When it comes to teenagers, parents have a little less to worry about. The share of teens and people in their 20s with driver's licenses has dropped significantly in the last three decades, according to a University of Michigan study.
So can parents everywhere count their blessings? Seems that way. In 1983, nearly 70 percent of 17-year-olds had their licenses. In 2008, that percentage had dropped to 50 percent. As age increased, the decreases were less marked, but still noticeable. Nearly all 20- to 24-year-olds had licenses in 1983, but in 2008, just 83 percent did.
That translates to fewer dents on the family chariot, and fewer sleepless nights listening for the sound of the car pulling in the driveway. But what's going on? Internet use, say researchers. They theorize that young people have less need for face-to-face interaction because of social media and video games.
And they have a point. Today it's possible to be in constant communication in a dozen different ways without seeing anyone, much less hearing a human voice. How many parents have been startled by watching one of their children playing video games with people who live across the street and in Sidney, Australia, all from the comfort of the family room?
No wonder so many of the grey-haired among us feel as if we were born shortly after the Civil War.
But let's not typecast teens as a generation averse to all forms of human interaction. They drive less, but volunteer more. Close to one-fifth of all teens have volunteered in the last 10 years, while fewer than 15 percent did in 1989, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service.
Teens may be on video games and using social media, and text messaging with a dexterity that keeps their elders in a constant state of confusion. But they are an idealistic bunch, and by and large, good kids.
And on or off the road, no matter what the researchers say, we'll worry about them anyway. In the end, that's not about them. That's about us.