The Associated Press is reporting that US teen are now engaging in less risk-taking behavior than their 90's counterparts. The rate of teens engaging in sex without a condom is down, as is marijuana and alcohol usage.
But it makes sense if you think about it. The 90's were a dark period. We were still kind of trying to figure out what AIDS was and how to treat it. Condom usage was more to guard against pregnancy than against various STI's. Drug addiction sky rocketed and hip hop emerged as a reactionary element both fueling and curtailing the problem. Anti-depressants flooded the market because everyone seemed to be young, sad, battered. We were still recovering from the strict Reagan regime, beginning to recognize gay rights, women's rights, abortion rights. Monica Lewinsky put the President's cock in her mouth and forgot to swallow the evidence. Will Smith was the most famous rapper out there.
There was a reason Nirvana was one of the most popular bands during the 90's. It felt like no matter how old you were, you were going through some kind of existential crisis. Even midlifers were reverting to the teenage role of self-discovery, through drugs and drink and unprotected sex. We didn't understand the realities. The AIDS tolls continued to rise. The Middle East blew up in our faces. The US economic budget erred on the side of surplus, but people were homeless, and sick, and drug addicted and depressed.
The new millennium changed all that. It washed away the sins of the 20th century and ushered us into an era of relatively newfound tolerance, acceptance and knowledge. We elected a certified dumbass, but we were wary of our mistake. We recognized it - even if it took two elections to do so.
The teens of today are mired down in Facebook and Myspace, one finger on their Blackberry and the other on the remote flipping through reality TV channels. But they are far more intelligent than the teens who came before them. They grew up knowing the troubles of unprotected sex because they saw their parents' friends dying from the AIDS epidemic. They saw what happened when a fellow disaffected youth took naked pictures of herself - how quickly that could sour, how quickly it circled the internet, how it ruined her. They channeled their outrage against world crimes like in Darfur or Iraq into an online medium.
Some may call this lazy, or inefficient, wont to smother the grassroots action that our parents and their parents championed decades before us. But the internet has become one of the most provoking and powerful tools to ever capture a generation. It has allowed even the laziest of people to care about something, even if it's as simple as joining a Facebook group representing a political platform. It has allowed us to parse our emotions, parlaying them into blogs and op-eds and videos that explain what we are really about. We are smarter than they think we are, with more and more teens going to college, studying abroad, becoming world citizens.
But we have a lot of positive influences to thank for our early maturity. Current TV is an excellent example of a media source - constructed and consumed by teens and young adults - that pumps viewers and readers up with real news in an interesting way. I cannot stress enough that my generation does not consist of clone drones consuming what is put in front of us, worshipping Speidi, our pulses slowing dutifully despite the Red Bull injections. We do have positive people enacting positive change.
And yet, religious fanatics gripe daily about the sexualization of the media, the desensitization of the population to images that are overtly and offensively sexual. But clearly these images have had little impact on our behavior -- perhaps it is desensitizing us, but that also means it's allowing us to make our own sexual choices outside of what the media has to offer on the issue. I well up with a sense of pride when I realize how important and amazing it is that teen condom usage has gone up so much. I know firsthand how hard it is. I've stood in the bathroom stall at work with a pregnancy test in my hand, the turbulent anxieties ripping open my insides. It is a terrible feeling, one that children of the 90's are all too familiar with, and one that I hope - and am glad that - teens these days may never have to feel.