As I get older, it seems that more and more of the conversations that I have begin with “these kids today” and go on into some diatribe about how today’s youth are so much worse than the youth of yesterday. They haven’t been raised right, they’re disrespectful, some people even call them a lost generation. It seems that for the most part, today’s teens are getting a pretty bad rap with those older than them.
But do they deserve it? Many of our ideas about the teens of the new generation aren’t grounded in fact. In reality, the teens of today aren’t doing so bad in a lot of ways, and in many ways may be doing better than a lot of the generations that preceded theirs. Here are a few things to think about before the next time you begin a sentence with “back in my day”...”.
Myth #1: Teen pregnancy is on the rise. To hear a lot of people tell it, “these kids today” are getting knocked up left and right, making pregnancy pacts, and trying to emulate the life they see on shows like Teen Mom.
Fact: Teen birth rates are at the lowest they’ve been since 1946. The rate of teens having babies is at historic lows for teens across all ethnic groups, 36 percent lower than the year with the highest teen births on record. What is that year you ask? 1970. That means that despite what they say, a lot of folks born in the 1950s were getting busy with a whole lot more than homework. And speaking of getting busy”...
Myth #2: Kids are having sex younger and younger. With all the sexual content they’re exposed to in the media and with things like sexting making headlines, it would seem that sex would be a requirement among today’s youth.
Fact: Nearly 70 percent of teens ages 15-17 report that they have never had sexual intercourse. More than half of boys and girls in the same age group have had no sexual contact of any kind. In fact, the number of sexually active teens has continued to fall steadily since 1988. Experts aren’t sure of all of the reasons for the decline but believe that a poor economy, well-rounded sex education programs, and teens being busier over all has led teens to be less interested in sex than previous generations. The internet, which all of us parents fear, may be also partially to blame. The technology obsession, especially among teen boys who are more likely to get hooked on video games, may be one reason that teens are spending less time face-to-face and getting involved in sexual activity. There may be a good reason to let your kids sign on to Facebook after all!
Myth #3: They’re lost: dying, killing each other, in jail, or doing nothing with their lives.
Fact: It is true that the leading cause of death for Black males 18-24 is homicide, a fact that cannot be ignored. But even if we were to combine all of the causes often cited as evidence of Black male genocide including murder and AIDS, the number of young Black men that will die of one of these causes in that age group is far less than one percent, and not cause to believe that we are losing an entire generation of young men.
Despite the often cited untrue stat that there are more Black men in prison than in college, African-American youth are interested in education. Black college enrollment increased from 44 percent in 1980 to 56 percent in 2007. Teens today are also much less interested experimenting with illegal drugs and alcohol today than in any generation before them.
Are they perfect? Absolutely not. But are the worst thing to happen in history because they wear tight, saggy pants and like Lil Wayne and Nikki Minaj? Well maybe you didn’t do the same. Maybe you had you had on baggy pants and liked LiL Kim and Biggie, or rocked a hi-top fade or wore an afro and bell bottoms and listened to Parliament. But whatever was going on when you were a teen, your generation was listening to music, wearing clothes and doing things that the older generation didn’t like or understand.
They definitely need our guidance. But much in the same way we have to highlight positive marriages despite all of the attention given to the negative, we have to pay a lot more attention to what our kids are doing right instead of only talking about them when they’re acting up so that we can say “Back in my day.” Back in my day kids were exactly what they are now. Kids. And if we grown-ups started treating them like it we may all be a lot better off.