Teens Today Study

"Teens Today" Study Highlights Poor Communication
as One Reason for Wide "Reality Gap"

On September 13, 2000, SADD Chief Executive Officer Stephen Wallace and Liberty Mutual Insurance Group Executive Vice President John Conners announced the results of their first "Teens Today" study. The findings, which were based on a national study of teens and parents of teens, reveal widely divergent views between many teens and parents on the attitudes and behaviors of today's teenage population.

The report shows that parents and teens are far apart in their assessment of critical issues in teens' lives, how influential parents are to their teens, and how they communicate about such issues as alcohol and drug use, drinking and driving, sex, violence and driving habits. Further, the study shows that teens in families lacking effective communication are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors. The complete study results are available on this Web site under the Study Results section.

"This report provides a window to the world of teen behaviors and attitudes," said SADD's Wallace. "Just as important, it underscores the disconnect between the real world kids live in and the "make-believe' world many of their parents think they live in."

Among the findings about chief teen concerns from responses of 405 parents and 687 teenagers in grades nine through 12:

  • Teens are much more concerned with "drinking and driving" (ranked second among 26 concerns they face every day) than are parents (ninth), while parents are much more concerned with "their teen getting into a car accident" (second) than are teens (seventh).
  • Teens rank "teen suicide" near the top of their concerns list (fifth), while the issue barely registers for parents (17th). Conversely, parents consider "casual sex among teens" a much greater concern (fifth) than do teens (12th).
  • Parents and teens agree that HIV and sexually transmitted diseases are the number one concern.
  • The discrepancy in ranking of these concerns takes on new meaning when viewed in connection with the survey findings about quantity and quality of communication between parents and teens.
  • Ninety-eight percent of parents say they discuss the issues of drinking and driving, drinking, drugs, sex and violence with their teens; only 76 percent of teens say these conversations take place.
  • Eighty-eight percent of parents say these issues are discussed "during normal conversations," while only 36 percent of teens say this is when discussions take place.
  • Parents say they are the biggest influence in their teens' lives; teens say it's their friends. And while 82 percent of parents say they are good role models for their teens, only 60 percent of teens agree.

The survey results demonstrate the positive effects of open dialogue between parents and teens. Teens who say they discuss serious issues with their parents "during normal conversation" are more likely to want to talk to their parents about these issues. Additionally, parents in those families are credited with more influence on their teen's behaviors.

Wallace points to drinking and driving habits as one example of how powerful open communication can be. The study results show the probability a teen would drive after drinking is reduced from 21 percent to 15 percent among those who say they engage in open, honest communication with their parents.

SADD and Liberty Mutual announced several initiatives to shrink the communication gap between parents and teens. With Liberty Mutual's sponsorship, SADD will offer the Family Focus pilot program, a series of school-based forums through which parents and teens will come together and openly discuss such concerns as alcohol and drug use, sex and violence, and driving habits. The Teens Today partnership continues a long commitment by SADD and Liberty Mutual to keeping young people alive and safe. Liberty Mutual offers a program, "Avoiding Collisions: How to Survive the Teenage Driving Years," that includes a 15-minute video and already has been viewed by more than one million high school students and many of their parents across the U.S.

"More than 5,700 young people died in motor vehicle crashes and 554,000 were injured in 1998, making these incidents the number-one killer of young people in the United States," said Conners, citing the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "We need to continually talk to our young drivers about the importance of safe driving habits."

SADD and Liberty Mutual also have developed a series of "Family Communication Tips" to help parents and teens overcome obstacles to effective dialogue (article is listed below). Another way parents and teens can close the communication gap between them is by discussing and signing the SADD Contract for Life.

A new brochure, "Opening Lifesaving Lines: Negotiating a Contract for Life," guides parents and teens through the Contract for Life communication process.

Families can obtain copies of the SADD Contract for Life or the "Opening Lifesaving Lines" brochure by calling 1-877-SADD-INC. The Contract for Life also can be printed from this Web site.  Free copies of the "Avoiding Collisions" video are available from a local Liberty Mutual office or by calling 1-800-4-Liberty.

Parents and Teens - Open Up!

Do you avoid talking about life decisions, peer pressure, and destructive behavior because ...

  • you don't know how to start?
  • you don't have time?
  • it makes you uncomfortable?
  • you don't want a confrontation?
  • you don't want to face disappointment?

Despite these fears or feelings, you should have this discussion! Today, teens frequently face situations in which they could make potentially dangerous decisions, such as drinking and driving. Studies have shown that in families with more open communication, teens are less likely to engage in dangerous risk-taking behavior. 

SADD, a national school-based organization dedicated to empowering young people to make positive decisions, developed the Contract for Life to assist families in opening lines of communication. While the Contract is primarily a tool for discussing these crucial issues, one of its goals is to have parents and teenagers make a pledge that could save a young life.

This brochure unfolds, like the negotiation process itself. It includes three stages of negotiation:

  • Ice Breakers - advice for parents and teens to start the talk. Who starts may affect the course of the discussion.
  • Going Deeper - tips for both parents and teens about how to take the talk further.
  • Commitment - issues related to making a pledge and signing the Contract for Life.

You don't have to follow all the steps laid out here, or complete the process in one sitting. If you already talk about these issues in your family, you can even jump straight to the Contract at the end. This brochure, like the Contract itself, is designed as an aid to the critical piece: communication. With regular and respectful conversation about these serious issues, both teens and their parents can achieve their shared goal: a safe and healthy life.

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