Dr. Helen

Are Teenagers Happier Than They Were Ten Years Ago?

The Daily Mail has an article that says, “yes,” teens are less likely to drink, smoke or be bullied:

Young teenagers are happier and healthier now than teenagers were a decade ago, a new study said yesterday.

It found that the ‘Facebook generation’ of youngsters are less likely than their predecessors to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or cannabis, or get bullied.

A growing proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds, the study said, engage in behaviour that would make their parents proud. They eat fruit and vegetables, take exercise, clean their teeth, and talk to their mothers and fathers….

Some researchers have pointed to a ‘Facebook effect’ which has led teenagers who would once have spent their spare time on the streets instead to devote it to playing with gadgets in their bedrooms. Widespread public disapproval of smoking, drunkenness, drug abuse and teen mothers is also likely to have influenced teen behaviour.

I wonder if teens are happier now because they spend less time around peers and there are more choices for how to spend one’s free time. Video games, online school and online activities mean that one can find more individualized ways of spending time rather than being around other obnoxious teens and school administrators. The Internet and video games have their pros and cons but they do allow for more individual choice, and a way to find others who are more similar to oneself. Instead of getting in trouble on the streets, teens have other options that are a click away.

In Judith Rich Harris’s book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, she points out that peers have the most important influence on a kid’s behavior. If the Internet lets you choose your peers or gives a teen access to better ones, this would have some influence on happiness and subsequent behavior.

Do you agree that teens today are happier than ten years ago or is this article and study a crock?