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    What America Thinks
    The Kids'-Eye View

    By Richard Morin
    Washington Post Polling Director
    Monday, November 2, 1998

    Kids, kids, kids: In recent weeks, there's been a boomlet of surveys about young people on topics ranging from the serious (violence in school) to the silly (how much allowance students collect) to the scandalous (what kids think about the Monica Lewinsky scandal).

    Here's a look at some of the best of the recent surveys of or about children – a type of survey that just a few years ago probably would never have been done. After all, who cares what kids think? Apparently we all do.

    Kids and Fighting

    Two out of three junior and senior high school students say they've either watched or participated in a fight in the past year, with most of these altercations occurring in or around school property, according to a study of violence in the schools conducted by researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health.

    The survey documented distressingly high levels of anger and violence among teenagers. According to the survey, one in three teens agreed with the statement that, "When I am really angry, there is no way I can control myself." An even larger proportion – 41 percent – agreed that, "If I am challenged, I am going to fight."

    "These self-reported risks of violence are, in fact, associated with fighting behavior," Penelope Greene, the study's lead author, told The Harvard Gazette. "Students who have trouble controlling their behavior or are predisposed to fighting are at least 50 percent more likely to engage in fights."

    The results are based on a survey by Louis Harris and Associates of 1,558 junior and senior high school students between April and June. It was sponsored by the Metropolitan Life Foundation. The poll results were released recently in conjunction with a White House conference on school safety.

    The poll found that most students said they personally were predisposed to violence, such as the inability to control anger or the willingness to fight.

    According to the poll, 66 percent said they had personally been involved in a fight or witnessed fights during the previous 12 months. When they were asked about the fight they witnessed most recently, nearly seven in 10 – 68 percent – said the fight had resulted in an injury. One in eight – 12 percent – said the injury was "serious," and 1 percent said one of the participants in the altercation had been killed.

    Most of these fights – 73 percent – occurred in or around school grounds, the poll found. One in three said the fight resulted in at least one of the participants being expelled or suspended from school.

    Why do fights happen? More than half – 54 percent – of the students said "insulting or disrespectful behavior" was the most common reason. "When these verbal insults are combined with the problem of anger control, it is no surprise that there is so much fighting. When you add access to guns, there is a higher probability of lethal outcomes."

    These researchers argue that schools don't have to be so violent. To reduce fighting, they urged schools to adopt more anger management and conflict resolution programs; create "safe passages" and "peaceable" environments in and around schools; and set up programs to keep guns out of the hands of teens.

    Kids and the Scandal

    So what do America's youth think about the Lewinsky scandal? Not much, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for People & The Press. "Teenagers are more often reported to be amused by the allegations against [President] Clinton than disturbed by them," Pew researchers wrote, while preteens are merely "confused by the controversy."

    According to the poll, slightly more than half – 51 percent – of all parents of teens between the ages of 14 and 17 said they thought that young people were "losing respect for politicians," while 42 percent disagreed. A total of 597 parents with one or more children between the ages of eight and 17 were interviewed.

    Two in three parents of teenagers said they were talking "some" or "a lot" about the scandal. "Even though many parents have talked about the subject with their children, the news media – especially TV – are providing young people with most of their information about the scandal," Pew researchers reported. They also found that nearly 40 percent of parents of younger children say they have been more careful about what their children are watching on the news since the release of the report by Kenneth Starr. About 21 percent of teenagers read at least part of the Starr report and even more watched the videotape of Clinton's grand jury testimony, their parents reported.

    Kids and Cash

    My, aren't kids today ghastly little materialists? Apparently so – and they're becoming even more money-mad as time goes by, according to a new survey by Yankelovich Partners Inc. for the Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Co.

    The survey found that more than one in three – 35 percent – said "being able to buy what you want" is very important to achieve as an adult, up from 31 percent two years ago. One in five – 20 percent – said "having nice clothes" is very important, up from 17 percent. Fourteen percent said "going on a lot of vacations" is very important, up from 11 percent.

    "The majority of students – and more than in past years – said they expect to be wealthier than their parents. ... Yet fewer than one in five survey respondents said they expect to work harder than their parents" to earn that extra cash, analysts reported.

    Here's one reason so many kids expect something for nothing in the future: Allowances apparently are soaring. Two in five young people interviewed said they get an allowance, and the average weekly amount "has nearly doubled since 1996 from $13 to $23," the poll found.

    More than 1,200 students aged 12 to 21 were interviewed in June and July for the survey.

    Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at morinr@clark.net .

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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