I rejoiced at the beginning of the summer when my son got his driver’s license. He was 19.
According to a new study produced by child development expert Jean Twenge in this month’s issue of Child Development, my son is not alone in putting off this important adult activity. This new study surveyed youths aged 13-18 over a period of several decades and found that today’s teenagers are delaying many activities that traditionally signified budding adulthood - but is this really a bad thing?
As a Modern Parenting expert, I’ve worked with many parents who have struggled with the slow pace of their child’s maturity. This can be frustrating for any parent (I know about this frustration first hand!) when they expect their child to participate in traditional coming-of-age activities, such as getting their driver's license and going on their first date; however, according to Twenge’s study, Modern Teens are also putting off unhealthy activities such as drinking, smoking, and having sex until much later.
I’ve got to say that I don’t really have a problem with today’s teens putting off risky behaviors. As a matter of a fact, I kind of encourage it.
The teens that were surveyed also reported going out less with friends because they preferred staying at home and hanging out with Mom and Dad. Twenge speculated that this preference to stay home might have developed because of two reasons: Modern Parents are having fewer children which allow them to put more time and energy into being parents, and the availability of the internet.
It seems that today's teens are enjoying a warm and positive bond while in the family home, which makes them less willing to go outside of the home for entertainment and socialization. In addition, the internet allows today’s teens to develop and maintain social relationships with peers without always engaging in a face-to-face connection.
On a personal note, while my son’s lack of a driver’s license did make me nervous, I did enjoy his preference to stay home and hang out with me. He is a sophomore in college now, so those years of leisurely hanging out together were very special.
On the flip side of this delayed maturity is the fact that many activities that serve to prepare our kids for adulthood are also being put off until much later. For example, today’s teens are putting off getting their first job about 3 years later than previous generations. This could mean that many kids are not prepared to be independent when it comes time to go out of the house, get a job, and provide for themselves.
This new study is an important reminder that Modern Parents need to balance creating a close bond with their kids while also encouraging their independence. This can be done by:
- Making sure kids are encouraged to seek out interests and hobbies that put them into regular contact with peers
- Ensuring teens participate in age-appropriate responsibilities around the home
- Avoiding treating the teen like a friend
- Letting the teen experience some frustrations and disappointments with life so that they can learn to independently pick themselves up during times of hardship.
As a Modern Parent to a 15- and 19-year-old, I know I fall into the trap of wanting to just peacefully enjoy my close relationship with my kids, but, at times, it takes effort to encourage their independence. We need to always keep in mind that we are playing a long-term game with our parenting. The goal is to raise kind, interesting, and motivated young people who are prepared to be grown ups when the time comes.
For more information on Modern Parenting, visit www.ParentingTheModernFamily.com for free Modern Parenting resources.