Teens Aim for the Simple Things in Life

by George H. Gallup Jr.
Chairman, The George H. Gallup International Institute

Lest we adults make too much out of the notion that teenagers have trouble seeing past the "here and now," a Gallup Youth Survey* asked teens to discuss the thought they've given their futures. The most recent youth poll presented respondents aged 13 to 17 with open-ended questions (meaning teens could offer any responses that came to mind) about their goals in life, their career choices, and their level of concern about realizing these goals.

Finishing high school and going on to college, finding a satisfying job, getting married, and raising kids are the top goals of today's teens, underscoring what Gallup Youth Surveys have consistently found in recent years: Despite profound social and technological changes, teens' life goals continue to be quite simple.

A couple of responses typify many teens' basic ambitions: "[My goals are] To go to college, have a successful career, and have a healthy family," said a female high school student, who is considering a career in either computer science or nursing. Another teen, who wants to teach third grade, said, "To go to college, get a good job, and marry somebody that I can spend the rest of my life with."

Fame, Fortune, and Fun

Farther down the list of teens' top goals (though probably figuring in the plans of most teens to some degree) are responses related to fame, fortune, and fun. One teen, who looks forward to possibly making video games as a career, listed these goals: "Get a Ferrari, get a glass house, and a job which makes lots of money."

Being a Good Person and Helping Others

Another fairly large block of responses related to living out the dictates of one's faith, being a good person, and helping others. "I want to get an education to be the best person I can be," offered one survey respondent, who wants to be a teacher, "and work with those who are less fortunate than myself and my family." The same teen also desires to "raise a family of my own and pass on the high morals and standards that my dad has instilled in me."

A Time to Dream

More basic responses aside, the current survey shows evidence of big dreams among many teens. Here is a sampling of interesting responses: "My chief goal in life is to play the piano or sing professionally at Carnegie Hall" … "Help find a cure for diabetes" … "Have my fashions be seen on a runway in New York" … "Become a Supreme Court Justice" … "Visit Madagascar and own a chimpanzee" … "Become a Major League park groundskeeper."

Top Career Choices

Respondents to this survey were also asked specifically about their No. 1 career choice. Topping the list (and consistent with results from earlier Gallup Youth Surveys) are: teacher, computer field, engineer, mechanic, doctor, musician, nurse, and veterinarian. As these findings indicate, many teens feel driven to enter the "helping professions" -- teaching, medicine, and the like.

Bottom Line

As these responses suggest, the fulfillment of many high school youngsters' dreams will greatly benefit society in the future -- in the advancement of medicine and science, in politics, in law, in great acts of charity, and in many other ways. Yet, the sad fact is that some teens' dreams will forever remain dreams. Plans will fall by the wayside because of societal trends and other factors.

It behooves all those who work with children to help them to identify and develop their strengths and gifts -- as well as to avoid risks such as drug and alcohol abuse -- so that they see their plans carried out.

The second part of this series will discuss the worries teens have about getting into college and finding jobs after graduation.

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 517 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Aug. 1 and Aug. 29, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

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