In No Hurry: Growing Up Slowly

The title of this post is identical to the title of the first chapter in iGEN: “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood” by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. Excerpts from this chapter follow.

iGEN teens are less likely to go out without their parents. Dr. Twenge writes that this trend began with Millennials and then accelerated at a rapid clip with iGen’ers. 12th graders in 2015 are going out less often than 8th graders did as recently as 2009. 18-year-olds are now going out less often than 14-year-olds did just six years prior.

Dr. Twenge writes that iGEN’ers are less likely to do adult things such as going out without their parents and having sex, and whether this trend of growing up more slowly is a good thing or a bad thing. She uses the approach called life history theory to provide insights. Life history theory states that how fast teens grow up depends on where and when they are raised. So developmental speed is an adaptation to a cultural context.

She writes, “Today’s teens follow a slow life strategy, common in times and places where families have fewer children and cultivate each child longer and more intensely. “ Life history theory explicitly notes that slow or fast life strategies are not necessarily good or bad; they just are. Nearly all of the generational shifts in this chapter and the rest appear across different demographic groups. The studies we’re drawing from here are nationally representative, meaning the teens reflect the demographics of the United States. Every group is included. Even within specific groups, the trends consistently appear; they are present in working-class homes as well as upper-middle-class ones, among minorities as well as whites, among girls as well as boys, in big cities, suburbs, and small towns, and all across the country. That means they are not isolated to the white, upper-middle-class teens whom journalists often wring heir hands over. Youths of every racial group, region, and class are growing up more slowly.”

When HM was a teen, one of the major milestones on the way to adulthood was getting a driver’s license. All boomer high school students had their driver’s license by spring of their senior year, by 2015 only 72% did. So more than one out of four iGen’ers did not have a driver’s license by the time they graduated from high school.

Another GenX memory is being a latchkey kid. They walked home from school and used their key to enter an empty house, because parents were still at work.

iGen’ers are also less likely to have jobs. In the late 1970s only 22% of high school seniors didn’t work for pay at all during the school year. By the early 2010s, twice as many (44%) didn’t. The number of 8th graders who work for pay has been cut in half.

With fewer teens one might think that more would get an allowance to buy the things they want. However, fewer iGen’ers get an allowance. When they need money, they just ask for it from their parents. It’s another example of 18-year-olds being like 15-year-olds: just like children and young adolescents, one out of five iGen high school seniors ask they parents for what they want instead of managing their own cash flow.

A positive fact about the iGen’ers is that they are much less likely to drink. This is especially true of binge drinking. However, iGen’ers smoke pot more often than the Millenials that preceded them.

Some have concluded that iGen’ers are more responsible. A 2016 Post article trumpeted that “Today’s Teens are Way Better Behaved than You Were.” Dr. Twenge thinks that it’s more informative to employ the terms of life history theory: ‘teens have adopted a slow life strategy, perhaps due to smaller families and the demands wrought by increasing income inequality. Parents have the time to cultivate each child to succeed in the newly competitive economic environment which might take twenty-one years when it once took sixteen. The cultural shift toward individualism may also play a role: childhood and adolescence are uniquely self-focused stages, so staying in them longer allows more cultivation of he individual self. With fewer children and more time spent with each, each child is noticed and celebrated. Cultural individualism is connected to slower developmental speeds.”

Perhaps this slower pace of development results in the 2014 emergence of he neologism “adulting”, which means taking care of one’s responsibilities. An Adulting School in Maine offers classes for young adults teaching the how to perform tasks such as managing finances and folding laundry.

Dr. Twenge ends this chapter as follows: “No matter what the reason. teens are growing up more slowly, eschewing adult activities until they are older. This creates a logical question” If teens are working less, spending less time on homework, going out less, and drinking less, what are they doing? For a generation called iGen, the answer is obvious: look no further than the smartphones in their hands.”

To which we turn in the next post.

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