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Survey - Finnish teens ditch beer and smoking in favour of energy drinks and cannabis

As thousands of 19-year-olds graduate from high school this spring, an Yle analysis shows some big changes in their lives today compared to those of school leavers two decades ago. But the things young people hold most important in life have remained the same, the surveys show.

1996 ja 2015 valmistuneet abit ja amikset.
How different are the lives of today's 19-year-olds from those of teenagers two decades ago?

Finland’s 19-year-olds are more likely to be politically engaged, have a multicultural view of society, and enjoy higher living standards today than a teenager living two decades ago, new data claims.

But whereas their counterparts from 1996 would have been into smoking and drinking alcohol, today’s 19-year-old is much more likely to prefer energy drinks and cannabis. They’ll also be in worse physical shape, and more prone to insomnia, neck and back pain as a result of higher stress.

Still conservative

An Yle analysis of data from 1996 and the present day highlights changes in the way young people in Finland behave, but finds that core beliefs about the importance of work, education and family have not changed.

“Young people’s values are still as conservative as before,” says researcher of youth attitudes Sami Myllyniemi. Data from the annual Youth Barometer survey shows that the majority of 19-year-olds still think that work, home and making a living are the most important things in life, especially students in vocational college.

”It really is quite surprising that young people’s values haven’t changed,” Myllyniemi says, adding that the behaviour of an average 19-year-old in Finland is likely to be very different to 20 years ago.

Digital generation

Back in 1996, the internet was a place for technical pioneers, and many youngsters would have got their first mobile phone around the time they graduated. Back then, sending text messages was a new and exciting technological advance.

But unsurprisingly, today’s average 19-year-old is an avid social media user. “We see that young people who meet online now are also more likely to meet each other face to face,” Myllyniemi says. “For anyone not online, this can lead to marginalisation.”

Multicultural Finland

Back in 1996, Finland had just joined the EU, and it was common for 19-year-olds to set off to find work in Europe as soon as they finished school. But today’s 19-year-olds are more able to experience different cultures without having to travel.

Immigration among this age-group has increased ten-fold in the last 20 years, meaning a 19-year-old is now more likely to have friends with different backgrounds

”Of course some people have negative attitudes towards immigration, but that is more of a political question. It’s become more natural to interact with immigrants. Attitudes are most tolerant in the larger towns,” Sami Myllyniemi says.

Typical rebellious youth pursuits, like smoking and drinking, are also on the wane, the data shows. A 19-year-old today is likely to smoke and drink less than in the 1990s, which Myllyniemi believes is because it’s not seen as trendy anymore.

But the use of soft drugs, such as cannabis, has risen.

Levels of physical fitness have also been decreasing since the 1970s. Although cycling is popular in many circles, with fewer young people now owning a driving licence, daily levels of exercise have fallen.

Stress rising

Stress-related health problems have also become more widespread, the survey suggests. An increase in neck and shoulder pain could be related to the spread of technology and more sedentary working practices. Meanwhile sleep disorders and insomnia are now more common, with the survey reporting shorter sleeping times and an increase in morning tiredness.

”We’re staying up later surfing the net, and there’s also been a boom in caffeine-heavy energy drinks,” Myllyniemi says.

Politically switched-on

In terms of adolescent political engagement, support for the Green Party has soared since 1996, making them – along with the conservative National Coalition Party – the most popular party for young people.

The other big change is in support for the populist Finns Party, who in 1996 were still a marginal force. However, voting activity among this age group seems to have decreased since the 1990s.

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