By Melanie Wells

M Wells 2018 FullSize

Teen Scene, viewed over the last 20 years, proves what most of us already suspect: that for all the shifting trends decades may bring, human nature doesn’t change much.  A glance at remarks from our teen panelists, chosen at random from 2001-2017, reveals that while the details may vary the big picture is pretty stable. Take a look: 


Work hard, play hard – but when do we sleep??

2001: When faced with a choice between completing school work, going to a party, or getting enough rest, the “two out of three” that most teens choose are doing their work and going to parties. Not enough sleep is nothing new.


About that “play hard” part – drugs and alcohol have maintained allure over the years:

2001: In freshman year, many kids “sample several drugs…marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and hallucinogens” (mushrooms and LSD.) 

2002: Marijuana, Ecstasy and cocaine are still used, and “ninth grade is the time” when most teens experiment. 

2005: An “overwhelming number of people are doing pot and coke.” Many agreed that cocaine is enjoying a new surge in popularity among girls… it “keeps weight down” and “has no smell.”

2005: Prescription drugs used to treat learning issues are popular because they are “at hand” or “available from a friend”. … some kids will turn to them “for extra focus” at exam time.

2007: One teen explained, “It’s all out there— pot, cocaine, prescription drugs, acid and ’shrooms.” Cocaine has made a “huge comeback” among girls, who use it to control weight…

2007: Teen clubs are a popular alcohol-free alternative for teens, though teens may get “hammered beforehand.” 

2009: At parties, some kids are sober while others “can’t even stand up.” 

2010: We sound like raging alcoholics…that’s not the case,” protested one panelist, in a …discussion on pre-gaming, fake IDs, and binge drinking. The kids acknowledged that while many do “drink to get drunk,” most …experiment with going “over the limit” early … then mature out of that phase by senior year.”

2010: “Potheads are not a subculture…athletes, straight-A students, student government…all use pot.”

2011: Drinking “starts before high school” but becomes “pervasive in 9th grade.” Drugs, especially pot, appear just as readily available as alcohol…

2011: No alcohol is served [at a ‘fest’] but there is plenty of “pre-gaming” (getting intoxicated before arrival) and the hired door staff “don’t care” when kids show up drunk.

2011: [One boy] “saw marijuana at bar mitzvah parties … in seventh grade.”

2015: “Drugs and alcohol are as much a part of the weekend social scene as ever” with alcohol and pot by far the most used…. Also on the kids’ radar were cocaine, Molly, Ecstasy, and hallucinogens, [and] recreational use of prescription drugs like Xanax, OxyContin and Adderall.


Stress and pressure (academic and peer) have long acted as substance abuse triggers:

2004…drinking and smoking pot on the weekends [is] a “stress reliever,” but most of the kids [also] said that they tried drugs … because of social pressure. 

2004: A senior boy: “Pressure [to drink or do drugs] exists, but the easy answer is ‘no thanks.’ ” 

2009: Peer pressure can be a “huge catalyst for drinking,” said one boy [but]…not everyone drinks…. some “don’t drink at all.”

2009: “Many kids don’t consider pot a drug, just something you do when you are stressed out.” 

2009: During exams, said one, “kids look for the kid who has a [Adderall] prescription,” hoping to “get through” the exam period.

2009: “Kids who turn to drink and drugs have problems from the outset,” said one. “Help them feel comfortable.” 


And sex? Unlike drugs/alcohol, sexual trends show a shift over time:

2002: Casual Oral Sex was a hot topic in the early 2000s: According to the panel, “oral sex isn’t considered sex” and happens “a zillion times.” 

2004: The Sex Talk: “Look, it’s really tough to talk about sex with a parent,” explained one teen. “No one wants to hear about their parents’ sex lives, but it’s important to talk about this stuff.” 

2009: “Talk about [sex] prior to when you think it happens”…. one girl was grateful for talks with mom ….[and]  a senior boy appreciated “frequent talks” [with] his father, “man to man,” [that] taught him “to be a gentleman.” 

2010: Oral sex becomes “less casual:” The panel agreed that [while] oral sex “is not really sex,” it was “more significant than hooking up” and usually occurred as “part of a relationship.”

2011: Contrary to popular belief, “all teenagers are not having sex.” One panelist had taken a poll … and found [only] 15 of 60 juniors had lost their virginity.  Everyone agreed that protection is available and used.  

