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WHY TEENS AREN’T PARTYING ANYMORE

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Kevin and I sit down at two desks just outside his third period class at a high school in northern San Diego. He is 17 years old and Asian American, with spiky black hair, fashionable glasses, and a wan smile. He is the oldest of three children, with his parents expecting another child in a few months. Until recently, the family lived in an apartment, where the noise from his younger siblings was deafening. Perhaps as a result, he is unusually empathetic for a teenage boy. “Been doing this all day?” he asks as I take a drink of water before beginning our interview.

Kevin is not the most organized student: He initially neglects to have his dad sign the back of the permission slip, and when I talk to the class later, he forgets his question by the time I call on him. But when I ask him what makes his generation different, he doesn’t hesitate: “I feel like we don’t party as much. People stay in more often. My generation lost interest in socializing in person—they don’t have physical get-togethers, they just text together, and they can just stay at home.”

Kevin is onto something. For example, iGen teens—those who were born in 1995 and later, grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the internet—spend less time at parties than any previous generation. The trends are similar for college students, who are asked how many hours a week they spent at parties during their senior year in high school. In 2016, they said two hours a week—only a third of the time GenX students spent at parties in 1987. The decline in partying is not due to iGen’ers’ studying more; homework time is the same or lower. The trend is also not due to immigration or changes in ethnic composition; the decline is nearly identical among white teens.

Priya, a high school freshman, says she hasn’t been to any parties and doesn’t want to. “What you read in books is, like, oh my God, high school has all these football games and parties, and when you come there, eh, no one really does it. No one is really that interested—including me.” In the San Diego State University freshman survey, several mentioned that the high school parties they had gone to had been adult-run affairs, not exactly the ragers memorialized in the 1980s John Hughes movies, where kids got drunk and wrecked their parents’ houses. “The only parties I went to in high school were birthday parties, and they were almost always supervised or included an adult somewhere,” noted Nick, 18.

Why are parties less popular? Kevin has an explanation for that: “People party because they’re bored—they want something to do. Now we have Netflix—you can watch series nonstop. There’s so many things to do on the web.” He might be right—with so much entertainment at home, why party? Teens also have other ways to connect and communicate, including the social media websites they spend so much time on. The party is constant, and it’s on Snapchat.

Just Hangin’

Maybe parties aren’t for this cautious, career-focused generation. Especially with the declining popularity of alcohol, perhaps iGen’ers are eschewing parties in favor of just hanging out with their friends.

Except they’re not. The number of teens who get together with their friends every day has been cut in half in just fifteen years, with especially steep declines recently.

This might be the most definitive evidence that iGen’ers spend less time interacting with their peers face-to-face than any previous generation—it’s not just parties or craziness but merely getting together with friends, spending time hanging out. That’s something nearly everyone does: nerds and jocks, introverted teens and extroverted ones, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students, stoners and clean-cut kids. It doesn’t have to involve spending money or going someplace cool—it’s just being with your friends. And teens are doing it much less.

The college student survey allows a more precise look at in-person social interaction, as it asks students how many hours a week they spend on those activities. College students in 2016 (vs. the late 1980s) spent four fewer hours a week socializing with their friends and three fewer hours a week partying—so seven hours a week less on in-person social interaction. That means iGen’ers were seeing their friends in person an hour less a day than GenX’ers and early Millennials did. An hour a day less spent with friends is an hour a day less spent building social skills, negotiating relationships, and navigating emotions. Some parents might see it as an hour a day saved for more productive activities, but the time has not been replaced with homework; it’s been replaced with screen time.

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