Underage drinking is down: Are teens partying less?

Research shows a steady decline in underage drinking over the last decade. 

Dan Gill/AP/File
Students party at The Field House in Columbia, Mo., 2007. A new report reveals underage drinking among teens is on the decline.

Kids these days: They're actually relatively well-behaved. 

A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that the rates of underage drinking among young people ages 12 to 20 fell from 28.8 percent in 2002 to 22.7 percent in 2013. 

Underage binge drinking is also on the decline. In 2002, 19.3 percent of teens reported consuming five or more drinks at a time, compared to 14.2 percent in 2013. 

Drinking isn't the only wild behavior that teenagers have cut down on. Research shows that rates of sexual activity, cigarette use, and physical fighting among young people have also dropped. 

These statistics might come as a shock to some, particularly in a culture that tends to portray teenagers as out of control.

“There is a lot more media hype around the kids who are raising hell,” Dr. John Santelli, president-elect for the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, told the New York Times. “There are a lot of kids who are pretty responsible.”

There is no agreed upon explanation for today's well behaved teens, but there are theories. Child psychologist Jennifer Powell-Lunder suggests the main reason is exposure.

"With the Internet and information out there, I think that kids can really see anything they want to see," Powell-Lunder told the Huffington Post. "Back in the day, you'd go out drinking or doing whatever you were doing and part of the excitement was the shock value. But that doesn't even exist anymore."  

Powell-Lunder says that reality television shows such as MTV's "16 and Pregnant" are thought to have had a positive impact on teens, as these shows can be more effective at conveying to young people the possible repercussions of risky behavior than a lecture from their parents.

Lola Okolosie, a secondary school English teacher, argues in an opinion piece for The Guardian that "generation sensible" is the result of modern teens "exercising necessary pragmatism."

"In these difficult times, the meaning of adolescence has been reconstructed," Okolosie writes. "Gone is the rose-hued image of it as a period of ennui where mistakes were possible, even encouraged. Teenagers today are some of the most tested and examined in generations, and carry with them a prevailing sense that these years are preparation for a highly competitive adult life. Their trajectories are much more linear and rigid." 

Some say that the decrease in underage drinking is due in part to ad campaigns and classes dedicated to the dangers of drunk driving and alcohol poisoning, as well as increased awareness of alcohol-fueled sexual assaults on college campuses. A recent study by the University of Michigan reveals that far more teens disapprove of binge drinking now as compared to ten years ago. 

Stricter enforcement of the legal drinking age in the US, as well as price and tax hikes on alcohol, may have also played a role in underage drinking's decreasing popularity. The same Michigan study showed that the percentage of teens who say that alcohol is "fairly easy" to get has steadily declined over the past decade. 

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