New survey debunks popularly held views about parents, teens

Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2003

"Mom, you're just too old to understand."

"But, Dad, everybody else is getting to go."

The notion that parents and teens never see eye-to-eye may be more fact than fiction, judging from a recent national survey.

In fact, "The State of Our Nation's Youth" survey conducted by the Horatio Alger Association, which provides college scholarships and mentoring to needy students, debunks a lot of commonly held beliefs about teens and their parents.

Instead of foes, teens see their parents as role models, confidants and weekend buddies, according to the survey. "Almost 75 percent of high school students say they get along very well or even extremely well with their parents or guardians," The Associated Press reported in a story about the survey. "Most of the rest call the relationship 'just OK,' and only 3 percent say they and their parents don't get along well."

That's not to say most teens and parents exchange words, but when they do it's on familiar grounds.

"The biggest bones of contention between students and their parents are having to clean their rooms and rules that they feel are too strict. Fewer students say that they fight with their parents over grades, spending habits, friends, future plans and their appearance.

"For the most part, however, students report having remarkably positive relationships with their family," according to the survey.

Teens also are not as cynical or as distrusting of the older generation as they've been stereotyped.

"Fully three-quarters of students say that their outlook for the future is hopeful and optimistic, whereas just one in five say that they look ahead with worry and pessimism. A strong majority of students support the war in Iraq, and more of them believe that the war has increased America's world standing than believe America's standing has decreased because of it. ...

"Students' optimism about the future and support for the war is apparent in their confidence in the country's institutions. About half of high school students say that they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the federal government and in Congress, compared with about one in three adults who say the same. Students and adults agree, however, on their confidence in the military, with eight in 10 in each group saying that they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in the military," reported the survey.

All of that optimism doesn't mean that social pressures have gone away.

"Two in five students say that the pressure to get good grades creates a major problem for them an increase of 16 points in the past two years. Many students also say that financial pressures, pressure to look a certain way, pressure to do drugs, pressure to engage in sex and loneliness create

problems for them," said the survey.

Parents should note this important finding: "... (A)cross the board, students who say that they do not get along with their parents say that these pressures create more problems for them."

The survey also found "two in five students say that at least half the students they know do drugs such as marijuana or smoke cigarettes. A majority of students say that at least half the students they know are sexually active. A majority also says that at least half the students they know cheat on tests.

Students who get grades of C or below and students who are not involved with their school are far more likely to say that the students they know at school are engaging in these types of activities."

The Associated Press reported these findings from the survey, which had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points:

Fifty-eight percent of students said they have their own television, and 45 percent have their own cell phone. Almost every student reported access to a computer in the home.

Fewer than 10 percent of students said pressure to do drugs or to have sex before they're ready is a major problem.

Forty-seven percent of students report spending six or more hours per week on homework, up from 37 percent last year.

Sixty percent of students say standardized tests are a good way to measure their progress. Last year, 65 percent thought such tests were a good idea.

Perhaps the most surprising finding of the survey is this, however: "Asked how they'd like to spend more time, more teens chose being with their families over relaxing with friends, playing sports or anything else," reported the AP.

While that should be encouraging news to parents, it also constitutes a warning, noted Peter Hart, whose research company authored a report on the survey.

''The kids who are in high school are telling parents, 'We're listening to you, we care about what you think, and we'd like to spend more time with you,''' Hart told the AP.

All that leads to one question: Parents, are you listening?

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