To many Canadian adults, the present generation of teenagers often seems rootless and pessimistic. Unlike their parents, many of whom grew up protesting against war and advocating the liberalization of drug laws, today’s young people are often depicted by social observers as self-centred and directionless. Now, the results of a nationwide survey of teenage attitudes offers a dramatically different portrait of 12to 19year-olds. According to the findings of Toronto-based Decima Research Ltd., which conducted the poll between December, 1990, and February of this year, the current generation of teenagers say that they are more aware and sexually open than their predecessors, and more hopeful. “This generation doesn’t feel that its future is limited,” said Decima president Allan Gregg. “They are driven and very focused.”
The survey, which was jointly commissioned by Health and Welfare Canada, Pepsi-Cola Canada Ltd. and YTV, a Toronto-based television channel aimed at young people, found that teenagers were generally optimistic about the future, with 50 per cent of those surveyed saying that they expected to earn more money than their parents. But the survey findings also raised disturbing questions about the problems faced by many teenagers today—including the threat of violence at the hands of fellow teenagers.
The findings were based on telephone interviews with 1,500 teenagers across the country and responses to a longer questionnaire that 817 of the teenagers originally contacted by phone mailed back. Decima officials said that most of the findings were based on the smaller sample and that such a survey is considered accurate to within 3.4 percentage points of the figures cited 19 out of 20 times. For his part, Gregg admitted that the survey tended to exclude disaffected youths, including “street kids,” who are less likely to be available by telephone, but declared that the survey was “the only comprehensive, nationwide study of teenagers ever conducted.”
For the most part, the teenagers surveyed forecast a bright future. Fully 82 per cent of the respondents expressed a general sense of optimism about the future, while 44 per cent said that they had a better chance of finding a job than former generations of teenagers. At the same time, no fewer than 96 per cent of those surveyed said that they cared about getting good grades in school.
The study’s findings also suggested that Canadian teen-
agers get along with their parents. Eighty-five per cent of the teenagers responding to the Decima poll reported good or ëxcellent relationships with their mothers and 71 per cent were on good terms with their fathers. Still, only 18 per cent of those surveyed said that they would approach their parents first with a major problem. Only two per cent said that they would take their concerns to their father, while 16 per cent said they would confide in their mother.
The survey also suggested that fear has come to play a significant role in the daily lives of contemporary teenagers. Nearly half (45 per cent) of the young Canadians polled reported that they were concerned about roving gangs of teenagers. And 11 per cent said that they had been robbed or assaulted, while 11 per cent said that they owned a knife as a form of protection. More than half (54 per cent) said that a nuclear war seemed likely in their lifetime, while 42 per cent said that they expected environmental problems to worsen.
The survey also produced evidence to suggest that the sexual revolution of the 1960s continues to influence the habits of young people. More than three-quarters (79 per cent) of those surveyed expressed the belief that members of their generation experiment with sex more freely than their parents did, and 26 per cent of the respondents agreed that “everybody I know seems to be sexually active.” At the same time, 60 per cent claimed to be “very afraid” of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Despite that, only 43 per cent said that most of their sexually active peers used condoms.
On a more encouraging note, the survey found that many of today’s teenagers say that their parents have enlightened views on sex. Indeed, only 23 per cent of the teenagers surveyed said that their parents were “too uptight about sex,” while 12 per cent said that their parents gave them most of their sexual information. Gregg said that he was surprised by the findings. “There is just no repression at all,” he told Maclean’s. “If my parents had talked about sex when I was a teenager, I would have turned purple.” Gregg added that the survey’s results appeared to offer encouragement for the future. Given the array of problems that to teenagers stand to inherit, the qualities of optimism, 9 awareness and openness reIvealed by Decima’s survey I will clearly be needed, z GREG TAYLOR
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