Are today’s teenagers less prepared for adulthood than previous generations?

November 7, 2017 | Posted in: High School, Middle Years

Pick the apples off the ground. Put them in the basket.

Pick the apples off the ground. Put them in the basket.

This was my first job. All…day…long.

As a 13-year-old, a friend and I worked in a Saratoga County, N.Y. orchard picking “drops” in the fall. The farm for which I worked used the apples that fell from trees to press their delicious cider. At the end of the week, we would go to the farmhouse and get a white envelope of cash. Because we were paid by the bushel, we quickly learned the more you picked, the more you made. We also learned what poison ivy looked like – the hard way.

Throughout my teenage years, other after-school and summer jobs followed: more farm work, mowing lawns, a fast food restaurant. This was a normal part of being a teenager for a large majority of kids. Most of my friends had some sort of employment before they graduated from high school. For millions of American teenagers who have lived in the last five or six decades, driving was both freedom and a chicken and egg argument. You needed an after-school or summer job to buy and put gas in a car, but you needed a car to get to your after-school or summer job.

These jobs taught teenagers how to count money; how to interact with customers; how to solve problems; how to work on a team; how to lead; and how to follow.

However, as America’s famous and most recent Nobel Laureate penned, “the times, they are a changin’.”

According to the Monitoring the Future study published in the academic journal Child Development in September, there are big shifts occurring in the lives of American teenagers. Today’s teenagers are about three years behind their 1970s peers in a variety of “adult activities,” including working for pay and driving. Here is a news report on the study.

While about 75 percent of teens throughout the 1970s and 1990s had worked for pay, by the 2010s, only 55 percent had, according to the research. The study also found teens are driving less, having less sex and are less likely to try alcohol.

Some of the key findings of the survey as presented by USA Today:

Among younger teens surveyed in 2010-2016, compared to those surveyed in the early 1990s:

• 29 percent of 9th graders had sex, down from 38 percent.

• 29 percent of 8th graders drank alcohol, down from 56 percent.

• 32 percent of 8th graders had worked for pay, down from 63 percent

Among high school seniors, from the 1970s to today:

• 67 percent drank, down from 93 percent.

• 55 percent had employment, down from 76 percent.

• 73 percent had drivers’ licenses, down from 88 percent.

• 63 percent dated, down from 86 percent.

• 62 percent had had sex, down from 68 percent in the early 1990s.

Another recent article is from Jean M. Twenge, who is one of the researchers involved with the Monitoring the Future study. She presents the idea the introduction of the iPhone corresponds with an increase in depression among teens, and that technology and social media are among the forces behind the decline of “adult” activities. But some of the trends clearly began before the iPhone introduction in 2007. Theories include that that the modern teen is involved in more extracurricular activities or focused more on academics, rather than taking on an after-school or summer job.

Whatever the causes may be, there is mounting evidence – both factual and anecdotal – that today’s teenagers are less prepared for adulthood than previous generations.

It’s almost cliché for folks to point out generational differences and claim some sort of superiority. When I think about generational differences, I sometimes feel like the old codger who would say, “You kids have it too easy. Back in my day, we would have to walk 187 miles to school in a blizzard!”

As the father of a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old, I am hoping my children’s teenage years take their time getting here. While some of the findings sound like pretty good news – less drinking and less sex – others are more concerning to me. I want my children to be successful when they reach adulthood.

What has the impact of these trends really been on teenagers as they enter their adult lives? Are today’s teens prepared to enter an adult world where employers are a generation or two above them?

Denise Pallozzi is the Career Development and Occupational Studies Coordinator at Capital Region BOCES and helps guide how students are educated.

BOCES frequently consults with regional businesses and industries in order to gauge what technical skills students need in today’s workplaces. Pallozzi said soft skills are also a huge focus and confirmed there have been some big declines in this area among teenagers in recent years.

Employers have said young prospective employees often lack workplace communications skills; the ability to work on a team, articulate thoughts and follow instructions; and leadership skills.

She did not hesitate to place a part of the blame on smart phones.

“Our children today do lack many of those soft skills because of the advent of the smart phone,” Pallozzi said.

Teens are spending more time communicating on smart phones than in person, according to Pallozzi said. That communication looks very different than what one would see in a business e-mail .

“Communications skills have been depleted, their grammar is incorrect, spelling is all but non-existent and the ability to construct meaningful and rich dialogue is all but gone,” Pallozzi said. “It’s really a problem. Trying to break students from that in order to make them workplace ready is a challenge. The workplace has yet to adopt the kinds of technologies and communications methods our children are using.”

But it isn’t just the technical aspects of communications that might be a concern.

“The smart phone has also impeded a student’s ability to develop the social skills that are needed in the workforce,” Pallozzi said. “It’s very easy to insult, chastise or criticize a person electronically versus in person.”

That ability has bred a “cavalier” attitude among many teens that doesn’t translate well into the face-to-face environment of the workplace, according to Pallozzi

“That cavalier attitude is now put into practice verbally and that does not work,” she said.

It’s not just workplace relationships that concern Pallozzi. It is also personal relationships that suffer from a lack of face-to-face communication, she said.

“Relationships have become digital. They lack the depth and the meaning,” she said. “An emoji is not the same as a hug.”

But is the answer limiting a teen’s access to smart phones?

Something tells me that would fail miserably.  But finding ways to help our children hone necessary soft skills could help ensure their success.

Pallozzi said that is a big focus at Capital Region BOCES and is even formally incorporated into student programming.

“Here at the Capital Region BOCES Career and Technical School, we focus on the education of soft skills to such a degree we measure it with an employability profile,” Pallozzi said.

The method was created in partnership with businesses and industries in the region in order to ensure that what is being taught is relevant and needed. The employability profile gauges soft skills regularly over a two-year-period, which allows teachers to measure growth.

By measuring growth, teachers can focus on where students may need to improve.

As I look ahead to my children growing into their teenage years, I have to wonder if I should ship them off to an apple orchard for some life experiences. If they go, I’ll be sure to send a photo of poison ivy to their smart phones, just in case.

Jake Palmateer is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. He is the father of a 7-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their adventures include camping, hiking, metal detecting, painting, stargazing, reading, fishing, soccer, mowing the lawn and baking cupcakes.

Tags: , ,