Kids these days…


The other day I’ve learned a lot about young people from two articles. As many of you know, as an embittered, elderly Gen Xer I like to rib the Millennials and Ys. I do it because I secretly like my many young friends and acquaintances and also because I’m not so secretly fascinated by these new species.

The first article “Today’s teens smoke less, drink less, and have sex less than any teens on record” pretty much says all that, summarising the results of the latest biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Fewer teens have ever had sex and are currently sexually active since the survey was first conducted in 1991 (54.1 percent down to 41.2 per cent, and 37.9 per cent down to 30.1 per cent respectively).
  • Fewer teens are drinking (50.8 per cent down to 32.8 per cent), fewer are smoking cigarettes (27.5 per cent down to 10.8 per cent), and the use of just about every drug is falling.
  • Fewer teens are getting into fights (42.5 per cent down to 22.6 per cent), carrying weapons to school (11.8 per cent in 1993 down to 4.1 per cent) and not wearing seatbelts (18.2 per cent down to 6.1 per cent).

The second article “10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On” lists other things that today’s teens do less of (through contrary to the title, the piece in many instances lumps the Millennials and the Ys together):

  • They consume less Pay TV.
  • They invest less in shares.
  • They drink less mass market beer.
  • They own fewer cars (“Yahoo Finance reports the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds with a driver’s license has plummeted since 1997 and is now below 70% for the first time” since 1963)
  • And homes (“Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that homeownership rate among adults younger than 35 fell by 12 percent between 2006 and 2011, and 2 million more were living with Mom and Dad.”)
  • They shop less at Costco and similar stores.
  • They are getting married at lower rates (“Pew Research found 48% of boomers were married while [between 18 and 32], compared to 35% in Gen X. Millennials are bringing up the rear at just 26%.” The last aforementioned are Ys, not Millennials, contra “Time”)
  • And having – and wanting – fewer children (“In a 2012 study, fewer than half of millennials (42%) said they planned to have children. That’s down from 78% 20 years ago.”)
  • They’re buying less health insurance.
  • And generally less stuff people they know recommend.

Then combine the stats quoted in the two articles with a few other phenomena: widespread despondency (“During the 12 months before the survey, 29.9% of students nationwide had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities”), capture by the screen (less time in front of a TV, but more time in front of a computer or a phone), or growing political apathy.

So what’s the deal with “young people these days”? Why are you so tame and boring? Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that. But…

These trends indicate to me a withdrawal from life and its responsibilities, or at least what the past few generations would consider to be life and its responsibilities, into a sort of a semi-ascetic isolation. It all seems too hard, too expensive, too serious. There is a shellshock from the Great Recession of 2007, which, nine years on, has not yet ended; the opportunities feel more restricted and the optimism of the past is gone. There is almost a sense of being scared of the world.

It does not help that the Ys, and the Millennials even more so, have been brought up on an unhealthy and unrealistic diet of ego boosting and self-esteem inflation. One would have thought that when the most self-confident generation ever is faced with obstacles, these would prove to be merely speedbumps. But self-confidence is not a substitute for competence and resilience, a set of skills that our education systems have been singularly failing to effectively impart on their students for quite some time now.

Teenagers will be teenagers – but today they are both less so and for longer.

I worry about you. Hope you snap out of it.