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1. A Somber Report

What it is: This Monday, the CDC released its 2023 Youth Risk Behavior Survey report. Out of 17,000 US high school students surveyed in late 2021, nearly 60 percent of teen girls reported persistent sadness or hopelessness.
Why it’s more concerning than previous years: The more data we see about teen mental health—particularly teen girls’ mental health—the more dire the state of things appears. Ten percent of teen girls surveyed and 20 percent of LGBTQ+ teens surveyed said that they had attempted suicide. This is a 60 percent increase from a decade ago and double the rate of boys making such an attempt. These survey results took a long time to tabulate and publish, so it’s possible that the spike this study shows is temporary and directly connected to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also possible that the coronavirus simply amplified or accelerated the way that teens have already been feeling. The study suggests that even though we have a larger vocabulary for mental health, fewer cultural stigmas surrounding mental health conditions, and more access to mental health services, these factors simply aren’t improving mental health outcomes for this group. As Derek Thompson writes for the Atlantic, it’s time for the least-biased sociology and psychology researchers to parse out what the root cause of this distress is, and how we as a society can better support teens.

2. Under De-influence

What it is: Some influencers have been posting about products not to buy and things that aren’t worth the money in a TikTok and Instagram trend that’s being called “de-influencing.”
Why it’s a notable about-face: #deinfluencing is sitting at over 173 million views on TikTok as of this writing, and the movement seems strongest within the beauty, skincare, and fashion niches of the platform. De-influencing may be a natural outgrowth of inflation hitting Gen Z’s pocketbooks. Influencers who were flaunting cabinets full of brand name products have been called out for promoting a sponsored, unattainable lifestyle that they don’t even pay for. What felt for years like an endless call to consumerism is quieting into an encouragement to save money where it’s possible, and a new crop of influencers who advocate for financial literacy, debt payoffs, and low-buy years are growing in popularity.

3. Losing Their Drive

What it is: Fewer teens seem interested in obtaining a driver’s license than in years past, with only 45 percent of 17-year-olds getting them in 2020—a drop of 17 percentage points compared to 1997.
Why it’s complicated: Young people quoted in the Washington Post’s article had different reasons for opting out of the road test. One said that after losing friends in car accidents, practicing driving with their parents left them feeling stressed and upset, so they decided to delay the learning process altogether. Another said that a license just didn’t seem necessary after moving to a metropolitan area where ride shares were easily accessible and available. Choosing a car-less lifestyle might appear more environmentally friendly to this notoriously climate-aware generation. And then there’s the simple economic aspect to it: it’s pretty difficult to save up to buy a new or reliable car these days, and even payments on a leased vehicle can be quite prohibitive for the average young person. It’s possible that eventually Gen Z will decide that they do want to drive and adopt similar habits to previous generations, but it’s also possible that we’re going to see a permanent change in the way that transportation works in the US.

Song of the Week

“Boy’s a liar Pt. 2” by Pink Pantheress and Ice Spice: reaching #3 on Apple, #9 on Spotify, #14 on Billboard, this upbeat song by newcomers Pink Pantheress and Ice Spice is about resenting men’s shallowness and deceit in relationships, and how a lack of commitment can lead to shame and self-worth issues. For the lyrics, click here (language).

Translation: Losing Their Drive

For many adults in 2023, the idea of going without an automobile might seem absurd. But for most of human history, cars didn’t even exist. The incredulity many parents and caring adults feel toward Gen Z not wanting to get drivers’ licenses can sometimes eclipse this important historical fact.

The first “automobile,” created by Carl Benz, came out in 1886. Then, for over a century, automobiles became the primary symbol of autonomy and independence. They allowed us to go where we wanted, see who we wanted, and to do so whenever we wanted. In many ways they still allow this, but today Gen Z has a new symbol of autonomy and independence: the smartphone.

Online, Gen Z can also go wherever they want, see whoever they want, and do so whenever they want. And when virtually all our friends feel accessible to us online via the smartphone and computer, the payoff for learning to drive and braving the highways can feel less significant than it used to.

The Washington Post article also rightly highlights Gen Z’s concerns about climate change and general anxiety as reasons why fewer may be interested in learning how to drive. Eschewing automobiles may also be much more doable and appealing for teens in an urban context. A teen growing up on a farm, for example, may have a stronger motivation to learn how to drive than a teen with easy access to public transportation or e-bikes. And yet even for teens in less urban settings, social media and online gaming can placate most of this desire.

“The times, they are a-changing” as Bob Dylan once sang. Here are three questions to get this conversation going with your teens:

  • Do you agree that your generation isn’t as excited about getting drivers’ licenses as previous generations? Why or why not?
  • What do you think are the main reasons for that?
  • What would be one pro of having a driver’s license? What would be one con?