How Do 21st-Century Teens Spell Success?

by Raksha Arora, Finance and Commerce Editor

From Donald Trump's reality television hit, The Apprentice, to Cribs, the popular MTV program that showcases spectacular celebrity homes, kids are bombarded with images of what it means to succeed in life. But according to a recent Gallup Youth Survey*, American teenagers don't necessarily equate fame and fortune with success.

Teens were asked in an open-ended question to define what makes someone successful in life. Fifteen percent of all teens surveyed say happiness and contentment. "A person is successful when they are happy with their life and who they are," one 13-year-old girl says. "It doesn't matter how much money they make, where they live, or what kind of car they drive."

While happiness is the best measure of success for many teens, 1 in 10 respondents (10%) feel that fulfilling one's goals is one way to achieve success. One 13-year-old boy says that a successful person accomplishes "whatever they set out [to] do in life. People's goals are different, but as long as they reach that goal I think they are successful."

A similar percentage of teens (9%) equate having a good job with success. "Working a steady job, and making enough money to take care of you and your family," says one girl. Other popular definitions of what it means to be successful include having a family, following God's will, and making money, all three of which are mentioned by 6% of teens. "Being moderately wealthy, loving family, having a job with opportunity of advancement, kids, being with the person you truly love," is what one boy says it means to him.

Bottom Line

Teens do not see the elements of a successful life in isolation from each other; as the last comment reflects, a job seems more relevant to success if one has a family and loved ones to share life with. Family, religion, financial success, the value of hard work, and education are all repetitive themes that teens bring up in relation to living a successful life. In teens' minds, and probably most people's minds, the criteria for success are interconnected and even integral to one another.

Some teens are also wise enough to recognize that being successful isn't always necessarily about their own personal advancement. As one 14-year-old boy points out, "Another key to success is doing good deeds for other people. One more way to becoming successful is to be faithful to yourself, God, and others."

*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 439 respondents, aged 13 to 17, Aug. 8-19, 2004. 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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