Study: Adolescents are growing up more slowly

Eighteen is the new 15, a new assessment of the generation suggests.

They don’t drink as much, have sex, or drive a car the way other generations — that’s you, probably — did.

In other words: they’re growing up slower, according to the study, published in Child Development.

The researchers studied the responses from 8.3 million adolescents — 13 to 19 year olds — over the last 40 years and found across all demographics, today’s adolescents are “younger” than previous generations, Time reports.

“If you look at the big picture, it’s not that they’re doing more good things or more bad things overall,” says Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University. She’s the lead author of the study. “It’s just that they’re less likely to do all kinds of things that adults do, and there is definitely a trade-off there.”

For generations, the oldsters have advised the kids “don’t be in such a rush to grow up.”

So, they listened. Is this good or bad?

One downside to slower development is that teens may be unprepared for living independently when they go off to college, get their first job or set out on their own, Twenge says. But there are also plenty of benefits, especially for teens’ health. “When kids don’t grow up before they’re ready, they’re protected from things like alcohol and sex,” says Twenge.

The study’s findings may help explain why the teen birth rate rate is lower than ever, Twenge says, and why teenagers get in fewer car accidents than they used to. “Teens are safer and healthier than they’ve ever been,” she says, “and that’s obviously a very good thing.”

The authors didn’t study why kids are growing up slower today but they say a previous theory holds that when families are smaller, people live longer, children are safe and healthy and education takes longer to complete, human development is slower.