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National 'Youth Report': By Teens, About Teens

National Youth Report By Teens, About Teens

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Recently, the Boys and Girls Club of America published the results of its Youth Report to America. The national survey written for, and conducted by teens, comes as the organization celebrates 100 years of serving America's youth. The report is described as the largest of its kind. Some 46,000 young people shared their views a myriad of topics like education, war, and violence.

In a moment, two promising young leaders from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America share their thoughts. But first, for more on the survey, I spoke with Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint, who explained some of the findings.

Mr. ALVIN POUSSAINT (Psychiatrist, Harvard): Seventy-five percent of these kids felt that a college education was necessary to achieve their career goals. That's something they feel. I don't think that's always been true--when there were a lot of jobs around for people who didn't go to college. But now they feel you need a college education. At the same time, among this group of youngsters, who are--many of them disadvantaged--25 percent had a fear that they wouldn't graduate from high school.

And that's part of the reality, when you look at the 50 percent high school dropout rate in many of these communities, they look around them and they see a lot of kids not making it and dropping out of high school. That, to me, was an interesting piece. Some things we thought would be different. For instance, we felt they would feel more apart from their parents.

But over 45 percent of these kids said that parents were still important in terms of their decision making, and their relationship with the parents was something that they really valued. So the imagine of these young people pulling away and rejecting parents and just dealing with their peers and no parental influence, apparently they don't agree with that supposed observation by a lot of people.

GORDON: You know what I found most interesting is--and you mentioned it in your first set of number there--the idea that there is this hope and optimism, yet sometimes reality's seen to dash that. Nearly a third wanted a less violent world, nearly a fourth identified the possibility of going to war as their greatest fear. Yet half of the teens polled felt violence was necessary to defend themselves in their daily lives.

Mr. POUSSAINT: Right. So here you have a group of young people who don't want to go to war--one of their greatest fears is going to war. And they're very afraid of violence and also of crime, but they live in conditions in there own communities where there is a lot violence and where they are called on to defend themselves.

So 50 percent felt well if someone attacks me, I have to defend myself. Of course, that leads to more and more violence as people defend themselves, and then there's retaliation.

GORDON: You know what's interesting, too, is that you had teens talking to teens for this survey?

Mr. POUSSAINT: That's right. Not just within the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, but they also went out in the community to young people who are not connected with the Boys and Girls Club, and surveyed them as well--so they would get a better sampling of what teenagers were thinking in their communities, even outside the Boys and Girls Clubs.

GORDON: One of the questions was, What makes someone successful? Knowledge, 33 percent, was the highest among the group of four; positive relationships, second; money, third; fame, fourth. I found that very interesting for young people.

Mr. POUSSAINT: I think knowledge was number one, because I think knowledge they associate with education, and that you need an education to be successful. In one way or the other, your education comes in there, so I think they put knowledge at the top. But they also clearly, you know--one fifth of them felt that money was very important and fame in general. But then it was interesting that they put positive relationships up there pretty high.

About 23 percent felt that positive relations were important to success, which meant that again they value their friends, their peers and being able to work well with people.

GORDON: Here's what many people have said; I know a good friend of yours, Bill Cosby, has said this for years and years and years--and it bears out, and you mentioned it, it bears out in this survey--the idea the greatest influence on your decision making, parents or guardians almost 50 percent, 44 percent. We cannot minimize the importance of mentors and parents and guardians in a young person's life.

Mr. POUSSAINT: Absolutely. I think they also felt that they were not spending enough time with their parents or their parents were not spending enough time with them. And about 20 percent felt they would like to spend more time with their parents or with each other. So these are young people yearning for better improved relationships with parents, adults or mentors.

And it also indicates how important the mentor is which is one of the things that the Boys and Girls Clubs of America help supply for these young people.

GORDON: Dr. Alvin Poussaint, as always, thank you for you analysis of these numbers and your time today. I appreciate it.

Mr. POUSSAINT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.