Surveys Reveal Becalmed Youngsters

Tara J. Sullivan
September 1, 1999

Kids are playing, studying and listening to grown-ups more than grown-ups think they are, according to three separate studies released recently. But as they age, they’re also building more space between themselves and their parents.

“Building connections and relationships with kids is everybody’s business,” Vicki Baker, associate superintendent of Missouri’s North Kansas City School District, said at last month’s press conference unveiling the annual State of Our Nation’s Youth survey. The survey was sponsored by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., based in Alexandria, Va . “It is good news that today’s teens value their relationships with their teachers and family members.”

The studies covered different ground but included some overlapping findings:

-Time/Nickelodeon’s New York-based pollsters, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, surveyed 1,172 6-to-14-year-olds and 397 parents for its study, entitled, “Kids’ State of the Union.” It found that most kids enjoy their childhoods, listen to their parents and worry about being respected by adults.

The youths rejected the trendy “quality time” idea popular among many parental experts, asking instead for more “quantity time.” Seventy-nine percent said they look to their parents for guidance before anyone else, and 75 percent said they want to have kids of their own. By about four to one, kids ranked having a family above having a good career.

While adults debate the decline of American education, 84 percent of the youth polled described their teachers as “excellent” or “good.” The numbers decrease in this category as kids age. Math was voted the most useful subject by 52 percent of those polled.

Parents were also much less likely than kids to say that kids are “very safe” in their schools and neighborhoods. The youths cited homework as a bigger concern than school violence.

-The YMCA Healthy Kids study, conducted by the New York-based Global Strategy, Inc., relied on a survey of 200 12-to-15-year-olds and 224 parents. Its results illustrate how youths develop space between themselves and their parents as they get older. While 76 percent of parents believe that they provide information about topics such as sex, drugs and politics to their kids, only 57 percent of the youth reported getting such information at home.

With a record number of both parents working outside of the home, it might not be surprising that most of the parents didn’t know how much time their children spend with their friends. (Kids estimated 37 percent; parents estimated 18 percent). Nearly half (46 percent) of kids report they watch television on a daily basis unsupervised, and 25 percent use the Internet daily without parental supervision.

Young girls were less likely than boys to place importance on job status and earning a lot of money. The parents and kids agreed on the importance of all seven elements used by the pollsters to define success: good health, enduring marriage, family, leisure time, job status, volunteerism and a healthy paycheck.

-The Horatio Alger Association’s annual State of Our Nation’s Youth survey, conducted by the Connecticut-based National Family Opinion Research, Inc., quizzed 1,327 14-to-18-year-olds. Like the YMCA study, it shows how youth attitudes change with age. While 69 percent of youths reported viewing their mother as someone they can confide in about personal problems, less than half said that one of their role models is a family member.

“Students overall relate well to their families,” said Jennifer Park, educational analyst for the Horatio Alger Association.

In some ways older teens appear to view the world more as adults do. While the younger teens in the YMCA survey were confident about their safety in school, less than half of the older teens in this survey said they “always” felt safe in their school, and less than half believed that school staff have taken all the necessary steps to make them feel safe and secure.

“Adolescents know what poses a threat in their world,” Park said. She said they are more connected to information through the Internet and the electronic media than younger children.

However, youth do show faith in the educational system. More than half believed that it is important to most of their teachers that they [the students] do their best, and most have at least one teacher or administrator to talk with about their personal problems. The youths ranked mathematics and computer courses as the most important skills for future success. (Yet American students continue to test below most other industrialized nations in math, especially in high school.)

Sullivan, Tara J. "Surveys Reveal Becalmed Youngsters." Youth Today, September 1999, p. 35.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.