The Kids Aren’t Alright

It’s definitely “Eclectic Reading Saturday.” I just skim read a library copy of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, and liked it enough to order it from Amazon, so I could write in it. Then I finished off the latest in a long romance series, which was disappointing, but I’m so committed to the series, I’m sure I’ll buy the next one as well.

And then I finally read the cover story in The Atlantic about how the kids aren’t having sex anymore.  There are a lot of theories why – online porn, stress, #metoo movement, social awkwardness. I don’t think that that the author ultimately settled on one reason for the drop off in sexual activity, but it was still a good article. I highly suggest reading the article online, because it’s necessary to google terms from time to time.

I’ve been interviewing 20-somethings for a larger project that I’m working on. It has nothing to do with sex, but it touches on some of the themes in this article. I won’t go into it now, but I do sometimes think that I want to scoop up my children and relocate to Vermont or Ottawa and learn how to live off the land.

So, is this drop off in sexuality a good thing or a bad thing? Declining teen birth rate and abortion rates are good, but the causes of the decline in sexuality are all deeply unhealthy – online porn use, social awkwardness, job stress. And the people that the author interviews are seriously unhappy and isolated. We’re ready for a major correction.

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39 thoughts on “The Kids Aren’t Alright

  1. Yeah, Julia Quinn has not really grown as a writer. It’s unfortunate because she’s very talented. 😦 I just finished My One and Only Duke, by Grace Burrowes, and the two I read before were Victoria Thompson’s City of Lies/City of Secrets (set in 1918 or so; main character is a former grifter turned suffragist). Have you checked out the RomBkLove hashtag? Lots of reading recs there.

  2. The Atlantic mentioned something I mentioned here once or twice: the bizarre modesty of millennial men in the locker room. (Apparently, it extends to the bedroom too.) I do my part, these days, by marching around the locker room defiantly naked, but I’m not sure it’s loosening up the millennial dudes any.

    My real question, not really answered by the Atlantic article, is: does this modesty mean that millennials don’t go skinny dipping or hot tubbing? And even more important, does it mean that they didn’t play doctor when they were children?

      1. I’m not sure what’s EWWW: you didn’t play doctor, or go skinny dipping or hot tubbing in your youth, or you have a concern with the behavior of men in locker rooms?

      2. I asked Jonah is ever played doctor, and he didn’t know what the term meant. He never heard it before. Kids aren’t left alone long enough to play doctor.

      3. Laura said,

        “He never heard it before. Kids aren’t left alone long enough to play doctor.”

        Yep.

        “…we’ve been just spending time with the Big Boy Who Is Home From College.”

        AWWWW!

      4. Hmm, I will have to ask Little Miss Y81 about all these activities. She was never (unlike her father) caught playing doctor, but maybe she’s just smarter than I am.

    1. Yes, MH deserves a eeeeww, but, being naked in a space where you are supposed to be naked (i.e. the locker room)? My kids recently renovated gymnasium complex apparently does not have useable showers (and, in any case, the girls wouldn’t use them). I think the “modesty” in the locker room is a significant trend (and, also, the growing trend towards non-shared rooms).

    1. I thought there was No Corner For Old Men.

      PS: Can rec Ballad of Buster Scruggs on Netflix. Not the Coen Bros.’ greatest, but lots to enjoy.

      1. Buster Scruggs is on our “must watch list.” But not this weekend, because we’ve been just spending time with the Big Boy Who Is Home From College.

    1. If you want to be depressed about old people and sex, there were a bunch of stories about how many STIs were floating around in the large retirement communities of Florida.

      1. I don’t find it depressing, but rather cheering that they can still get their freak on. Go Grandma! (and by the way, let’s talk about safe sex.)

  3. Going back to the article, which was about sex, at least partly for click bait. I’m a bit neutral about the sex (i.e. is it a net social good or not that teens are having less of it) but I am worried about the relationships. In person relationships take work (and we’ve talked about this in the more grown up context of giving dinner parties/hosting people). Making friends (male or female) has the risk of rejection and the complications of responsibility.

    I think it never works when these trends are noticed to just tell people to behave differently. Usually a trend means there are underlying costs and incentives that are shaping the behavior. In this case, I think schools (middle schools, high schools, colleges) have to work hard at making more comfortable spaces for people to drop into (i.e. libraries, game rooms, . . . .). And, they might need to apply some negative pressure, too, as they can (i.e. phone limits). The rules are obviously going to be different based on age. But, I think responding to a bad trend (i.e. the kids don’t use a common room, because they can retreat to their own spaces) by getting rid of the common room, so they have to retreat to their own spaces is a bad idea.

    I saw the article as being a continuation of the “bowling alone” idea, but for young people.

    1. Is that how you made friends? I didn’t make them by dropping into the library, I made them through other activities and it seems like we give kids lots of those. My question is why doesn’t that seem to be working for them? Why aren’t they making friends at ballet or robot club or cross-country etc.?

    2. I think activities are working less well these days, except for sports, and partly, because sports seem to be an all consuming activity. Thus, sports is intense, requires talent that might not mean that you share traits other than your talent (though it works well when you do). Sports also segregate by gender (as does dance to some degree, and, to a lesser extent, theater). In the experience I’m seeing, a commitment to one activity means that everything else has to be done at a casual level. And, commitment to one activity, and one that you are good at is the prerequisite to playing the college competition game. The one activity could be one that you find friends at (and, kids do try and many succeed), but if, say, what you are good at doesn’t result in your finding friends in the activity) there’s no time for a non-activity based friendship, or for a casual activity based friendship.

