Being a teenager today: has it really changed that much?
Is it true that young people today are more disrespectful and think only of themselves?
Nowadays it is common to hear negative criticism, if not outright complaints, about the behavior of the latest wave of teenagers and post-adolescents, the so-called Z generation. One hears comments such as "the zombie generation", referring to their constant use of electronic devices (even walking down the street!), the abusive tendency to hedonism, the constant search for attention through social networks, individualism, etc.
To what extent do these opinions correspond to reality? Has what it means to be a teenager really changed so much? We must not forget that in order to see with perspective the features of the new batch of young people, we must not compare them with the adults of today, but with the minors of at least 15 or 20 years ago.
Let's see what has been the evolution between adolescence in the 90's and adolescence in 2020.
The differences between the new teenagers and those of the 90s.
This is a brief summary of what is known about the differences between these two generations of teenagers in terms of personality and cultural background.
They are no less friendly, and are likely to be more so
There is very little research focused on comparing the personality traits of today's teenagers compared to teenagers in the 1990s, so it is difficult to know whether it is true that "the young people of yesteryear were more respectful". However, the available evidence suggests that this is not the case.
For example, research focused on tracking the evolution of personality traits of successive generations of young people over 25 years from the late 1980s to the late 2000s shows that over this period there has been a slight and constant upward trend in the personality trait called "agreeableness", and a steady (agreeableness), and also of another personality trait, "conscientiousness", which occurs in those who are always motivated to do everything in a planned, orderly and rule-bound manner, "as it should be".
At the same time, the tendency to score high in the trait known as "neuroticism" (neuroticism), which is the sensitivity to possible threats and the tendency to feel anxiety and emotional instability in situations of ambiguity, or to be irritated or impatient in the face of setbacks, is lower.
In short, the idea that adolescents of the new decade are more disrespectful and disrespectful than 15 or 20 years ago seems to be a myth..
2. They tend to perfectionism
One of the characteristics of this generation of teenagers is the fact that, considering their age, they tend to be more perfectionist. In fact, this psychological characteristic has been on the rise since the mid-1980s, and today it is at its highest levels.
This is thought to be due to the pressure to build a career and a good education in a landscape of economic volatility and precarious work even for those with a college education.
This finding dovetails with another: as perfectionism has increased in the younger generation, so has its relationship with neuroticism.. On the other hand, this rapprochement between perfectionism and neuroticism has come at the price of slightly weakening the link between perfectionism and conscientiousness.
As we have seen, the new generations of young people are more likely to score high on meticulousness and low on neuroticism, which seems to indicate that this increase in perfectionism responds to the need to adapt to a very competitive landscape in which the family no longer has the same capacity to protect as it did in the mid-1990s, and not simply for pleasure.
3. They are involved in the protection of vulnerable groups and the environment.
Protecting minorities who are victims of discrimination and preserving the environment are values that were marginal in the 1990s, yet today they are widely held by young people, at least in Western countries.
To give an example, in both Spain and the U.S., the 18-year-old voter is much more likely to choose much more likely to opt for options that emphasize the importance of environmentalism, anti-racism and the rejection of discrimination against women and LGBT groups. discrimination against women and LGTBI groups. In turn, the mobilizations of the International Working Women's Day and the Extinction Rebellion movement have a clear overrepresentation of adolescents and post-adolescents.
4. They drink less alcohol
Generation Z young people tend to drink much less alcohol than baby boomers and members of Generation X, and significantly less than millennials, a 2018 study by Berenberg Research shows. This explains why in many countries, non-alcoholic beverages have increased their sales in Western countries.
This is very relevant, taking into account that habitual alcohol consumption (to which the adolescent population is especially prone) is linked to many psychological disorders and has a harmful impact on their family and close social environment, as well as being associated with a lower degree of responsibility.
As for the use of other drugs, no significant changes have been observed, although it is true that in some countries there has been a substantial drop in the number of adolescents who use drugs. a substantial drop in the number of adolescents who smoke tobacco... because they switch to electronic cigarettes.
5. Getting closer to science
It is often said that in matters of cultural level there is little or no progress, and that old erroneous beliefs and superstitions come back again and again, always with the same force. However, this does not seem to correspond to reality.
The Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) gives reason for optimism, since it shows that younger people enjoy a greater scientific culture compared to generation X and the baby boomers..
Data from this research, analyzed by Materia (El País) show that today's adolescents and post-adolescents are more likely to answer questions about science in general correctly. In addition, they also seem to have more confidence in the scientific world's own methods of knowledge generation, according to research by Maru/VCR&C for Vision Critical.
It is highly debatable whether the new generation of teenagers has less to offer society than the young people of the 1990s and Generation X in general. Of course, there have been major changes from one cohort to the next, but this does not mean that the new culture that they bring with them should be disregarded. does not imply that the new culture that these boys and girls bring with them should be disdained..
In any case, it is worth asking whether this tendency to look askance at the new generations of young people is something unusual, something that has not been going on for centuries. The idea of seeing stridency in the latest waves of teenagers and young adults does not seem overly original, but it makes sense if we assume that culture shock brings misunderstanding at first, until we find new fits and ways to connect.
- Curran, T. & Hill, A. (2017). Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin, 145(4): pp. 410 - 429.
- Smith, M.M.; Sherry, S.B.; Vidovic, V.; Saklofske, D.H.; Stoeber, J.; Benoit A. (2019). Perfectionism and the Five-Factor Model of Personality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 23(4): pp. 367 - 390.
- Smits, I.A.M.; Dolan, C.; Vorts, H.C.M.; Wicherts, J.; Timmerman, M.E. (2011). Cohort Differences in Big Five Personality Factors Over a Period of 25 Years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(6): pp. 1124 - 1138.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)