Youth Trends Fueled By Family Breakdown

A snapshot of youth trends, compiled by a nationally-recognized youth ministry, finds teens are over-consuming and over-indulging.

YouthWorkers, a magazine by Youth Specialties, compiled the statistics from several newspapers this fall, and Christian theologian and popular speaker Dr. Warren Throckmorton attributes the problems to the breakdown of the family.

A snapshot of kids’ sex, drugs, and jail-time reveals that teens are engaging in sexual activities at increasingly younger ages. One in eleven 14-year-olds are having sex. By the time they reach 17, chances are one in three, according to Time Magazine. More than 54 percent of 15 to 19 year olds have engaged in oral sex for both boys and girls, and many of them still consider themselves virgins, according to both USA Today and Time.

The United States is ranked number one in the world for the most number of kids in prison. More than 2,200 people are serving life without parole for crimes they committed when minors, reported The New York Times.

Teens in the United States are also over-indulging in food, and money, but their work output is lower when compared to other nations.

A growing number of teens (16 percent) are obese, Parade Magazine found, which could make them the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents.

Teens spend $60,000-$70,000 on average for a sweet sixteen, according to U.S. News & World Report, and they spend an average of $98 a week. Also, nearly half of teens polled by Junior Achievement say unemployment will be their generation’s biggest challenge, and 70 percent want to run their own company to prevent the problem, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s like Rome before Rome fell,” said Susan Linn, a Harvard Medical School psychologist who studies consumer behavior in children. “This increasingly wild extravagance is supposed to take the place of real, true meaning.”

The percentage of incoming freshman prepared for college-level social science work is 51 percent; for biology, it’s 26 percent. And the United States is ranked 26th on a 2003 international problem-solving test given to 15-year-olds, but more teens are hiring college counselors and taking AP examinations than ever before.

There is a crisis in kids’ sports as many quit early on, after parents push them too hard, said J. Duke Albanese, Maine’s former commissioner of education.

Albanese told Parade Magazine, “If I had to sum up the crisis in kids’ sports, I’d do it in one word: adults.”

Grove City College’s Throckmorton would agree.

“Many of the trends can be traced back to the disintegration of the family,” according to the associate professor psychology. He especially notes that absence of fathers has a negative impact.

“We have great segments of our society where children have never known a father, never had a dad to provide structure and guidance,” he says, “and this is not a politically correct thing to say because element in my profession doesn’t want there to be a difference bet moms and dads.”

However, Throckmorton says “the truth is that especially for boys, and its true for girls, fathers are critical … and the absence of fathers has a relationship to most of the social ills.”

He also says the breakdown of morals in the greater adult society have had an influence on the values held by teens.

“I think in times past, people did things that were wrong and sinful and they did try to hide it from their kids because they knew that they needed a nurturing environment,” says Throckmorton. “Now it’s so much more difficult when nobody seems to try to hide it.”

“And kids just assume that that’s the way the world works and you have to play along in order to survive,” he adds.

A report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that how often a family eats together is a strong indicator of whether a teen is likely to smoke, drink, or do drugs, and whether they will perform better academically. This year, 58 percent of teens report eating with their families at least five times a week, a significant nine percent increase since 1998, according to YouthWorkers.

The good news, says Throckmorton, is that there are greater opportunities for youth ministry, and he believes youth ministries everywhere can model healthy lives for purposeless kids.

“The opportunity for youth ministry is immense! Male youth leaders can have an amazing impact on young guys,” he says. “Youth leaders who have healthy marriages can be an amazing role model for young boys and girls both.”