2015: Sexual Activity Wanes: While “hooking up” remains far more common than traditional dating, it does not always involve intercourse and one sophomore boy reported that very few of his friends had ever had sex.

2017: Gender Fluidity: When asked about how they were handling the growing awareness of gender fluidity, almost unanimously, they agreed that as New Yorkers, they were “open minded”  and that being trans-gender was basically a “non-issue.”


Social Media emerges, from Facebook, to texting, to various online presences:

2007: One junior girl cautioned parents who are “out of tune” with social networking sites that they risk leaving a door open for their kids to get into trouble. Parents should “learn how Facebook works and view their teen’s profile,” she said. 

2007: “When I catch myself spending too much time online, I remind myself that I have to be in the real world,” [a freshman] said. 

2009: Social Media: “While technology is scary to parents, it’s part of our future,” said one girl, and “learning to use it responsibly” is part of “our high school experience.” One teen observed that the lack of “real” face time has led to an increase in teen “awkwardness.”

2009: Texting: Why is texting so important? Because, as one boy explained, it’s “not loud;” kids can discreetly contact parents when out with peers. Others said texting makes it “easier to get the message out quickly” without “interrupting” the social flow. 


By the mid-2010s, social media adds to teens’ pressure:

2015: “Teens use social media to present an idealized version” of themselves, and the vibe can become “competitive.” Kids also “understand the dangers of social media.” A sophomore girl said she and her friends put “phones on the table” when they go out to dinner… and “the first person who touches their device foots the bill.”



2001: One teen described “extremely poor parenting” … as… parents who “don’t supervise their children, give kids a lot of money, and don’t care about their grades.” 

2009: Care, but stay calm: “Don’t freak out the first time something happens,” said a panelist. Teens admired students who have an “established trust with their parents” – and who know they can call their parents for a ride or for help in a predicament.

2009: “The biggest punishment for me would be if my parents don’t trust me,” said one girl. 

2011: Teens “need to feel their parents trust them” to navigate their own lives, and they “need to trust their parents to be there to help when they make mistakes.”  

2017: “A little trust goes a long way, if I breach that, then we have a talk, but let your kids prove themselves to you,” said one eleventh grade girl.   Another said, she and her parents had “very open” communications:  “I don’t lie and they don’t worry.”

“Parents who wait up for kids are effective merely by showing they care enough to stay up that late.” 


Trust is built through good communication:
2007: “You guys are allowed to nag us…we do hear you,” said a teen. One boy … discovered that the “way to get through a problem is to go to the parents, not around them.” 

2009: … A strong theme was the value teens place on “open lines of communication” with parents.  One advised establishing an “open honest relationship” with “you there to help.” 

2009: [Teens] advised parents to “offer your thoughts in the form of an opinion” rather than just, “Don’t do this or that.” “Be honest with your kids” and they’ll be “more inclined to call you” when in trouble.

2009: Panelists said teens should “face the consequences of their actions.” Parents were urged to “find solutions together” and to “punish kids for dishonesty” but not for “making a mistake.” 

2017: “If you don’t know how to talk to your kids, start a TV show with them, or read a book together.”

2017: One panelist said, simply and poignantly, “Like your children.”


Share Dinner, Share Thoughts:

2017: Ms. Gianino asked, “What can parents do to help their kids?”  

“Have dinner together,” was the instant response. “I have dinner with my parents five times a week, and that makes me feel less stress. I put my phone away, and my mom asks ‘How was today different than yesterday?’ It definitely lets me get things off my chest….”



While teens love adventure and prize their freedom, they crave strong relationships with their parents, even though the parents set limits and boundaries. And while kids may fight stress with drug and alcohol experimentation, sometimes the best stress reliever is a close, loving and trusting relationship with parents. Help them establish that. And work with them to keep it.


POST-TEEN SCENE reactions from panelists:

“Thank you Lucy! It was a great reflecting experience and I was happy to hear other students’ experiences at  peer high schools… Thank you for the opportunity to be on the panel.” 

“Thank you SO much for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it so much!! I learned so much from being on the  panel and met some amazing kids. Thank you again.” 

“Thank you for the opportunity. I had a blast!” 

“Thank you so much for an amazing experience that I will remember forever.”


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