Big cities and small towns have their apparent but differing pros and cons when it comes to raising teenagers. Big cities traditionally contain diverse populations and access to museums and research institutions, but parents might worry about gangs or kids growing up too fast. Small towns have a reputation for strong communities and access to the outdoors, but cause parents concern over limited resources or teen boredom. The reality is that statistics paint conflicting pictures of teen life in both places. The difference between teenagers in big cities and small towns may matter less than the challenges your teen will encounter based on her own individual experiences and choices.
In the 1980s, researchers at Columbia University determined that big-city teenagers were more likely to identify with teen subcultures and, in some cases, gangs, while rejecting mainstream culture. Small-town teens were viewed as more competitive, striving to outperform peers in academics and in sports, according to Russell Dewey, PhD., in “Psychology: An Introduction.” Teens in rural settings felt more isolated, with fewer perceived opportunities in college and careers. Current studies don’t paint as clear-cut a picture, however. A more pervasive media or online culture could affect this blending, or metropolitan systems may have become more integrated, creating more opportunities for teen experiences to cross over. During the 1990s, risk-taking among teenagers decreased across the board, according to the nonpartisan Urban Institute.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2011, the live birth rate for teens age 15 to 19 was 31.3 for every 1,000 women (representing an 8 percent drop from 2010). Environmental characteristics surrounding teen mothers include high poverty, poor schools, poor housing and limited health resources -- factors that could take place in big cities or small towns. Overall, though, in 2010 the teen birth rate was higher in rural areas compared to urban areas by about one-third, according to The National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Teens living in small towns might have less exposure to university recruitment campaigns, limiting access to higher education. Elite colleges sometimes bypass small towns in recruitment. Adolescents living in small towns are more likely to feel that their prospects are limited, according to Voices of Central Pennsylvania in an article summarizing local college acceptance rate statistics. These teens might forgo a college education in favor of entering the workforce or joining the military.
Urban teenagers may be more exposed to drug use, violence and early sexual activity, according to the Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars in the article, “Helping Urban Teenagers Avoid High-Risk Behavior: What We’ve Learned From Prevention Research.” However, because poverty was a primary contributing factor, teenagers living in small towns aren’t automatically protected from exposure. In 2012, the New York Daily News reported that heroin use among suburban teenagers had increased, partly because it was readily available; incorrectly used prescription drugs were acting as gateway drugs for this demographic. Small-town teens might be more at-risk for violence among peers; also, fewer rural teens wear seat belts while driving.