Compared to a generation ago, today's young people are dawdling when it comes to experiencing behaviors traditionally seen as precursors to adulthood: drinking, driving, having sex, and joining the workforce. As a result, they're often called "lazy"—but that's not exactly accurate. According to researchers, today's 18-year-olds are acting like 15-year-olds of the late 1970s because of the secure environment in which they're raised, per the San Diego Union Tribune. Whereas previous generations enjoyed fewer resources and viewed quickly finding a job and starting a family as necessary for survival, smaller families have fueled "the idea that children need to be carefully nurtured," psychologist Jean Twenge tells the Washington Post.
That's led to "helicopter parenting" and less independence for teens, but they're far from sheltered. Knowing a college degree is necessary for many jobs, teens are planning for their futures early and avoiding risky behaviors that could jeopardize that future, says a researcher with the Council on Contemporary Families. According to Twenge, whose analysis of seven surveys of 8.3 million teens over the past four decades is published in Child Development, this explains why the percentage of high school seniors who'd dated or tried alcohol was more than 20% lower between 2010 and 2016 than it was four decades previously—and why adolescents from large families or families with lower incomes are more likely to drink, date, and have sex, per Scientific American. (Binge drinking could affect teens' future kids.)