The Bright Side About Teens

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

It seems that growing up these days is an increasingly dangerous endeavor according to media reports. A few examples of these concerns include; devastating effects of bullying in schools, drug use among teens, increasing prevalence of cyberbullying and sexting, and rising rates of depression among a lonely generation.

Pay attention to the various media headlines long enough and it is easy to surmise that this generation of adolescents is doomed. While these concerns are worthy of attention, they do not tell the whole picture of how adolescents are actually doing. In fact, there are many encouraging trends that indicate that adolescents are doing much better than previous generations.

One of the best known positive trends among adolescents is that the rate of teen pregnancies has been steadily decreasing. In the last 20 years, teen pregnancy has decreased by half. This is cause for celebration as being a teen mother is associated with a host of poor outcomes. These include being less likely to finish high school and more likely to need government benefits.

Another positive trend for adolescents is that they are much less likely to die than in past decades. Fatal car accidents are falling with the fatality rate cut in half in just a decade. The phasing in of the graduated driver’s license program, increased use of seat belts, and decreased drunk driving are likely behind the decrease.

Despite the on-going concerns about teen drug use, those rates have also been falling. Fifty-two percent of high school seniors reported being “substance free” on one survey. This means that they had not smoked, drunk alcohol, or used illegal drugs in the past month. This trend was also found among 8th and 10th graders. Society will greatly benefit as more high school students stay “substance free”.

Another trend to highlight is the decreasing rate of high school dropouts. Nationally, only seven percent of youth between the ages of 16 to 24 are out of school without a diploma. This is almost half the rate from 1990. The increased high school graduation rate has led to more adolescents heading to college. Now 34% of adults between the ages of 25 to 29 have a bachelor’s degree. A highly educated population leads to better economic progress and increased civic engagement.

A couple of other trends to note are the decreased rate of juvenile detentions and fewer teens getting into physical fights. While bullying continues to be a concern, schools have started to intervene which has made our schools safer places than they were in past decades.

All of this indicates that it is a pretty good time to be an adolescent in the United States. While there will always be issues that can be improved upon, our society has already made significant improvements in a number of areas. Occasionally it can be good to look at the efforts we have made and pat ourselves on the back for making a positive difference in many young people’s lives.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on March 15, 2015

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