Addressing the elephant in the room

Teenagers are better behaved today but lonelier and more isolated, why is that?

behaving better

Teenagers and especially ones from more affluent countries are behaving better but are also more lonely and isolated. This is a trend across the globe from the United States to South Korea teenagers are getting into less trouble than the generations before them.

According to the Economist even though teens have much more on their minds such as college, career choices as well as if there will even be a job for them with robots taking over many jobs. Even with these concerns they are behaving better but perhaps lacking some of the fun of past generations.

Teens are getting drunk less, starting drinking later and sipping rather than chugging. Pubs and nightclubs are decreasing by the thousands because of the reduced number of young adults frequenting them.

behaving better

They are doing less drugs than past generations. A rising proportion of teenagers have never tried anything mind-altering, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, inhalants and sedatives. The proportion of complete abstainers rose from 11% to 31% in Sweden between 2003 and 2015, and from 23% to an astounding 61% in Iceland. In America all illicit drugs with the exception of marijuana (which is not illegal in other countries) are in decline. Thankfully so is opioid.

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Fighting and bullying are in decline and teens are having less sex. In 1991, 54% of American teenagers in grades nine to 12 (ages 14-18) reported that they were sexually experienced, and 19% claimed to have had sex with at least four partners. In 2015 those proportions were 41% and 12%. America’s teenage birth rate crashed by two-thirds during the same period.

One possible explanation for teens behaving better could be a closer bond with their parents. In 28 out of 34 rich countries surveyed by the World Health Organisation, the proportion of 15-year-old boys who said they found it easy to talk to their fathers rose between 2001-02 and 2013-14. Girls found it easier to talk to their fathers in 29 out of 34 countries. The trend for mothers is similar but less strong

Another possibility is the teens increased attention to their school work as more teens believe college is in their future.


Lastly technology has probably led to teens behaving better. By their own account, 15-year-olds in OECD countries spent 146 minutes a day online on weeknights in 2015, up from 105 minutes in 2012. Chileans lead the rich world, putting in an average of 195 minutes on weekdays and 230 minutes on weekend days.

behaving better

This is how my generation carried our tunes

This is where the problem lays with the teens today. Even though they are behaving better, smoking less, having less sex, doing less drugs, they are lonely and isolated. They have trouble making and keeping friends. They talk less and play more video games. In past generations you had to have a TV in your room to get away. If parents did not provide a TV you had to watch it with the family. Or go hang out with your friends. Now if you want to watch different TV than your family you can just go to your room and stream it on your smartphone.

Technology is a great thing. It has advanced so quickly we have so much power on a phone or Ipad, more than a room full of computers 20-30 years ago. But they have led to more lonely and isolated people. Probably not just teenagers. We have hundreds if not thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers. But think today how many friends and followers you have that would be there for you if you had a problem. Maybe teens and adults should spend less time on their phone and more time building real relationships.

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