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Teens and Adulting

Jane Ott, Senior Vice President

The Journal of Child Development recently released a study showing that modern teens are exhibiting a slower developmental path in adopting adult behaviors like dating, alcohol use, working for pay, and driving.  These phenomena have been evolving gradually, even before today’s ubiquitous access to information through technology, and across parenting styles.

So what’s going on?  Are parents doing a better job at raising responsible teens?  Is technology delaying behaviors teens historically chomp at the bit to reach (e.g., using Uber instead of driving)?  Are teens just too busy to have time for anything other than their activities and homework?  Or, are today’s teens’ choices and behaviors a result of being raised with comfortable lifestyles and immediate access to information?  The study’s authors argue the latter.

They suggest that there has been a fundamental change in the social and cultural atmosphere of U.S. teens’ childhoods. Overall (across ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and geographies), their childhoods reflect a “slow life strategy.”  From an evolutionary perspective, this represents a less urgent need to undertake adult-like behaviors to sustain the succession of their gene pool.

In contrast, a “fast life strategy” is one in which life expectancy is lower, higher education is less prevalent, and fewer resources are available.  In those times, the focus becomes survival; so teens and young adults are more likely to have a need to act on adult behavior sooner (like driving oneself, getting married, and working outside the home).

Don’t get us wrong, teens are still engaging in these “proto-adult” activities, but the number of teens doing so has dropped off considerably over time (first identified in 2000).  And, their childhood milieu generally reflects a population with higher levels of education, smaller families, and fewer stresses on resources than those of previous generations.  As a result, there is less of a drive to act on these adult behaviors because there is less of a need to grow up “now,” now. 

Here at YouthBeat®, we see that despite these broad cultural trends, teens’ lives aren’t completely carefree.  Their top three most common fears aren’t about friendships, appearances, or social lives; they are weightier ones about their loved ones and their ability to thrive:

  • Being a failure
  • Family member dying
  • Not getting into a good school

Our POV: Give teens a break! They are worried about moving forward in life and need to know that adults are looking out for them and paving the way.  How can your brand be reassuring for teens building their life plans?

Source: YouthBeat® Total Year 2016