Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders Risky Behavior in Adolescence: The Dangers Facing Generation Z

Risky Behavior in Adolescence: The Dangers Facing Generation Z

risky behavior in adolescence

When it comes to risky behavior in adolescence, a study of today’s teenagers reveals both troubling and encouraging findings. For parents, pastors, and youth leaders concerned with reaching “Generation Z,” information about modern risky behavior in adolescence is critical.

According to research, teenagers in the early 2010s tried alcohol later and had sex far less often than their predecessors. About 54 percent of high-schoolers in 1991 reported having had sex, while only 41 percent did in the early 2010s. For student pastors who’ve been fighting the war against partying, pregnancies, and STDs, this is encouraging news. However, the results seem to come with a cost.

For GenZ, Risky Behavior in Adolescence is Different

Generation Z students (those born between the early 1990s and mid-2000s) are less likely to drive, work for pay, go on dates, or socialize without their parents. While at home, students are largely glued to their smartphones. They are highly active on social media sites that create an illusion of community that research shows actually increases isolation.

In The Atlantic, Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me and iGen, warns about the effect smartphone obsession is having on teens. “The twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”

Twenge speculates this may be why, for the first time in 24 years, suicide passed homicide as the leading cause of death for teenagers. It’s important to note that suicide rates were actually higher in 1991, before the advent of smartphones. However, Twenge says it’s clear that increased screen time coupled with isolation has a direct impact on teen mental health.

Generation Z: Screens and Depression

“The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression,” Twenge said. “Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.”