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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

Updated 1 hour ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

The latest: The United Kingdom's Foreign Office announced Monday it was also withdrawing some embassy staff and dependants from Ukraine's capital "in response to the growing threat from Russia," but added the British Embassy would remain open.

Updated 1 hour ago - World

U.K. PM orders inquiry into Muslim lawmaker's discrimination claim

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, England, last week. Photo: Ian Vogler/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office announced Monday that he's ordered an inquiry into allegations from a Conservative Member of Parliament that she was fired from a ministerial job due to her Muslim faith.

Driving the news: Nusrat Ghani told the Sunday Times she was informed by a government whip that she was fired from her position as a junior transport minister in February 2020 after her "Muslimness was raised as an issue" and that her faith made colleagues feel "uncomfortable."

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).