Why do we think teens are engaging in more risky behavior than previous generations when the opposite is true?

People seem to believe that kids today engage in risky behavior at far greater rates than previous generations did but the research shows that the opposite is true. Teens today do drugs, drink alcohol, get pregnant, and smoke cigarettes at lower rates than other teens have for the past thirty years. At the same time, though, people don’t believe that is the case? Why is that?

Part of this is the amount of media attention and awareness that which creates an example of an availability bias. With 24 hour news coverage on multiple channels in addition to social media driving news consumption, sensational stories stand out in our minds and cause us to misperceive actual trends.

The causes of this are also connected to the same factors that cause humans to be very bad at judging risks. Scary stories overwhelm us and make us believe in incorrect ideas.

Below are some interesting resources that provide data which is not sensational but presents some truth on the subject matter.

Today’s Teens are more than alright

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/the-kids-are-more-than-all-right/

Today’s teens use less…than you did

https://www.vox.com/a/teens#year/1972

The rapid decline in teen births is a huge public health success story

http://www.vox.com/2016/6/2/11829864/teen-birth-decline-2015

Teens doing better: Why don’t adults believe it?

http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/04/20/stepp.teens.followup/

The psychology of why 94 deaths from terrorism are scarier than 301,797 deaths from guns

“One reason people’s fears don’t line up with actual risks is that our brains are wired by evolution to make fast judgements which are not always backed up by logical reasoning. “Our emotions push us to make snap judgments that once were sensible—but may not be anymore,” Maia Szalavitz, a child psychiatrist, wrote in 2008 in Psychology Today.”

https://qz.com/898207/the-psychology-of-why-americans-are-more-scared-of-terrorism-than-guns-though-guns-are-3210-times-likelier-to-kill-them/

Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

“Intuition can encourage opinions that are contrary to the facts.”

“By tapping into intuitions and emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, but are constituent of any normally functioning human mind, such representations become easy to think. They capture our attention, they are easily processed and remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted and becoming popular, even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs, in part, because it just makes sense that they would pose a threat.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-oppose-gmos-even-though-science-says-they-are-safe/

No, Half of All Children Won’t Be Autistic By 2025, Despite What Your Facebook Friends May Tell You

“As for the headline claim that half of all children will be autistic by 2025, this claim blithely ignores the broad consensus that the increasing prevalence of autism is largely due to increasing rates of diagnosis and – as a new study has recently demonstrated changes in how autism is diagnosed. The baseless assumption that rates of autism diagnosis will continue into the stratosphere is dumbfounding.”

http://bigthink.com/neurobonkers/no-half-of-all-children-wont-be-autistic-by-2025-whatever-facebook-tells-you

Is Suicide a More Present Danger Than Murder?

“For as often as we hear about murders, the suicide rate is actually much higher than the homicide rate. Nearly a third more people die at their own hands than at other people’s  (the murder rate in America is about 6 per 100,000; for suicides it’s about 10.8).”

http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/suicide-a-more-present-threat-than-murder-130823.htm