Today's teenagers are less likely to get pregnant at a young age and are turning away from drink, drugs and cigarettes – but are increasingly engaging in self-harm, suffering from eating disorders and not getting enough sleep, according to a UK government paper.
The report was published in The Independent.
The findings suggest that the pervasion of the internet and social media, coupled with better parental monitoring and supervision, has prompted major changes in the behavior of the country's youth.
While some said that the popularity of social media and computer games had left children with "less time and opportunity to participate in traditional risk behaviors" such as underage drinking, others pointed out that the anonymity of the internet had made obtaining "legal highs" and "designer drugs" much easier for them.
Although it acknowledged that there was still "considerable uncertainty" about the impact of the digital world on teenagers, the paper said there had been a clear rise in cyber-bullying and that today's children were now frequently exposed to "hate content, self-harm and pro-anorexia" websites.
Perhaps surprisingly, the group said "sexting" – the sending and receiving of sexually explicit text messages – was already declining among young people, as was the underage use of social media. But some of the experts raised concerns that the prevalence of online pornography could be having "significant psychological impacts" on children.
For many, the internet provided a valuable source of information and support and could help them answer questions about mental or sexual health, the paper said. But others struggled to control the time they spent online.
The document further noted that there was good evidence to suggest a "slow and steady decline" in drinking, drug use, smoking, crime, suicide and teenage pregnancy among the country's young people – but concluded there was "no space for complacency" as different risks were continually emerging and evolving.
The main area of concerns to experts is the rise in self-harm, especially among teenage girls. "Figures for eating disorders and body image issues suggest that these are also significant problems, and are likely to be associated with poor mental health," the paper added.
However, the paper also stressed that the current generation of young people were not only displaying less risky behavior than their predecessors, but were also doing positive things for society "that often go unrecognized in public debate".
About 80 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds volunteered in the past year – more than any other age group, it said.
Suzie Hayman, a trustee and spokeswoman for the parenting charity Family Lives, pointed out that for teenagers, engaging in risky or rebellious behavior was perfectly normal and did not necessarily suggest a problem in their personal lives.