Mar 5, 2019

Drugs, sex and alcohol are losing their appeal for American teens

Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios. Survey Questions: 1. Ever drank alcohol
(at least 1 drink of alcohol, on at least 1 day during their life); 2. Ever had sexual intercourse; 3. Ever tried cigarette smoking (even one or two puffs); 4. Were offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property

Teens in American high schools aren't drinking, dealing drugs or having sex nearly as much as their parents' generation.

Why it matters: Teen angst looks a lot different today than it did in the '90s — in some cases for the better. Smaller family sizes, the internet boom and a spike in youth anxiety have all played a role, according to researchers.

  • American parents are generally spending more of their attention on fewer kids, and there is a growing expectation that kids attend college. This closer parental monitoring and high standards for securing a spot at a top university gives less room for the typical risky behavior of the past, according to a new study by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.
  • Technology also likely plays a role, although the trends began before the popularization of the internet. Smartphones have shifted social interactions online rather than in person. It has also introduced a new perfectionist culture of carefully curated lives viewed through social media, Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the City University of New York, told Axios.
  • But the trends are also likely a product of teenagers' high levels of anxiety — which result in less risk-taking, Dennis-Tiwary said.
  • Studies, surveys and psychologists have found this extreme anxiety stems from pressures to perform academically, uncertain financial futures, impending climate change, publicized mass shootings and pressure to craft a perfect image on social media.
"We put young kids, young teens and young adults in this existential crisis of uncertainty. That's the world we've thrown them into. And then we ask them, why are you so anxious? And why aren't you doing more drugs and drinking more and having sex?"
— Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

The big picture: We're living longer, and young people are growing up more slowly these days. They're delaying the responsible things, too: driving, jobs, dating, marriage, babies.

  • "We're really seeing the extension of all the life stages: the extension of childhood, the extension of young adulthood, the extension of middle age and the extension of senior citizens," Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at The Kinsey Institute and chief scientific adviser to Match.com, told Axios last month.

Go deeper

White House announces new coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

The White House announced Sunday that President Trump would suspend entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days in an effort to stop the imported spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Brazil has reported nearly 350,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the second-most in the world behind the U.S. — and has emerged as a Southern Hemisphere hotspot as other heavily-affected countries in Asia and Europe have managed to get their outbreaks under control.

Trumpworld's plan to brand Biden

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

Trump's advisers relish the contrast between his public appearances and Joe Biden's lack thereof. The former vice president, following the guidance of public experts, has eschewed public events and stayed home for months now. Trump, meanwhile, is out and about — masks be damned.

What we're hearing: Watch for plenty more mask-free outings from Trump, hyping the reopening of the economy and avoiding discussions of social distancing and death counts.

Scoop: Inside the secret talks to overhaul the GOP platform

Jared Kushner. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

For the past six months, top Trump campaign officials, reporting to Jared Kushner, have been working on a radical overhaul of the Republican Party platform.

Driving the news: The Trump campaign's Bill Stepien has been leading the process, working with campaign colleagues and the Republican National Committee. As with all significant campaign matters, they've been reporting back to Kushner.