Drugs, War Worries Among Teens' Top Problems

by Chris McComb, Senior Staff Writer

Teens' views about the most important problem facing their age group have shifted substantially in the past six years. In 1997, when young Americans aged 13 to 17 were asked to name the most important problem facing people their age, the clear front-runner was "drug abuse," which garnered 41% of the responses. Since 1977, when the Gallup Youth Survey began asking this question, drugs have consistently been mentioned most frequently.

While drug abuse still rates at the top of the list of problems teens cite, the percentage naming drugs has decreased dramatically. (Note: Data for the 2003 survey were collected via a Web-based questionnaire, while data from previous surveys were collected via telephone interviews.) In the 2003 Gallup Youth Survey*, conducted in late January and early February 2003, just 16% of teen-agers mention drug abuse as the No. 1 problem facing their generation. Two new concerns emerge in this year's poll -- 12% say they are most concerned about "war issues/draft/terrorism," and another 12% mention "problems in growing up."

One survey respondent provided the following answer to this question on the 2003 survey: "The world around us is fast-paced and intense, what with war on the horizon, the Internet, and the current condition of our nation's economy. This is forcing some people my age to grow up too fast or at least feel as if they have to."

Peer Pressure Remains a Notable Concern

Ten percent of teens say that "peer pressure" is the biggest problem facing their age group in 2003 -- a finding that is consistent with the 1997 survey -- and 7% mention "school problems/trouble at school."

"Career uncertainties/getting a job/unemployment" is cited by 5% of teens, and 3% mention problems relating to "sex" or "economic problems/the deficit/inflation."

Students Are Less Worried About Teen Crime and Teen Pregnancy

Concern about both "teen gangs/teen crime" and "teen pregnancy" has decreased since 1997. That year, 6% of teens named one or the other of those issues as the most important problem for teens. This year, only about 1% mention each. In addition, roughly 1% of teens currently cite "getting along with parents," "college acceptance/college financing," "world politics," "crime," "smoking/cigarettes/tobacco," or alcohol abuse/ drinking."

Nearly 1 in 10 students (9%) indicate that people their age do not have any serious problems. "For now I just worry about passing my classes," one teen said.

Bottom Line

The array of teen concerns has been altered in light of recent events. Naturally, many students are concerned about terrorism and the war with Iraq -- but they also seem more likely than they were six years ago to consider just growing up to be troubling. Their responses seem to give a sense that for many teens, the current status of world affairs is only exacerbating their natural anxieties about the future.

*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 1,200 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Jan. 23-Feb. 10, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%. For a complete description of the sampling and weighting procedures used to conduct the survey, click here.


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