One key improvement omitted: In last Sunday’s Outlook section, the Washington Post ran an upbeat report about these kids today.
Professor Finkelhor wrote the report. This is the way he started, hard-copy headline included:
FINKLEHOR (11/30/14): The kids are all right after allGood for Finkelhor! That said, we were struck by several aspects of his report. That includes one major improvement he completely failed to discuss.
The news media likes to characterize today’s young people as risk averse, narcissistic, app-dependent, over-scheduled, entitled and “pornified.” Among the culprits are too much praise, not enough challenge, helicopter parents, cellphones and of course, the Internet.
But by many measures, young people are actually showing virtues their elders lacked. They have brought delinquency, truancy, promiscuity, alcohol abuse and suicide down to levels unseen in many cases since the 1950s. Rather than coming up with ever more old-fogey complaints, we should be celebrating young people’s good judgment and self-control—and extolling their parents and teachers.
You’ve probably heard that crime is down. But most of the remarkable facts about crime and delinquency among young people have not been trumpeted enough in a country just 20 years removed from fears that it was facing a generation of young “super-predators.”
Finkelhor discussed the various ways in which today’s kids are better. General crime is down; rape and other sex crimes are down; suicide is less common; school safety has been improving dramatically.
That said, we thought the professor showed a tin ear on one or two occasions. Did he realize the way the highlighted passages might sound to adult ears?
FINKELHOR: Every generation of parents is alarmed by the sexual behavior of the young. But the accusations are more misplaced now than ever. Not only is the rate of teenage pregnancy down to record lows in the United States, but the percentage of ninth-graders who say they have had sexual intercourse has declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2013. The percentage of high schoolers who say they have had four or more sexual partners also has declined.Only 47 percent of ninth-graders say they’ve had intercourse! Fewer eighth-graders got drunk last year!
Young people are showing a lot more self-control when it comes to substances as well. Binge drinking by 12th-graders is lower than at any time since surveys were started in 1976. The number of teenagers who have been drunk in the past year is at a record low and the drop for eighth-graders is particularly remarkable.
We’re going to guess that claims like those won’t sound that great to many readers. But as Finkelhor rattled the many improvements, we were struck by the one big improvement he skipped.
Truly, it’s against the law to report the fact that test scores are up on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold standard of domestic testing! Finkelhor listed many improvements, but took a pass on that.
It’s just as we have always told you. Every researcher and journalist swears by the NAEP, but no one reports what the NAEP scores show! Never has this principle seemed more striking to us.
Finkelhor didn’t report the gain in national test scores. When he listed possible reason for the other improvements, we thought of Kevin Drum:
FINKELHOR: Why these improvements? Social scientists are mostly guessing. For example, over the past generation we have unleashed many new prevention and intervention programs for parents, families and children that use more effective strategies. We also have given psychiatric medication to many children and their parents. Although controversial, such drugs reduce aggression, depression and hyperactivity—which all contribute to conflict and risk-taking. Then there is the Internet, electronic games and related technology that have combined to relieve boredom, one of the chief drivers of adolescent mischief. Cellphones keep kids in touch with their parents and their friends, making it easier to summon help or get advice when they’re in trouble.It might be the meds or the video games. Or maybe it’s the cellphones! Finkelhor didn’t speculate about the possible role of lead abatement in the many improvements he named.
An array of unpleasant comments were found beneath the article. Meanwhile, the Post proved it was still the Post through an accompanying graphic which we can’t find on line.
This was the headline on the graphic. We’re leaving the typo in:
Youth gone mildAlas! The Post went with “there” instead of “their.” More strikingly, none of the statistics in the graphic spoke to the issue in question!
Despite perceptions, today’s young people are less prone to bad behavior than there [sic] elders. For example, take these declines in crime statistics between 2002 and 2011.
Are young people less prone to bad behavior than their elders? Probably yes. But none of the data in the graphic spoke to that actual issue.
When these kids today take over the Post, errors like that will cease.