Monday, August 20, 2007

Good News About Today's Teens...Just Not New News

You may have seen the story today about the new MTV/AP poll on what makes young people ages 13 - 24 happy.

There's actually very little new news in this poll, but it helps dispell once again the myth that teenagers are largely troubled, conflicted, and unhappy with their lives -- or engaging in lots of risk taking behaviors.

In fact, as my new book, "What Every 21st Century Parent Needs To Know" (due out next spring), will report, today's teenagers are less likely to take risks with alcohol, sex, and drugs than teenagers 15 years ago.

The press release says that "being sexually active leads to less happiness among 13 - 17 year olds" but more happiness in the moment for 18 - 24 year olds. Conservative sites are already reporting that "virgins are happier." Well, not quite, when you actually read the research report.

Actually, what the poll found was that almost three quarters of the teens they surveyed haven't had sex in the past week, and almost half (45% to be exact) said the question on their sex life didn't apply to them (I'm not sure though that means they were or weren't virgins or how sexually experienced they were.) I didn't find a question asking if they were virgins and how it affected their feelings of happiness; let me know if you do. Almost half of teens do not have a boyfriend or girlfriend, although 30% of teens who did said that the relationship made them VERY happy. Less than 1% of teens said that "sex" (not defined, I'm guessing teens thought it only meant intercourse) was what made them most happy; 20% of teens said time with their family and 15% said time with their friends. That's good news for all of us who are parenting teens today.

Religion is important to a signficant number of teens. Here's what the report found:

Religion and spirituality are an integral part of happiness for most American young people. 44 percent say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives, with more than one in ten reporting the latter. And those for whom religion and spirituality play a bigger role in life tend to be happier. 80 percent of those who say spirituality is the most important thing in life say they are happy with life in general, compared with 60 percent of those who say that spirituality is not an important part of life at all.

As they taught me in public health school, it's always a bad idea to confuse correlation with causation. Might happier teens be more likely to attend a religious service? Or younger teens who are happier be more likely to delay having sexual intercourse?

These type of polls don't answer these questions, and we should be careful about using them this way. But, this portrait does paint a positive picture of today's teens (just like the photo above) and as a parent and a minister, that's the really good news.

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