Teenagers in America Today

"Family Matters" was the headline that caught my attention in the newspaper. That's the name of my radio program here in California's central valley. It was interesting enough for me to buy the paper and read the story. The article was about a recent study called The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, a survey of about 90,000 teenagers (age 12-18). The sub-headline was "Study debunks belief nothing works with teens."

My first response was, "Who's belief is that?" The reporter wrote as if a new revelation had just been handed down from heaven in the form of this study. As a result of this major study on adolescents, she wrote, we have found that "families are more important than previously thought, perhaps as important as peers. . . The primacy of peer relationships has been a widely held concept among professionals since the 1960's."

Yes, the reporter, and the researchers, were shocked to find out that the family is still important! "These findings offer the parents of America a blueprint for what works in protecting their kids from harm," said Richard Udry of UNC Chapel Hill.

What is this amazing, secret blueprint that will now be revealed to you parents who are assumed to not know any better? "The most significant finding is that the teenagers who reported feeling close to their families were the least likely to engage in any of the risky behaviors studied . . . Nearly as important were high expectations from the parents for their teenager's school performance."

I'm stunned.

They surveyed 90,000 kids to find out that families that love, care for, and nurture each other produce kids who don't get in trouble as much as families that cast their kids into the hands of other teenagers (known as the "peer group") to be raised by a pack of 15 year olds. Also, families where parents actually CARE about school performance, and expect their kids to work to their potential produce kids who don't get into trouble as much as families who don't care.

I'm glad science has finally come around to this point of view.

How bad are things across America? Pretty bad for many families. Using a sample size of 12,118 students interviewed, here's the picture of teenagers in America today:

  • Teens who smoke 25 percent
  • Smoked marijuana at least once in past month 11 percent
  • Used alcohol more than once in past month 17 percent
  • Attempted suicide in past year 3 percent
  • Seventh and Eight Graders who have engaged in sex 16 percent
  • High Schoolers (9th - 12th grades) who have engaged in sex 48 percent

"The only factor that was linked with a lower risk factor across the board was a close-knit family, the study found."

So parents, please get more involved in the lives of your children. Spend more time with them. Quantity time is as important as quality time. Encourage your teens to work hard to reach their goals. Encourage them to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God." Parents should be their teen's role models, not other teens who have yet to experience much in the way of life or wisdom themselves. Parents, let's step it up a bit. It will make a big difference in the lives of our teens.

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., is a family therapist who has been working with ADHD children and their families since 1986. He is the clinical director of the ADHD Information Library's family of seven web sites, including http://www.newideas.net, helping over 350,000 parents and teachers learn more about ADHD each year. Dr. Cowan also serves on the Medical Advisory Board of VAXA International of Tampa, FL., is President of the Board of Directors for KAXL 88.3 FM in central California, and is President of NewIdeas.net Incorporated.

In The News:

How Children Evolved to Whine  The New York Times
Maria Goretti: New-age parenting  Free Press Journal
Online advice on parenting  New Straits Times
Open-access parenting programme shows promise  University of Cape Town News

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