today's teens

State Of The Youth: Are Today’s Teenagers Alright?

In a world that faces an uncertain future saddled with big issues like climate change and accelerating technology, it’s okay to be scared for the kids that may quite literally be taking on the heat of their ancestors and running what’s left of the world.

While teens will be teens, angsty and impulsive and awkward, no matter what the age or location, there some things set apart today’s youth, for better or for worse.

1. Worse at math

teenagers today

A recent study surveying 28,000 15-year-olds from 18 countries on financial literacy turned out disappointing for American teens, who ranked between eighth and 12th on various levels.

Similarly, a 2009 study found that the amount of 14-year-olds with advanced understanding of math decreased since 1970, while those with poor math skills doubled.

What it means: Today’s financial world is more complex than it was for previous generations, due to a new and more difficult economic landscape. This complexity may help explain low scores, but is also evidence of why personal finance should be prioritized.

2. Today’s Teens are driving less

teenagers today

Several 2013 studies confirmed that less teenagers are driving than the generation prior, with some not getting licenses at all. Just over half of today’s teens drive, compared to over 70% in 1983.

What it means: There are several theories on this decline, and the answer is likely a combination of these. Many young people are not able to afford cars, are embracing environmentally friendly alternatives, or are satisfied to live more virtually.

It also could be they’re just procrastinating the experience. But with self-driving cars just around the corner, this may not matter quite as much down the line.

3. Not working summer jobs

teneagers today

Part of the reason today’s teens can’t afford cars is this: they aren’t working as much, either, with working 16-19-year-olds at just 40%, as opposed to a majority in 1989.

Part of this is that the job market isn’t great for young people, and employers choose to hire older workers. Increasing pressures of school may also mean teens are choosing (or being forced) to prioritize education by attending summer classes.

There’s also the damning fact that more and more kids just don’t want jobs.

What it means: Many teens may be missing out on important work experience. Since high school job experience has been shown to boost future income by 20 – 25%, this could be problematic for some.

4. Teenagers today are not reading as much


In spite of some excellent Young Adult hit sagas, reading rates have dropped among young people as well: only 33% of 13-year-olds and 45% of 17-year-olds reported reading for pleasure just once or twice a year.

About three times as many teens (22% for age 13, 27% for age 17) reported “never” or “hardly ever” reading than teens in 1984. Not to mention, text-speak has been correlated with worsened grammar among adolescents.

What it means: Likely, other forms of entertainment — especially digital entertainment like video games, TV, mobile, and Internet — are replacing books for young people. On the plus side, this variety has made teens better at multitasking.

On the downside, adolescent brains aren’t wired for concentration, and too much screen time can lead to distraction and “extended adolescence.”

5. Better health; desire for wealth

today's teens

Lastly, today’s generation of teens have been heralded as the most well-behaved generation to date: the rates of teen pregnancy, unprotected sex, and drug and alcohol use are lower than ever before.

They’re also exercising more — though that may be less about “good behavior” than an increase in narcissism (today’s teens value status more than the Boomers, but are less willing to work for it).

What it means: Growing up in a world of easy-access information means teenagers today are more health-conscious than generations past. But this awareness when applied to media influence may be a double-edged sword, encouraging materialistic values.

The takeaway: Yes, the kids are (probably) alright. They were made by and for a changing world, and worry as we may, will progress to adulthood as capable humans — just like the rest of us, but with a different set of challenges to face.

Updated. Cover photo courtesy of ClickFlashPhotos via Flickr modified by Curiousmatic.

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Jennifer Markert