There Is a Decrease in Teen ‘Rites of Passage’

by Peter Niverth ‘18

A recent study on teenage behavior points out a steady decline in the number of teenagers who have their driver’s license, go on dates, work for pay, or have tried alcohol. These activities long have been regarded as a “rite of passage” into adulthood that was expected of teenagers. However, this does not appear to be the case anymore.

Since 1976, the number of teens who have admitted to these activities has plummeted in the last 40 years. In 2016, 71.67 percent of those surveyed said that they have a driver’s license, a major fall from the 86.93 percent in 1976. Those who go on dates, work for pay, and have tried alcohol have also seen a drop in percentages, of 28.24, 16.36 and 21.8 percent, respectively.

The causes for such trends in the data is up for debate. The leading explanations is simply that teens do not have any interest in the activities, such as driving and dating.

According to an evolutionary-psychological theory, a person’s “life strategy” speeds up or slows down in conjunction with their surroundings. When in safer, more secure environments, teens tend to develop slower over time. However, in harsher surroundings, the opposite is true: teens develop much faster.

In the past few decades, parents and even legislators have become more restrictive on what teens can and can’t do, resulting in “safer” environments that slow a child’s development into adulthood.

For example, in the 1970s the legal drinking age was 18 years old, and since 1984 it has been 21 years old. The stricter regulations make it less likely for teens to drink, date, work and even drive.

The reasons for this decline in percentages could also be explained by the increased social pressure to go to high school, then college, then graduate school and come out with a high paying job.

With the added pressures to succeed, high school students can’t afford to worry about doing anything except how to build resumes and work experience.

However, this does not imply an increase in school work load, as since 1976, homework has remained at the same level, even declining slightly.

Adolescents have also demonstrated a constantly growing fear of the consequences that reckless behavior can bring. Many teenagers see the world as serious and complicated. They do not feel the urge to rush out into the real world anymore. It is far more preferable to stay at home with friends, where they do not have any heavy consequences for their actions.