Friday, June 15, 2018

Today's Teenagers: Sex and Drug Use Down, Depression and Suicidal Thoughts Up

From the latest U.S. government survey of high school students:
In 2017, 31 percent of students surveyed said they had feelings of hopelessness, while 28 percent said so in 2007. In 2017, nearly 14 percent of students had actually made a suicide plan, up from 11 percent in 2007. . . .

The report did offer some encouraging trends, suggesting that the overall picture for adolescents is a nuanced one. Compared to a decade ago, fewer students reported having had sex, drinking alcohol or using drugs like cocaine, heroin or marijuana. . . .

Although health disparities still remain among races, some sexual risk behaviors are decreasing across the board. The percentage of white students who’d ever had sex, for example, decreased to 39 percent in 2017 from 44 percent in 2007. Among black students, the rate plummeted to 46 percent from 66 percent in 2007 and, among Hispanic students, decreased to 41 percent from 52 percent.

Overall, the percentage of students who had ever had sex decreased to 39 percent in 2017 from 48 percent in 2007.

The percentage of students who had experienced sexual dating violence declined to 7 percent in 2017 from 10 percent in 2013.
Overall in our world we are safer than ever, but more anxious than ever; we are richer than ever, but no more satisfied with our lives; we have vast technological power at our disposal, but still feel thwarted. Some days this makes me wonder that we have made some terrible mistake and taken our civilization in entirely the wrong direction; other days it makes me think that we are programmed for a certain level of happiness and worry, and short of rewiring our brains we will always find more to worry about and be sad about.

2 comments:

G. Verloren said...

We're not richer than ever - only the top 1% are. We peaked with the Baby Boomers, in terms of being able to expect future generations to be wealthier rather than poorer than the ones that came before.

Young people are struggling to get by in an economy that was trashed by the greed and selfishness of their elders. Most wages are unliveable, rents are at record highs, and countless jobs lack any security or benefits.

Economists love to talk about the recession being over, citing numbers of new jobs created to replace all the ones we lost. But a staggering number of those new jobs are temporary or part time positions that can't be relied upon to earn a steady living, and are generally low quality due to bad hours, lack of benefits, and unpleasant work. The threat of layoffs looms around every corner, and the general lack of affordable housing makes moving to pursue a new job a difficult proposition.

Better jobs might be attainable with proper qualifications, but college degrees have lost much of their old value, having become the expected norm in many fields where they previously weren't necessary. Tuitions have skyrocketed, and you can't realistically earn a degree without going into massive debt with cutthroat and predatory student loans that many young people will literally be struggling to pay off for 50 years. On top of that, schools happily hand out hundreds of diplomas in fields and industries that they know for a fact never have more than a handful of new job opening per year.

Transportaion is expensive. Food is expensive. Housing is expensive. Education is expensive. Insurance is expensive. Healthcare is expensive. There's not really anything that ISN'T expensive. But the Baby Boomers think back to their own youths, when everything was dirt cheap, and they convince themselves that modern young people must just be lazy and bad with money, because surely things can't have gotten worse over time!

Oh, but that's all just the economic side of things.

There's also the cultural disconnect, where young people feel that it's a constant struggle just to be themselves - increasingly liberal, tolerant, empathetic, and noncomformist. But the older generations have not only destroyed their economic futures, they also seem to actively reject and resent young people's personal identities and philosophical leanings. Our current hostile political climate seems to overwhelmingly be one of aging reactionary conservatives lashing out at young generations who are more liberal than they've ever been in history.

And then, of course, there's the environmental catastrophe of global warming that we're too late to stop and that will inevitably unfold in slow motion over the next century. Scientists have been begging people to take action to prevent or mitigate the threat since the 1950s, but of course, that hasn't happened. Instead, the older generations ignored the looming long-term problem in the pursuit of short-term personal gain. After all, they're not going to live to see the world ravaged by their selfishness. They've sown the wind, and their children and grandchildren will reap the literal whirlwinds. They'll be dead and buried before the seas start swallowing up coastal cities, and ever stronger and more numerous storms wreak unfathomable havoc, and the threat of droughts and blights and famines will loom over every corner of the globe.

So yeah, depression and suicidal thoughts are up, because young people feel their parents and grandparents have destroyed any chance of a future for them, and refuse to admit it or do anything to help about it.

David said...

American teenagers are subjected to various bureaucratic-authoritarian structures--mainly school. School in particular is a process of culling students based on the merits school perceives in them, and it demands also their compliance in the process of culling, and indeed that they comply so far as to strive to bring their merit to the school's attention. The pressure school puts upon students is relentless and full of power, but also insists it is for the students' own benefit and insists on its own nurturing nature. Its guise is often kind rather than cruel--if they fail to comply, the system becomes concerned, rather than enraged. But it is a coercive power all the same. I say this as a person who has devoted his life to educating students, loves intellectual things, loves teaching, and deeply enjoys being with students in the classroom and out.

Students are going to experience a negative side to their situation, and this experience will express itself in negative emotions. In the past, these emotions may have been more in the line of active hostility, even rage, possibly leading to risky behavior, because the authority itself acted more hostile. Today the authority, as I said, adopts a nurturing guise, though it is still in essence a coercive bureaucracy engaged in assessing them with a eye to sorting and culling. The negative emotions experienced by students in turn are gentler, but still negative.

To put it another way, people of student age have much to be anxious about--the systems we put them through make demands upon them and assess them based on their performance. What should they feel but anxiety?

One thing I would say is we should guard against imagining that there was some sort of golden age in some former time when teenagers, or anyone else, were healthily confident and self-actualized. People like that are always rare.

Of course, this is not to say that the only emotions people have or experience are negative. But negative emotions of one sort or another will be there.