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Is 18 the New 15?


By Gregory J. Skibinski LCPC,CSAT,CMAT

Is 18 the New 15?  

By Gregory J. Skibinski LCPC,CSAT,CMATRecent research and studies indicate that in terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did. Being a teen today isn’t what it used to be. Adolescents in the 2010’s were less likely to drink alcohol, date, go out without their parents, seek their driver’s license, and have sex than teens in every prior generation beginning in the 1970s. Fewer of them want to drive or get a job, and they likely prefer to stay in their rooms and Facetime or Snapchat with their friends.

This recently published research suggests that this is not caused by kids having more homework, or more extracurricular activities, but instead points to the time period after 2010 when dramatic shifts in behavior occurred. Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and lead author on the study, suggests that 2012 was the year that the proportion of Americans who owned smartphones surpassed 50 percent. Her research points to the “iGen” generation, those born between 1995 and 2012, as the generation that became shaped by the smartphone and the rise of social media. This iGen group has grown up with smartphones, has Instagram accounts before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.

The Millennials, those between the ages of 18 to 34, grew up with the internet as well, but it wasn’t as ever-present in their daily lives, or accessible within the palm of their hand at all times of day or night. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone. Twenge suggests that the arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. Furthermore, these changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens who are poor or rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smart phones.

Twenge’s research also points out that today’s teens are physically safer than ever before and they are more comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party. Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were. Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe the iGen generation as being on the brink of the worst mental health crisis the country has ever seen. Much of the deterioration can be traced to their phones. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives and making them extremely unhappy.

Today’s teens are less likely to date. In 2015, only 56 percent of High School seniors went on dates. This is down from those of Generation X, those who were born between 1961 to 1980. For them it was about 85 percent. The communication choice for the iGen is to text rather than to have a real face-to-face actual conversation.

The declining percentage rates in dating has led to declining percentage in sexual activity which has been cut by almost 40 percent since 1991. The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak in 1991. The average teen now has had sex for the first time by the spring, of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Generation X’er. However, I would argue that with the smartphone and internet capability that there would also be an increase in online pornography and masturbation. The lure of online pornography and its accessibility has created its own set of problems, but that is a future topic for another article.

Even driving has lost its appeal for today’s teens. What was once a symbol of freedom is now often something that parents need to nag them into because parents are tired of being chauffeurs. It was once cool to be able to drive over to a friend’s house to hang out, but today it’s much easier to head off to their bedroom and Skype, Facetime, or Snapchat on their laptop or smartphone. They simply don’t need to leave home to spend time with friends; their social life is on their phone.

Next month: Screenagers and happiness

If you missed the first article in this series, you may read it online, or contact Cheryl at 309-664-2524

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Agape Counseling at 309-663-2229. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologist,s and support staff committed to a therapeutic process which ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway, (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit them online at