By Kyle Smith
July 19, 2014 | 12:28pm
There’s probably never been a time when humanity wasn’t collectively in a torment and uproar about what its young folk were up to. (Gur to Urp, 10,000 B.C.: “Can you believe how short the girls are wearing their bearskins these days?”)
But in contrast with our image of decadent, self-centered, pleasure-craving youth, in many ways today’s youngsters are throwbacks — spurning drugs, crime and disorder, being sexually responsible and making sound choices about education. They might be the least disaffected, least rebellious kids since the Kennedy years. And that might have surprising political implications down the road.
A July 12 Economist piece reviewed some surprising data, finding that (contrary to popular belief) teen drinking and binge drinking have fallen sharply in recent years. The percentage of high-school seniors who have ever taken alcohol, for instance, fell from 80% to 71% from 2000 to 2010. In 1980, that figure was 93%. Asked whether they’d had a drink in the last 30 days, only 41% said yes in 2010. In 2000, it was 50% and in 1980, 72%. Similarly, the teen pregnancy rate is slightly more than half what it was in the mid-1990s, and teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did then.
Violent-crime arrests for people from 10 to 24 are half what they were in 1995 (for males) and down 40% for females. Juvenile incarceration is at its lowest rate since 1975. Teen smoking peaked around 1997 and is now, at an all-time low of 17%, less than half of what it was then. (Pot use is an exception to the trend: 23% of high-school seniors regularly get high. But weed is still less widely used than it was in the 1970s, or even in 1999, when 26.7% reported regular use.)
What’s behind all these surprising numbers? I can’t say, but it’s hard not to notice that a decline in destructive behavior associated with peer pressure has happened at the same moment that the US became a fully wired nation.
Now that broadband access is nearly universal — 78% of homes, and that’s not counting all the schools and library and Wi-Fi hotspot connections available to most kids with minimal effort — restless youth don’t have to go along with whatever the local knuckleheads are up to.
They can find their community of likeminded souls online, and an unintended consequence of their tinkering with YouTube videos or playing “Call of Duty” with a buddy in Mexico City, they’re staying in. As a frustrated barman in England, where pubs have been closing in huge numbers, put it to The Economist, “Kids these days just want to live in their f- – – ing own little worlds in their bedrooms watching Netflix and becoming obese.” That sounds right, but at least no one ever got pregnant from eating Cheetos.
How are young people turning out politically? They’re liberal Democrats . . . who sometimes sound an awful lot like conservative Republicans.
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