Every two years, the federal government puts out a detailed behemoth of a report on the state of American teenagers. It has data about all sorts of things, like how much teens drink, have sex, and use illicit drugs.
A few months ago, my colleagues and I noticed a surprising trend: American teens keep becoming better and better behaved.
They use fewer drugs, have less sex, fight less, and watch television less than previous generations. If you shooed these children away from your lawn, they'd likely do so very quickly and politely. They probably wouldn't be on your lawn in the first place.
Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest version of this study. It's a 181-page report, and the data, collected from September 2014 through December 2015, strongly suggests today's teens are the best-behaved in generations.
The percentage of teens who say they're sexually active is at an all-time low
In 1991, the first year the federal government conducted this survey, 54.1 percent of teens said they had already lost their virginity. The number has steadily declined over the past two decades, hitting 41.2 percent in 2015. You see a similar, albeit less dramatic, trend when you look at what portion of teens are currently sexually active (measured by whether they have had sex within the past three months). That figure has fallen from 37.9 percent in 1991 to 30.1 percent in the most recent survey.
So teens are having a lot less sex. And when they do have sex, they're more likely to use some method of protection. The government has less data on this because it only started asking about whether teens used any hormonal birth control the last time they had sex in the 2011 survey. But over the past four years, at least, the number who said yes increased 15 percent. This is great news!
Teens are switching to better contraceptives, too. One thing the data definitely shows is a decline in condom use — but an increase in the usage of long-acting contraceptives, like IUDs and implants.
Better contraceptive use is very likely part of the reason the past few decades have seen a dramatic decline in teen birth rates.
Today's teens have the lowest rates of ecstasy, heroin, meth, and hallucinogenic drug use on record
No matter what illicit substance you look at, chances are teens are using less of it. There are at least four drugs — those listed above — where usage is at an all-time low. And there are others, like cocaine, where use is steadily declining.
The one alarming finding in this new report, however, is the high prevalence of vaping. This is the first time the survey has asked teenagers whether they've used any vaping device, like an e-cigarette or vaping pens. An astonishing 44.9 percent of teens said yes, they'd used the devices.
Teen smoking has declined significantly — from 27.5 percent of teens considering themselves smokers in 1991 to 10.8 percent today. But the rise of vaping devices could reverse some of the big health gains from those trends. As my colleague Julia Belluz has written, the most recent research suggests that e-cigarettes, while probably better for you than conventional cigarettes, are still worse for your health than not smoking or vaping at all. You can read more of her work here.
A few of the other alarming trends in this year's report include more teenagers who report lots of time staring at screens (41 percent say they use a computer for three or more hours per day, outside of use for school). And fewer teens report getting eight or more hours of sleep than did in previous surveys.
Today's teens are probably better-behaved than you are
There is a mishmash of other ways teens have become better-behaved. They are less violent: 42.5 percent of teens said they'd been in a physical fight in 1991, compared with 22.6 percent today. And the number of teens who say they've carried a weapon to school in the past month has fallen by two-thirds (from 11.8 percent in 1993 to 4.1 percent in 2015).
Teens today are really, really good at wearing seat belts — 93.9 percent of them do it! When I was a teenager, back in 2003, our seatbelt use stood at a dismal 81.8 percent.
But enough about me. If you want to see how you stack up against today's impeccably behaved teens, check out this longer piece that Vox's Soo Oh and Sarah Frostensen have built (and read more about how they built it here). You'll be marveling at the terrible behavior of your generation — and the spotless records of the youth of our future.