens” on p. 14 and the article “Youth of Today” on p. 53 from which these statistics have been drawn.   TAP

*The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a group of 34 member countries that discuss and develop economic and social policy. OECD members (Canada is one) are democratic countries that support free market economies.

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