Whether you have a 4-day-old child or a 4-year-old child, you’ve probably spent a little time speculating about the future teen years. I mean, we all were teens at one point, so we know what it’s like (shudder). If you have a teenager and are in the midst of this hell, you might be tearing your hair out wondering what you’ve done to deserve being tortured in this way. But then those memories of your own teen years — when you were too cool to talk with, listen to, or be seen with your parents — come rushing back, so you grab a fork for that humble pie you’re eating.
I’m in the middle of the teen years with my oldest son right now, and I’m not ashamed to admit that this has been the hardest part of parenting for me so far. I get asked by friends who are on the cusp of having teenagers how the hell I am dealing; they can sense the mood swings and smell the rebellion. Folks, this shit is hard.
The only advice I have to offer is to take it one day at a time, be open, nurture them, support them, believe in them. Let them feel they can come to you with questions and concerns about drugs, sex, school, and friendships. Easier said than done though, right?
We want our kids to have as many opportunities as possible when they are little, and that feeling continues and grows stronger in the teen years. While previous generations think we are doing too much for our young adults by “spoiling them” or “giving them too many handouts,” there is good news about today’s teens. The journal of Child Development just published a study showing teens are waiting longer to have sex, date, and engage in drinking than the generations before them did, with the sharpest decline happening in the past decade. Parents of teens and future teens, take heart: It turns out we must be doing something right.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate the number of high school students who were sexually active dropped from 54% in 1991 to 41% in 2015. The study also indicated that dating among high-schoolers decreased from 86% in 1979 to 63% in 2015. Drinking also took a nosedive — 93% of adolescence had tried alcohol in 1979, but only 67% had experimented from 2010 to 2015. Even though that number is still over half the teen population, a 26% decrease is pretty darn impressive.
While there are a few factors at play here, Jean Twenge, the lead author of the study, says the big picture is teens no longer are in such a rush to get out on their own, drive, get a job, and start a family because our focus has changed. We are showing our adolescents the importance of a good education, and they are taking their academics and extracurricular activities seriously, which makes them want to wait to engage in these adult activities. Turns out, there is something to be said for letting our kids be kids.
In past decades, adolescents were expected to grow up faster and fend for themselves which can lead to faster development. There are more resources available for our kids today, and they are taking advantage of that which might be why they aren’t feeling such a strong urge to start dating, driving, and working at a young age.
Twinge goes on to say, “Even in families whose parents didn’t have a college education…families are smaller, and the idea that children need to be carefully nurtured has really sunk in.”
In an article for the Washington Post, Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, says teens take their futures very seriously. “They come in without the kind of reckless disregard of consequence that a more confident generation of kids had, who said, ‘I’ll drop out of school and join the peace movement — what the hell?’” she says.
So while some may say we are “spoiling” our youth, giving them too many opportunities, and they are too dependent on their parents for too long, the proof is there: More nurturing equals a more enriched life without feeling the pressure to grow up too fast and engaging less in dangerous, unhealthy activities.
And if you ask me, that’s a win for parents, our children, and our future.