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Library Index » Social Issues & Debate Topics » Attitudes and Behaviors of American Youth - Family Life, Spending Habits, Junk Food, Dating, Sex, Marriage, And Children - GENERAL SATISFACTION

Attitudes and Behaviors of American Youth - Family Life

parents children teens lived

Home and Family

According to Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth 2002, a 2003 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2000 about 69% of children lived with two parents. (See Table 11.1.) About 22% of children lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 4% did not live with a parent. Among non-Hispanic whites, 77% of children lived with two parents, 16% lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 3% did not live with a parent. The majority of African-American children lived with only one parent, 38% lived with two parents, 49% lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 9% did not live with a parent. Among Hispanic children, 65% lived with two parents, 25% lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 5% lived with no parent.

State of Our Nation's Youth, 2004–2005, a 2004 survey of 1,007 students nationwide done by the Horatio Alger Association, found that despite widespread perception of adolescence as being a time of rocky relationships with parents, 77% of teens say they get along very well or extremely well with their parents. More than half (51%) say that if forced to pick only one role model to emulate, they would choose a family member.

A May 2000 report by the Council of Economic Advisers, Teenagers and Their Parents in the Twenty-first Century: An Examination of Trends in Teen Behavior and the Role of Parental Involvement, used the criteria "eating dinner with a parent" and "feeling close to at least one parent" to measure parental involvement with teens. The survey found that 74% of children ages twelve to fourteen, 61% of children ages fifteen to sixteen, and 42% of children ages seventeen to nineteen had eaten at least five evening meals with a parent in the last week. The report indicated that parental involvement was a major influence in helping teens avoid risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use, sexual activity, violence, and suicide attempts. Parental involvement was also helpful in increasing educational achievement and expected attainment.

The report showed that behaviors such as lying to parents, getting into fights, and getting suspended from school were also affected by the amount of closeness teens felt to their parents. More than three-quarters of teens ages fifteen to sixteen who did not have close relationships with their parents said that they lied to their parents. About half of those who did have close relationships

TABLE 11.1

Percentage distribution of living arrangements of children by race and Hispanic origin, selected years, 1970–2000
1970 1980 1990 1995b 1996b 1997b 1998b 1999b 2000b
aPersons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Estimates for Blacks include Hispanics of that race.
bNumbers in these years may reflect changes in the Current Population Survey because of newly instituted computer-assisted interviewing techniques and/or because of the change in the population controls to the 1990 Census-based estimates, with adjustments.
cExcludes families where parents are not living as a married couple.
dBecause of data limitations, includes some families where both parents are present in the household, but living as unmarried partners.
— Data not available.
SOURCE: "Table PF 2.2.A. Percentage Distribution of Living Arrangements of Children by Race and Hispanic Origin: Selected Years, 1970–2000," in Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children & Youth, 2002, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003, http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/02trends/index.htm (accessed September 16, 2004)
All children
Two parentsc 85 77 73 69 68 68 68 68 69
Mother onlyd 11 18 22 23 24 24 23 23 22
Father onlyd 1 2 3 4 4 4 4 4 4
No parent 3 4 3 4 4 4 4 4 4
White, non-Hispanic
Two parentsc 90 83 81 78 77 77 76 77 77
Mother onlyd 8 14 15 16 16 17 16 16 16
Father onlyd 1 2 3 3 4 4 5 4 4
No parent 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3
Two parentsc 58 42 38 33 33 35 36 35 38
Mother onlyd 30 44 51 52 53 52 51 52 49
Father onlyd 2 2 4 4 4 5 4 4 4
No parent 10 12 8 11 9 8 9 10 9
Two parentsc 78 75 67 63 62 64 64 63 65
Mother onlyd 20 27 28 29 27 27 27 25
Father onlyd 2 3 4 4 4 4 5 4
No parent 3 3 4 5 5 5 5 5

with their parents lied to their parents. The likelihood of ever being involved in a serious fight or ever getting suspended from school were also lower for teens who felt close to their parents.

Spending Time with Parents

Teens Today 2003 found that more than a quarter of youth (28%) would like to spend more time with their parents. In an April 2000 Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) survey of two hundred children ages twelve to fifteen and their parents, children and parents reported spending about eighty minutes per day together. In that survey 25% of teens surveyed said they would rather spend time with their friends than their families, a sentiment that was more common among boys (31%) than girls (19%). Only 12% of parents surveyed believed their child would rather spend time with friends than family.

Communicating with Parents

Communication between parents and teens is an important influence on teens' emotional maturity and success in life. But according to Teens Today 2000, an earlier survey compiled by the Liberty Mutual Group and Students Against Destructive Decisions/Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), 57% of teens reported that they wanted to discuss topics such as alcohol and drug use and sex with their friends, compared with 15% who wanted to discuss these topics with parents, 15% with an older sibling, 7% with other adults, and 1% with clergy. The Teens Today 2003 survey found that less than half of teens were completely honest with their parents, particularly about problems they struggled with and their feelings about dating relationships.

Parents' and teens' perceptions of their communication differs. The Teens Today 2000 survey found that while almost all parents (98%) believed they communicated with their teens about alcohol use, drug use, and sex, only 76% of teens reported that these discussions occurred. And teens did not always let parents know about their most pressing worries. Suicide ranked as the fifth-leading concern of teenagers but ranked seventeenth with parents.

DISCUSSION OF SEXUALITY. A study published in the Journal for Adolescent Health (Angela J. Huebner and Laurie W. Howell, "Examining the Relationship between Adolescent Sexual Risk-Taking and Perceptions of Monitoring, Communication, and Parenting Styles," 2003) found that high rates of parental supervision of adolescents (such as knowing where they were after school and at night, knowing the parents of their adolescents' friends, and monitoring television and Internet use) was correlated with lower sexual risk-taking. While the researchers found no relationship between the quantity of general communication between parents and adolescents and adolescent sexual risk-taking, they suggested that talking specifically about sexual topics might have an effect on the sexual behavior of teens as well. Peter S. Karofsky, Lan Zeng, and Michael R. Kosorok reported in "Relationship between Adolescent-Parental Communication and Initiation of First Intercourse by Adolescent" (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2001) that teens who believed they had good communication with their parents were less likely than other teens to engage in sexual intercourse.

DISCUSSION OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. A 2001 survey by the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and the University of Rochester School of Nursing also found differences in how parents and children perceived their communication about anxiety, stress, and depression. About 80% of parents reported that they talked with their children about anxiety at least sometimes, but only 37% of the children said their parents talked with them about this issue. In addition, while 72% of parents said they talked with their children about depression at least sometimes, only 36% of children said their parents had discussed depression with them.

The survey also found that perceptions of communication between parents and their children differed before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Before the terrorist attacks, about 21% of children and teens reported that they often worried about stressful situations and 39% of parents said they often worried about their children's ability to cope with stress. The perceptions of parents and children became more similar after September 11; at that time 32% of children reported worrying about stressful things and 26% of parents worried about their children's ability to cope. The decreasing gap between perceptions of parents and children may have been due to increased communication between them.

SHARING OF VALUES. A survey conducted in April 1999 for the YMCA illustrated differences between parents' and teens' perceptions of the role parents play in shaping their children's values. The survey found that while 94% of parents believed that their children learned values from them, 20% of teens said that they did not learn their values from their parents. A 2000 survey by the YMCA also showed that parents underestimated the influence of friends on their children's values. About 11% of parents believed that friends played an important role in forming the values of their children, but 26% of teens said their friends were a critical influence on their value systems. In addition, more parents (62%) than teens (46%) believed that parents and teens shared the same basic values.

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