      The kids I know seriously have no time these days. Finding a common time for an activity is an agonizing struggle.

      1. Oh, and I personally, made friends in HS & college by hanging around in common areas (not libraries, specifically), but common areas that you had to move through or go into for other reasons. Say, for example, in our dorm, the one copy of the New York Times was at the intersection between two hallways, where there was also a small seating area.

        To make the bowling analogy (without using it as a euphemism), bowling is (mostly) a fairly casual activity. I’m guessing bowling becomes different if you are planning on winning an olympic medal. In my neck of the teen world (which, I admit, might be rather extreme), everyone is planning on winning the “olympics” (if not the actually olympics, the theater/music/academic/math/language/ . . . version of it).

      2. A fairly casual activity means that you can do it with your friends, rather than with the other elite bowlers in your town, state, or country. Fairly casual means that a friend can participate, even if they aren’t great. It means you can play with your friends, even if you’re not all that great. The same might be true for, say, robotics club or jazz band. But, not if the jazz band is planning on winning competitions ad the robotics club is a pseudo startup.

      3. I made friends in high school because there were only sixteen in the class and about half of us had been together for eight years by that point.

    3. bj said,

      “I think it never works when these trends are noticed to just tell people to behave differently. Usually a trend means there are underlying costs and incentives that are shaping the behavior. In this case, I think schools (middle schools, high schools, colleges) have to work hard at making more comfortable spaces for people to drop into (i.e. libraries, game rooms, . . . .).”

      Right.

      And school and homework are just so darn long these days.

      1. I’m kind of glad I grew up when I did. My extra curriculars in high school were not where I made my friends. I met other girls st school, we exchanged phone numbers, talked on the phone and spent time together “hanging out.”
        Things we did together: wandered around the mall, listened to music, wrote simple programs in BASIC , played chess, D&D and watch Star Trek. I was on the school paper and none of my friends were.

  4. I don’t think being in an intense environment is inconsistent with making friends. I made lots of friends at Exeter–which even in the 70s was intensely competitive and where “college suck” dominated a lot of conversations–and my daughter made friends at her high school, which was similarly competitive. (I can hardly imagine how Exeter must be by now.) Admittedly, in a single sex school like hers, or living in a single sex dorm, with curfews from 8 to 10 pm depending on grade, as I did, most of your friends will be of the same sex, but I don’t see that as a problem.

    1. I think the high school environment is very different from the 70’s (and 80’s, where I also attended a college prep high school, though not one with the acceptance rate exeter). I’d think NY high school in the 2000’s, like your daughter would not be that different from what I know here. But, I think an interesting stat would be the percent of graduating seniors who have had a public relationship, what we’d call a boyfriend/girlfriend (at least in the context of the Atlantic article).

      (I do think that human beings deal with change, and thus, it’s important to always remember that people have said the “kids are not alright” about everything from books to rock and roll to TV to . . . . )

      1. bj said,

        “But, I think an interesting stat would be the percent of graduating seniors who have had a public relationship, what we’d call a boyfriend/girlfriend (at least in the context of the Atlantic article).”

        Very anecdotally, it seems like a lot of kids today don’t date until late senior year, and then a boyfriend/girlfriend suddenly materializes.

  5. Could we celebrate a drop in teenage pregnancy without immediately seguing into worry about the birth rate?

    Some factors at play: social media has helped to inform young people about birth control. They’re no longer at the mercy of their parents and whatever sex ed their local school feels is fitting. There are also foolproof, long-lasting birth control methods, such as implants, which eliminate the “oops, I forgot” errors.

    I think helicopter parenting plays a role, as well as the expectation that children never be allowed any time to play. Play is essential to proper development; not allowing children to play has to influence their development. Searching for “play deprivation” turns up interesting research in rats (obviously not possible to set out to deprive a group of children of play): https://www.jstor.org/stable/2664002?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

    Specifically, we propose that play functions to increase the versatility of movements used to recover from sudden shocks such as loss of balance and falling over, and to enhance the ability of animals to cope emotionally with unexpected stressful situations.

    Just a few examples: think of the desire of education reformers to do away with play-based preschools and kindergartens, in favor of worksheets and seat time. Many, many schools have cut recess for more academic time. Children are supervised every waking moment. Parents are arrested for letting their children walk home from the park.

    In our suburb, you have the best chance to make friends with other kids who play the same sport. These become like tribes. Some kids play the same sport year ’round.

    And all this has been going on for at least a generation.

    But social interactions like dating call for extremely fluid, on the spot adaptations to peer behaviors. Social media dating apps may be popular with younger people, because they offer a highly predictable, formal initial interaction. No more getting up the courage to ask a stranger for a cup of coffee; swipe right (left?)

    Concurrently, I’ve read of local high schools cancelling school dances, because the students are behaving atrociously. I also wonder if the reported “pre-gaming” happens due to students being nervous about a social evening with their peers, without adult rules.

    1. Cranberry said,

      “I think helicopter parenting plays a role, as well as the expectation that children never be allowed any time to play. Play is essential to proper development; not allowing children to play has to influence their development. Searching for “play deprivation” turns up interesting research in rats (obviously not possible to set out to deprive a group of children of play)”

      But then there’s the question: Would older kids actually play, or would they just do screen stuff, if they were left alone to their own devices (so to speak)?

      “But social interactions like dating call for extremely fluid, on the spot adaptations to peer behaviors. Social media dating apps may be popular with younger people, because they offer a highly predictable, formal initial interaction. No more getting up the courage to ask a stranger for a cup of coffee; swipe right (left?)”

      That’s a very interesting point.

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