FOCUS ON FAMILY; Survey finds youths putting more emphasis on strong connections

August 31, 2001 | By Mitch Mitchell

Having strong family relationships ranked higher than money and fame in what teen-agers believe make a successful person, according to results of a national youth survey released this month.

The results of the State of Our Nation Youth Survey indicate that this generation of teen-agers may have views that more closely resemble those of their great-grandparents of the GI Generation than those of their baby boomer parents.

Neil Howe, author of several books on generational trends, said this crop of students resembles people in the GI Generation, those born between 1901 and 1924, and is marked in its departure from the Generation Xers who graduated from high school a decade ago.

“The Gen-Xers were a product of people valuing kids a lot less,” Howe said. “They were left alone a lot. It was a time when having children was not very popular. It was also a time when the family fell apart, and the schools received little attention.”

Many Generation X adults are independent, creative and entrepreneurial, despite the environment that surrounded their upbringing, Howe said. This new generation will pay more attention to social and civic institutions, he predicted.

Society’s attitude toward children changed in the 1980s, when the big issue was not contraception but fertility, Howe said. Many books emerged about child abuse. The consumption of drugs and alcohol declined after peaking in the 1970s. Public policy initiatives became children-focused and in 1988, Americans elected George Bush, the current president’s father and the first in a series of education presidents, he said.

Every generation represents a correction, Howe said. Baby boomers raised this generation to be better behaved than they were and to be team players. Baby boomers were skeptical of big institutions and optimistic about the power of the individual. The GI Generation, which built the interstate highway system, tract housing and the modern American middle class, were conformists, and the baby boomers were the antidote, Howe said.

“These kids have a different location in history,” he said. “What’s interesting is their attitudes toward their parents. This generation agrees with their parents’ values, but say their parents don’t always behave in accordance with their values. They intend to follow through.”

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