Millennials aren’t rebels. In general, they don’t partake in nearly as many risky behaviors as previous generations, and when they do engage in dangerous activities, it’s usually not to act out. Instead, they consider risky behaviors — like texting and driving, underage drinking, and smoking pot — as experiences or choices where the payoff outweighs the risk. That doesn’t mean their actions aren’t dangerous, but Millennials have a different mindset when deciding what activities to engage in.
In our latest survey on this topic — aptly titled “Risky Business” — we reaffirmed that texting and driving is one of the most common dangerous behaviors that Gen Y engages in (first is driving while tired). They know it’s not safe to be distracted while behind the wheel, but in their minds, the perceived benefit — staying in touch with their friends — outweighs the risk. On average, 34% text while driving or go on the Internet while behind the wheel, with older Millennials doing this more than younger ones. They’ve seen countless campaigns about the dangers of texting and driving, but if they haven’t directly seen the consequences of shooting someone a quick reply or sending a tweet, they’ll continue to do so.
In comparison, 97% of Millennials wear their seatbelt while driving because they’ve always been told how important this is and they realize how large a risk it would be not to wear it. However, glancing down at a message (which they view as less dangerous than sending a message) presents a greater reward than a risk in their minds. As one of our Youth Advisory Board members put it when discussing the topic, “some sort of cost-benefit analysis occurs, then, mandating which actions are considered ‘worth it’ and which ones aren’t.” And in general, being connected is “worth it” to Gen Y.
This same mentality explains why Millennials drink (even underage) and smoke pot (35% have tried it). They don’t view these actions as a big deal and they feel there’s a bigger reward than a risk. But in comparison, few have taken hard drugs (only 3% use an illicit drug at least monthly) or smoke (only 9% smoke at least weekly), which they’ve continuously been told is harmful.
Drinking and marijuana however have become more socially acceptable, and, as Millennials are exposed to both frequently in the media, they don’t consider these behaviors wrong. In fact, many Millennials have had their first drink with their parents, or their “peerents,” which again indicates that they view it as an important experience to have as they become an adult. We see parents enabling kids to engage with risky behaviors under safe parameters as a fascinating Millennial twist on the concept of “helicopter parenting.”