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Teens Are Dating, Driving, Drinking And Having Sex Less Than Their Elders Did

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This generation’s kids are not growing up too fast, after all, a study says.

A team of researchers took a close look at survey answers from 8.3 million teens between the ages of 13 to 19 in the United States, for the past 40 years. From 1976 to 2016, the researchers found that today’s adolescents are less likely to engage in what are considered “adult” activities such as drinking alcohol, dating and having sex, driving a car, getting a job or going out without parents, TIME reports.

In fact, today’s 18-year-olds act more like 15-year-olds from decades past, the study says. This was true across all demographic groups. These findings are consistent with other research that indicates how complicated teenagers are now.

“Some people have written that alcohol use and sexuality are down, so that must mean that teens are more virtuous than they used to be,” Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and led author on the study, said. “Others wrote that they’re less likely to have jobs, so they must be lazy or immature.”

Twenge said,

If you look at the big picture, it’s not that they’re doing more good things or more bad things overall. It’s just that they’re less likely to do all kinds of things that adults do, and there is definitely a trade-off there.

One disadvantage this slow development has is that teens may be unprepared for independence when they go to college, get their first job, or live on their own, Twenge said. But there are many benefits, especially when it comes to health. “When kids don’t grow up before they’re ready, they’re protected from things like alcohol and sex,” Twenge noted.

These findings may help shed light on why the teen birth rate is lower than it has ever been in recent years, or why teenagers are now getting into fewer road accidents, Twenge added. “Teens are safer and healthier than they’ve ever been, and that’s obviously a very good thing.”

The study was published in the journal Child Development.

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