BREMERTON, Wash. — When Jonathan Rowe, 51, was coming of age in the Bay Area, he couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license. He was into fast cars and hanging out.
“We went to the movies. We snuck into clubs, and we drove our hot rods,” said the Central Kitsap father of one. “I had a job. I wanted to get the hell out of the house.”
For Rowe’s 20-year-old son Ari, the priorities are different. Rowe is mystified that Ari and his friends don’t seem that keen on driving.
“I’m gonna guess that half my son’s friends don’t have a license,” he said.
Ari lives at home, for now. Partying just isn’t a thing for him and his friends (online gaming is just now beginning to lose its allure), his father says. Rowe has offered his son work at the family’s store.
A study published recently in the journal “Child Development” documents delayed rites of passage — like driving and holding a job — among teens, a trend that parallels a slower road to independence for young adults like Ari and his friends.
“We are all talking about it,” Rowe said. “All the parents are talking about this subject because it’s so odd.
What’s odd to parents may be the new normal for teens, according to the study, which drew on surveys of 8 million teens conducted over the course of four decades, beginning in 1975. The study found the trend toward more gradual development occurred across all economic groups and in every part of the country.
“The whole developmental pathway has slowed down,” San Diego State University professor study co-author Jean Twenge told USA Today.
Local survey results back up some findings highlighted in the national study.
The Healthy Youth Survey, conducted every two years, shows substance use — including drinking and smoking — generally declined among Kitsap teens over the past eight years. Teen marijuana use didn’t increase over the past eight years, even after recreational cannabis possession was legalized for adults in 2012.
Authors of the national study suggested parents today are more involved in the lives of their children — called “parental investment” — a view reinforced by local surveys. Nearly 70 percent of Kitsap teens surveyed in 2016 said their parents were actively engaged in their everyday lives, checking in on homework assignments, monitoring whether they were home on time and who they were spending time with, and setting clear rules at home.
Eighty percent of teens reported having positive opportunities at home, meaning they could talk to their parents about problems, had a voice in household decision-making and took part in fun activities with their families.
Twenge said there are advantages and disadvantages to adopting a “slow life strategy.” ”One of the advantages is that it’s safer,” she said.
A disadvantage is that teens and youth often arrive at colleges and jobs unprepared for independence, said Twenge, author of the new book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — And What That Means for the Rest of Us.”
Two Kitsap high school counselors see the yin and yang of the slow adulthood trend. Both point to the influence of the Internet.
Heather Maass of Olympic High School worries about a generation of youth stunted by social media.
“The concept of socialization is at home behind the screen,” she said. “They spend so much time curating themselves that they’re not even present in their own life, in their real life.”
Maass speaks to health classes at the school about balancing online time with real-life interactions.
On the flip side, Niki Orando of Central Kitsap High School says the Internet has brought a heightened awareness to today’s youth. She sees students she works with making careful, “informed” choices and caring deeply about global issues.
“I think students really have access to a ton of information like never before, and perhaps that access to information helps students pause a little bit more,” Orando said.
The study says the trend “may or may not be linked to increased Internet use.”
Seen in a broader view, the delay in adult activities is influenced by social and historical contexts including increased life-expectancy, later child-bearing among parents and greater parental involvement, the study authors state.
And here’s another theory blown away: “The trends are unlikely to be due to homework and extracurricular time, which stayed steady or declined,” the study states.
Orando thinks having the world at their fingertips has made today’s youth more compassionate, whether they’re out to find a cure for malaria or help a friend who is struggling with depression.
Rowe sees something similar. “He’s a great kid, very compassionate,” he said of Ari. “These are all really nice kids.”
But he thinks they might be on information overload.
“They’re worried about other stuff, the calamities, the environment. When we were kids that stuff happened but you weren’t as aware of it. You didn’t have that kind of information,” Rowe said. “In my family, we watched the news. These guys are on a much different level in that the news is in their face the second it happens, so it’s very distracting.”
Rowe also worries about the independence piece. He’s heard of kids without a driver’s license using Uber or Lyft to get to work … in Kitsap County.
“It’s scary,” he said. “You’re burning off at least an hour of net pay in travel, but it’s their method. It’s what they feel they have at their disposal.”
Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/