'Kids these days, eh?' Three simple words that try to summarise1 many a misunderstanding across a generational divide. On one side, the older generation – stuffy2, antiquated3, and oppressive. On the other, the younger generation – rebellious4, ignorant and disobedient, and lacking in self-control. Or at least that's what popular stereotypes5 would have us believe. That said, every generation is different in one way or another to the next. But if recent figures are anything to go by, juveniles6 may actually be improving upon their elders' behaviour.
British 16–24 year olds are drinking less alcohol and smoking less, according to a recent report from the UK Office for National Statistics. From 2005 to 2017 the number of British adolescents and young adults who had drunk alcohol the week prior to being interviewed declined from 60% to 50%. This is mirrored by their consumption of cigarettes, which dropped from 28.5% to 19.9% for the same period.
One possible reason for this youth's sagacity could lie in the cultural shift away from these behaviours – something they can thank their forebears for. Campaigns and adverts7 on the dangers of smoking and drinking have been persevering8. For example, the Department of Transport's Think! campaign to raise awareness9 of the dangers of drink-driving, or the Department of Health's Change4Life campaign promoting the benefits of healthy food and exercise. And while, for their predecessors10 these behaviours may have become ingrained, it seems young people are taking these messages to heart.
Another explanation could be based in youth's natural delinquency. "Young people are rebelling against the older generations' chosen methods of rebellion," says Dr James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK, speaking to the Guardian11. In other words, if the older generation's method of rebellion from their parents was to drink, smoke and act anti-socially, then their offspring's is to refrain.
Whether or not this will continue, only time will tell. As these under-25s go through life, they may buck12 their current trend, and turn to the behaviour of their ancestors. However, they may stick to their guns and continue to be sensible. If this is indeed the case then a more interesting question arises. How will their youth react?