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In recent decades parents have become more restrictive about independent activities, and laws in some states have codified this, banning children from going out in public or staying home without adult accompaniment.(Legislation has also delayed another adult activity: In the 1970s the legal drinking age was as young as 18 in some states; it is now 21 almost universally.)To Daniel Siegel, an adolescent psychiatrist and author of "Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain," it makes sense that adolescents would "remodel" their brains to adapt to a society that has changed since the 19th century."In a culture that says, 'Okay, you're going to go to high school, go to college, go to graduate school, and then get an internship, and you're not going to really be responsible till your late 20s,' well then the brain will respond accordingly," he said.Whether the changes are positive or negative depends on the reasons for delaying adult activities, Siegel said.The declines appeared across race, geographic, and socioeconomic lines, and in rural, urban, and suburban areas.To be sure, more than half of teens still engage in these activities, but the majorities have slimmed considerably.And the portion who had tried alcohol plummeted from 93 percent between 19 to 67 percent between 20.Teens have also reported a steady decline in sexual activity in recent decades, as the portion of high school students who have had sex fell from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics."People say, 'Oh, it's because teenagers are more responsible, or more lazy, or more boring,' but they're missing the larger trend," said Jean Twenge, lead author of the study, which drew on seven large time-lag surveys of Americans."They come in without the kind of reckless disregard of consequence that a more confident generation of kids had, who said, 'I'll drop out of school and join the peace movement, what the hell.'" With fewer career paths available to those without a college degree, she said, young people can no longer afford that kind of nonchalance."They're absorbing the same kind of anxiety about the future that their parents have for them."Chiara Power, 15, of San Juan Island, Washington, has no interest in dating, driving, working for pay or drinking alcohol - and the rising costs of college keep her up at night."I'm already panicking and having nightmares about the student loans that I'll never escape, and I'm worried that I'm going to end up homeless," she said. "They're just like, 'Dude, that's not happening for the next three years, so chill. But Haskew wonders whether her daughter is missing out on life lessons those behaviors can teach."Is that stuff necessary for human development, do you have to be risk-taking as a teenager in order to succeed as an adult?
In that model a teenage boy might be thinking more seriously about marriage, and driving a car and working for pay would be important for "establishing mate value based on procurement of resources," the study said.If the delay is to make room for creative exploration and forming better social and emotional connections, it is a good thing, he said. Why don't I stay with my friends and away from anything that has heavy consequences, like pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases?But "if it's fear-based, obviously that's a concern."Among teenagers now, "there is a feeling you're getting of, 'Wow, the world is pretty serious, so why would I rush to immerse myself. '"Teenagers are also more conscious now about the possible repercussions of their actions, said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families."They're starting to realize, wow, they really do have to worry about their resumes," she said. There's just so many people saying, 'Oh, it's going to be hard when you get out there.'"Her mother, Penelope Haskew, 45, feels mixed about her daughter's preference for spending free time at home with her family."On the one hand, I know she's safe, she's not out getting pregnant or smoking pot or drinking or doing all kinds of risky stuff that I can imagine would be age appropriate,"she said."Maybe the scary things about being an adult are so much more concrete right now that it's just safer to not become an adult."RELATED STORIES: Why parents should care that porn showed up on Ted Cruz's Twitter page Sleepovers a thing of the past?Virtue-signaling across more traditional social media is nothing new, but OKCupid’s new feature goes beyond fundraising for the organization and giving users a digital bumper sticker.
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Nor could the use of smartphones and the Internet be entirely the cause, the report said, since the decline began before they were widely available.