Curmudgeons have no trouble deriding today’s teenagers. But as the recent high school graduation coverage in this newspaper’s Voice sections has demonstrated, many of them are too busy to listen.
The accomplishments left us exhausted. Immigrants overcoming daunting obstacles to excel. Students thriving in music, writing, technology, science and philanthropy. If the cynics took a break and thought about their own childhoods, they’d be properly humbled.
Furthermore, today’s teens are better behaved as a whole than the generations judging them. What’s missing from superficial critiques that target clothes, music and video games is how much trouble teenagers used to get into. Comparatively speaking, previous generations committed more murder and mayhem, had more unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and were more apt to drink, smoke and use illegal drugs.
On those measures, today’s teens rule, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sarah Kliff of Vox Media culled teen-related stats from a massive CDC report released last week and produced some very revealing charts. Some examples:
• The birthrate for teens (ages 15 to 19) is 29.4 per 1,000 women. In 1990, it was 60. In 1960, it was 89.1. The abortion rate has also declined. If today’s teens want to know more about those issues, they can ask their parents and grandparents.
• Today’s teens are more apt to be smarter and safer about sex. More than 30 percent of them use birth control. In 1982, 24 percent did so. It was much lower in the 1950s and 1960s, which is reflected in the higher number of unwanted pregnancies.
• High school seniors today don’t measure up to their partying parents. They drink less, smoke less and don’t turn to illegal drugs as often. Cocaine use is relatively rare. In 1980, 72 percent of high school seniors regularly consumed alcohol. In 2010, it was just over 40 percent.
• Young people are also exercising more. The CDC didn’t break out that data for teens, but the 18- to 24-year-old group is doing a better job of meeting the federal exercise guideline (an hour a day, three times per week) than previous teens. In 2012, it was 29.7 percent. In 1998, it was 18.9 percent.
Young people also aren’t as violent as previous generations, according to a separate CDC report. Violent crime is down across the board, and it’s also true of young people. In 1995, males 10 to 24 years old were arrested at a rate of 851 per 100,000 population. Sixteen years later, that rate was cut in half.
The reasons for the positive trends could stem from many developments: smarter criminal justice measures, better sex education, and improved parenting from mothers and fathers who counsel “Do as we say, not as we did.”
Whatever the reasons, the trend is undeniable and encouraging.
So the next time you hear a grumbler drone on about “kids today,” ask him or her one simple question: Compared to when?