Terrifying News: Teens Are Happy…And Getting More So

Bad news: Teens are happy…and getting more so

September 27, 2007

Recent findings by our leading youth-attitude research institute that America’s teenagers, especially boys, are happier than ever have ignited panic among those agencies, institutions, authors, news media, experts, and culture warriors, all of whom desperately need adolescents to be miserable in order to sustain their own psychological and financial well-being.

Would you say you’re happy these days?

Girls
Boys
Year
Very
Pretty
Not Too
Very
Pretty
Not Too
Number
1976
21%
66%
13%
16%
71%
13%
14,503
1980
19%
66%
16%
17%
66%
17%
15,821
1985
20%
68%
12%
18%
72%
11%
15,939
1990
19%
67%
14%
20%
67%
13%
12,580
1995
17%
67%
16%
18%
66%
15%
12,646
2000
20%
67%
13%
24%
63%
13%
10,375
2005
22%
65%
13%
25%
63%
12%
11,989

 

Source: Monitoring the Future, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. Sum of five interview forms, 1976-2005.

Monitoring the Future, the nation’s only long-term survey of youth attitudes, has polled nearly half a million high school seniors annually for 30 years. Its 2005 survey of 6,200 girls and 5,800 boys found them saying they werehappier than in any previous year, with especially large gains over the last decade. A similar trend is evident among first-year college students in the Higher Education Research Institute’s The American Freshman, which finds that students reporting feeling depressed in the previous dropped from a high of 11% in 1988 to record lows of 7% in 2005 and 2006.

Despite incessant claims of burgeoning student stress, pressure, pop-culture corruption, addiction, and other ills, girls show remarkable stability in happiness over the last three decades. A slight dip in 1995 was followed by sharp gains in happiness over the next decade. Supposedly endangered, messed-up, alienated boys show impressive 30-year gains, caused mainly by more who said they were “pretty happy” in the 1970s now saying they’re very happy. All in all, only around 1 teenager in 8 says he or she feels “not too happy,” about the same as in their parents’ generation. However, black teens are 25% less likely to say they’re very happy, and 75% more likely to say they’re “not too happ,” than are white teens.

Happier young people is clearly worrisome news for America’s large Teen Panic Industry, which thrives on misrepresenting young people as depressed, even suicidal. Hasn’t Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and widely quoted in the press, pronounced today’s young the “more miserable than ever before”? Mary Bray Pipher, whoseReviving Ophelia series is treated as gospel, called girls “depressed” and filled with “great unhappiness.” “We are more diseased and more addicted than any generation of young women that has come before,” declared feminist author Courtney Martin; the life of a girl today is “a bubbling, acid pit of guilt and shame and jealousy and restlessness and anxiety.” (Martin herself is certainly miserable, universalizing her own body-image anxieties as one women “wake up in the morning to… walk around all day resisting… go to bed sad and hopeless about” (emphasis hers). Don’t we read and hear at every turn that girls and boys alike are suffering skyrocketing depression, anxiety, and hopelessness compared to youth of the past, with boys “lost” (in the words of popular author James Garbarino) and failing at every turn? How could they not be?

How, then, when allowed to speak for themselves rather than through all their worriers, can 87% of teens have the audacity to tell polls they’re pretty or very happy? How can their happiness be rising over the last 10 years in particular, a time when all sorts of misery-inducing forces–skinny fashion models, academic competition, sexualized preteens, materialism, consumerism, all the easy targets– proliferated?

Happier teens represent a major threat to the agendas of culture-warriors, pop authors, psychiatric and pharmaceutical interests, media sensationalists, the whole Teen Panic Industry, who have (despite endless efforts)failed to sell adolescents themselves on their message that they’re hopelessly miserable. Look for stepped-up efforts by grownup interests to convince girls that the more successful they are, the more unhappy, and boys that despite their optimism, they’re really losers.