According to a recent report at the Institute for Family Studies,h”The teen pregnancy rate has reached an all-time low. Fewer teens are drinking alcohol, having sex or working part-time jobs.” The report added, “And as I found in a newly released analysis of seven large surveys, teens are also now less likely to drive, date or go out without their parents than their counterparts 10 or 20 years ago.”
Based on the idea that you can’t necessarily correlate bad habits like underage drinking with rather virtuous ones like hanging out with your parents, the author of the report comes to a seemingly benign conclusion. Kids are simply taking longer to grow up. It’s a simple assertion with some powerful potential to impact culture down the road. The longer kids take to grow up, the longer they take to leave the house, begin careers, and start families.
In some ways, these kids are simply imitating their parents’ behavior. What the author dubs a “slow-life strategy” is the result of parents having fewer children later in life when they’re able to focus more attention and finances on the child’s growth and development. That’s right: Helicopter parents breed cautious children. The trick, according to the author, is not to make them overly cautious lest they never want to leave the house.
The answer to the cultural dilemma isn’t just helicopter parenting itself. If we really want to understand why kids are taking longer to grow up we have to ask ourselves why adulthood seems so unappealing. Not all that long ago kids couldn’t wait for the freedom that came with cars, apartments, and bills to pay on their own. Why are today’s children so ready and willing to pass on the freedom adulthood offers?
Smart technology has given children access to knowledge their young minds aren’t prepared to comprehend. Knowing too much at too young an age can cause unwarranted fear. Parents who hover can reinforce those fears through their constant micro-management of their child’s time. If their child is never allowed to be left alone, but has open access to a 24/7/365 news media that gets clicks through fear, why wouldn’t that child assume he’ll never be safe on his own?
A constant supervisory presence also grants silent permission to children eager to bury their heads in the instant gratification of smart technology. If someone else is always taking care of real-life needs, they can be left to do what feels good: Not paying attention. Who would want to drive a car if that meant putting their phone down? Mom or Dad can drive so I can play with my phone, or watch that movie being projected through the back seat.
The study notes that fewer teens are having sex and drinking alcohol. Good! In some ways, yes and in some ways, no. Both are social activities that require face-to-face interaction with other human beings. Today’s teenagers are most often observed texting in packs. They don’t even speak to the person standing next to them without using their phone to do it. Which raises the question: If teens aren’t drinking and having sex, is it because they know these are age-inappropriate behaviors, or is it because they have yet to create an app to allow you to share a beer with your phone?
Japan is already facing a serious problem with young adults more willing to date avatars than other human beings. Could this study be the first of many pointing to the sad fact that today’s young people are being acculturated to prefer virtual reality over real life?