Study: Youth take fewer risks than 20 years ago

Study shows that kids today are less likely to take risks, more likely to treat people better than their counterparts in 1989.

Larry Magid
Larry Magid
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.
2 min read

A study released Wednesday by the Girl Scouts shows that young people report they take fewer risks and treat each other better than their counterparts of a generation ago.

The report, called "Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today," is based on a national study conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute and Harris Interactive. It's based on research conducted with 3,263 students from 3rd to 12th grade from throughout the U.S. The sample included youth in and out of scouting.

Most youth wouldn't forward an embarrassing e-mail Girl Scout Research Institute

With some exceptions, the survey is identical to one carried out in 1989, which provides some comparative data on how young people's perceptions of risk, values, and etiquette have changed since the advent of the commercial Internet and social networking.

Contrary to what some people may think, young people are actually more responsible, more involved in their community, and more tolerant of diversity than they were 20 years ago (based on self-reporting). They also say they are more likely to refuse an alcoholic drink at a party (58 percent now, as opposed to 46 percent in 1989), less likely to think smoking is OK (18 percent versus 27 percent), more likely to refrain from sex until marriage (33 percent versus 24 percent), more likely to tell the truth to a principal (33 percent versus 24 percent), and much more likely to "continue a relationship with a gay/lesbian friend" (48 percent versus 12 percent).

Also, youth say that they are more likely to vote (84 percent versus 77 percent) and give to charity (76 percent versus 63 percent) in the future.

Cyberbullying wasn't an issue in 1989, but it is now. The good news is that 84 percent of youth said they would not forward an embarrassing e-mail about someone else; 6 percent said they would. The study asked youth to respond to this scenario: "A friend e-mails to you and some of your friends an embarrassing photo of a girl from school. No one really likes this girl, and you don't know her very well." Eighty-four percent of the youth said they would delete the e-mail without forwarding it. About half of that group (40 percent) say they would also tell "the offending friend that what they did was wrong." Eight percent said they weren't sure, 1 percent didn't answer, and 6 percent said they would forward the photo and message to the rest of their friends.

It's important to remember that this is a survey based on what young people say they would do, not a report on actual behavior. Still, it provides an optimistic view of today's youth and tends to confirm other studies. For example, a recent study conducted by Cox Communications found that 3 percent of teens admit to having forwarded a (sexting) message that included a nude or partially nude photograph of a peer.