Adults say that growing up is harder than ever. Oddly enough, though, today's kids are upbeat about their lives, and most feel there are adults who'll steer them in the right direction—even if peers are pushing them the opposite way. So we learn from a poll of 10-17-year-olds conducted for America's Promise—The Alliance for Youth.
Nearly all the kids (95 percent) endorsed the statement, "I have goals that I want to reach in my life." Almost as many (88 percent) are "confident I'll be able to find a good-paying job when I'm an adult." Eighty percent agreed that "In America, kids can grow up to be anything they want." Though most common among younger kids, this view was shared by 73 percent of the worldly-wise 9th-12th graders. Ninety-two percent of all kids agreed their success in life "depends on how hard I work." The report's authors are distressed that 42 percent "don't know if I'll be able to reach my goals." Surely, though, this reflects a laudable realism on the kids' part. If they've declined to digest all the self-esteem pap ladled at them these days, more power to them.
Kids aren't oblivious to the perils besetting them. Among high schoolers, 36 percent said too many of their peers "have guns or other weapons"; 55 percent of the 4th and 5th graders said kids in their town "need to watch out for bullies." Among all respondents, 29 percent said other kids "put a lot of pressure" on their peers to smoke. Even more said kids encourage other youngsters to use drugs (31 percent), drink alco- hol (37 percent) or have sex (37 percent). As to their personal security, 31 percent disagreed with the statement, "I would feel safe walking around alone in my community." It's not as if the kids are paragons of virtue themselves: Asked about what they do after school, 39 percent said they "Try new things I can't do when adults are around." Among the high schoolers, 25 percent believe "It's OK to experiment with things like drinking, drugs and tobacco as long as you don't use them too much." Fifty-one percent of all respondents conceded there are "a lot of things I do that are not healthy." One of those things is eating at school: 53 percent said their own school cafeteria "sells too much unhealthy food."
The kids are skeptical of the advice grownups offer, with 60 percent saying adults "exaggerate how bad a lot of things are for people my age." What's important, though, is that youngsters feel adults care about their welfare: 75 percent said there are "adults in my community who really look out for me"; 72 percent said there are "lots of adults I know to whom I can easily turn for help with the tough things in my life."