You may know that young people have been committing violent crime at lower and lower rates since the early 1990s, and that the same is true for property crimes. Illegal drug use is down since the late '90s, and hardly any young people smoke anymore. And of course promiscuity and pregnancy rates for teenagers and young adults are way down over the same time. Plus, with fewer and fewer young people getting their driver's license, you see less rowdy behavior on the roads. Indeed, the only holdout is binge drinking among college students -- for young people who aren't at college, the rates have been plummeting ever since the drinking age was raised.
Still, those are just numbers. To really believe them for yourself, you'd have to do some fieldwork and see the changes with your own eyes. Going to clubs that are 18+ gives you a decent idea -- for instance, I see fewer people dancing together than I did at my middle school dances -- but they could just be presenting a responsible image when they're in public among strangers. Something like a private house party would be more revealing. As it happens, an undergrad chick friend invited me to a housewarming / costume party last Friday, and I was shocked by how tame it was.
First, the house was located a safe 15 minutes off-campus, and only undergrads lived there -- no landlord, parents, etc. Plus it wasn't any old weekend: it was the Friday before Halloween, and most people were dressed up, which should have heightened the potential for bad behavior. And these people are in the IQ range of about 105 to 115 -- above-average, but not the brainiac type. They weren't nerds, losers, or goody two-shoes at all. Based on their counterparts who I knew as a teenager, I would've expected rampant pot-smoking, sex or make-outs in the closet, and drunken quarrels escalating into a fight.
True to the recent statistics, though, there was some drinking, but no one was falling-over drunk. Zero cigarette smoke. Also, no drugs of any kind -- only a couple of people hinting that they might want to get high. That's it? Just a joking side-comment about maybe doing it? Though I've never done drugs myself, they were common enough when I was a teenager that I recall hanging out with my best friend while he scored some weed on a lazy Friday afternoon, or my suitemates in college pouring into one of their rooms and filling it with pot smoke, again for no special occasion.
No violence or even an escalation toward a fight -- pretty remarkable given how much alcohol lowers your inhibitions. I thought I was going to see a catfight when some slut who'd cheated on one of the homeowner's friends walked in. The girls started talking a lot of shit about her, but all behind her back, never confronting her. That would be typical if it were the locker room, but at a private party where she's the unwelcome outcast and the shit-talkers are buzzed on booze? Quite a bit of restraint.
But the biggest shock was that there wasn't anyone running off to an unoccupied bed to start fucking -- not even to make out! (The complete lack of darkly lit rooms didn't help.) Maybe they were just averse to hooking up with strangers, though, right? Well, there were more than a few couples there, and they weren't getting physical at all either. I mean, not even grind-dancing, kissing, or holding hands. For god's sake, a bunch of 6th-graders playing Seven Minutes in Heaven in 1988 were venturing farther sexually than this group!
One of the earliest memories I have of seeing something somewhat sexual is being at my high school babysitter's house when I was probably 7 or 8. I was glued to the TV playing Legend of Zelda with her brother, when we got distracted by something. Turning over, I saw my babysitter standing with her back to me and her boyfriend holding her, facing us. He pulled up her skirt to show us her ass and said, "See this is how you do it -- you get the left one, then the right one. The left one, the right one," while squeezing each cheek in turn. Her head was turned to one side, and I remember her looking embarrassed, almost like she was ready to cry. Years away from puberty, I could still tell that whatever I was seeing was a big deal. *
And yet I doubt any of the Millennial party-goers I hung out with ever saw anything close to that growing up. Internet porn, American Pie, or Superbad don't count -- it's completely different when it's happening right before your eyes. And with the age of losing your virginity steadily rising, I doubt they even heard about it -- let alone experience it themselves -- while developing.
So don't let all those Facebook albums full of beer pong pictures fool you -- aside from some mild drinking, young people have never been so well behaved and so shielded from the slimy and awkward parts of real life.
* The disappearance of irresponsible young people means that little kids growing up in the 1990s or later didn't have reckless, cute older babysitters to give them their first glimpse of adult world. I recall another high school babysitter bringing over three of her friends, getting buzzed on beer, and acting goofy. (I didn't know what alcohol was at the time, but later I realized that their behavior was due to drinking.) My favorite experience of all, though, was when a college girl babysitter had to -- or maybe just felt like -- returning to campus, and dragged us along with her... at night. Boy was it worth it: she took us to a student dorm, or maybe a sorority house, full of barely legal Buckeyes.
omigooood, who's thiiiiissss???!?!?!
Oh them? They're the kids I'm babysitting.
omigod, they're soooo cuuute!!!
Honey, I hear that all the time -- you'd better come up with a more original pick-up line than that. On a serious note, I think that night triggered my puberty development years earlier than it would have on its own. Once your body senses that female pheromones are above some threshold, it figures that your peers are now going through puberty, so you should be too. But I started liking girls several years before the average boy, and enjoyed my first long French kiss when I was 12 -- maybe all it took was a single night's tour through a college dorm, with nubile babe pheromones flooding my nostrils the whole time. Hey, if you dropped a 9 year-old boy into a gang-infested urban slum, he'd probably grow tougher a lot earlier than if you hadn't. Why shouldn't that work for other aspects of adolescent development?