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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

Educators face fines, harassment over critical race theory

People talk before the start of a rally against critical race theory being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Va. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Elementary school teachers, administrators and college professors are facing fines, physical threats, and fear of firing because of an organized push from the right to remove classroom discussions of systemic racism.

Why it matters: Moves to ban critical race theory are raising free speech concerns amid an absence of consistent parameters about what teachings are in or out of bounds.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

1 dead after pickup truck hits Pride spectators in Florida

Police investigate the scene where a pickup truck drove into a crowd of people at a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Saturday. Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

A driver in a pickup truck hit spectators at a Pride festival in Wilton Manors, Florida, killing a man and leaving another person hospitalized Saturday, authorities said.

Details: Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told reporters police had "apprehended the driver" and that the vehicle missed a parade car carrying Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) "by inches."

Updated 11 hours ago - Sports

Uganda Olympic team member tests positive for COVID in Tokyo

The Uganda National boxing team's Catherine Nanziri (L) and others arrive for check-in at Entebbe international airport in Wakiso, Uganda on Friday, ahead of their departure to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Photo: Badru Katumba/AFP via Getty Images

A Uganda Olympic team member tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Japan late Saturday, officials said.

Why it matters: Japan's government has faced criticism for vowing to host the Tokyo Games next month as coronavirus cases rise. The Ugandan team is the second to arrive in Japan after the Australian women's softball players, and this is the first COVID-19 infection detected among the Olympic athletes, Al Jazeera notes.