What really makes teens happy? Surprise survey results: We’re at the top!

Michele Borba July 20, 2010 Comments Off on What really makes teens happy? Surprise survey results: We’re at the top!

If you haven’t heard the news this should make you and every other parent smile. (And it’s about time). A seven-month study conducted by MTV and Associated Press interviewed nearly 1,300 young people aged 13 to 24 years old. The results revealed that the majority of teens find the most happiness in their family and listed their parents as their heroes. And—(it gets even better)—most young people (over three-quarters!) said being with their parents brought them even more joy than being with their friends. What’s more, half say religion and spirituality are very important. Wow! Right?

This is great news. They like us. They really like us! Though this survey is not new (I reported it on the TODAY show several months back) I fear most parents have not heard the results. At a time when we usually hear the doom and gloom stuff about American teens, these results couldn’t be better and need to be reviewed.

What makes teens happy key parenting advice

Here are key findings in the survey that I think all parents need to hear. I’ve included the good along with the bad news about what is really on the minds of our young people today. I’m also including a few parenting suggestions I shared on the TODAY show when I reported the survey results.

1. Stay involved in your teen’s life. Not only did the teens say they like us, but they also want us in their lives. Wow! Word of warning: don’t wait for a personalized invitation from your teen. “Yo, Mom, lets go have a great talk about our family values.” The trick is that we parents still need to be a bit crafty and find ways to stay involved in our kids’ lives without invading their space. They do want privacy. They do want time with their peers.

2. Find ways to get into your kid’s zone. Utalize the time your son or daughter is most receptive to talking and then be available. (Forget the first few hours in the morning. I swear teens are on a different time zone and don’t wake up until at least noon. Bless their teachers). I finally discovered with one son the best time was five o’clock in the afternoon—and always near the refrigerator. And that’s where I’d plant myself.

3. Watch out for those judgments and criticisms. Nothing turns a teen off faster. In fact, listen twice as much as you talk. And don’t push for a response. Wait. Research shows teens are processing and sometimes those words take a little longer to come out.

4. Finally, find “common connectors.” What are things you and your teen could enjoy doing together? Is it going to be basketball game, yoga, a book club, exercising, watching Friends reruns, shopping. Find one common connector so you can stay involved together.

5. Tune up your behavior. The MTV survey also revealed that teens put us as their top hero and role model. Such power! Such influence! It also means our kids are copying our behavior. A word to the wise: Model what you want your kids to copy. Ask yourself every night one question: “If my teen had only my behavior to watch, what would he have caught today?” How are you doing? I swear kids come with videocam recorders planted inside their heads. They are watching us.

6. Tune into money matters. Surprisingly, only one percent of teens listed money as the thing that would make them happiest. That one shocked me a bit because the research I read always stresses the materialistic nature of our teens. The good news is that teens are choosing relationships over money to bring them joy. Yes! Research confirms that relationships are the single greatest source of happiness.

On the other hand, 70 percent of teens still want to be rich in the future; 29 percent want to be famous. Nothing shocking there. After all, this is the “American Idol Generation.” Though the results may sound like a contradiction, the reality is teens (and mostly males) are concerned about their future. They say they are worried about money matters. It’s interesting to note that young people with highest-income families seem happier with life overall (hmmm) and middle income kids feel the most financial pressure. I don’t blame them. It’s tough out there.

7. Watch out for stress and pressure. This was the big red flag. Thirty-eight percent of teens said they feel stressed frequently; 47 percent said they felt somewhat stressed. The biggest stressor for teens was school. This result confirms every other study I’ve read. Our kids are stressed and stress is mounting.

A word to the wise: keep an eye on your teen. Watch those stress signs. Watch his workload and her non-stop schedule. How does your child handle stress? What things exacerbate it? How well does your child cope with pressure? What can you do to reduce that stress? What can you do to help your teen recognize his unique stress signs?Those are the big questions today’s parents should tune into. Also: what tools and strategies have you taught your child to handle stress?

The key parent question is always: “Does the stress stimulate or paralyze my teen?” The answer tells you what direction you need to take for your child’s health and happiness.

8. Beware of that scary world. Safety did not rate very high among our kids. Only 29 percent of those polled felt very safe when traveling. Only 25 percent felt safe from terror attacks. The truth is it’s a scary world to be growing up in. The tragic images and horrific experiences our young people have been exposed to in their short years are heart wrenching: Columbine. 9-11. Virginia Tech. Oklahoma Bombings. Global warming. The treat of a nuclear holocaust (the headlines in my newspaper today).

Though we can’t prevent tragedies from occurring, we can help our children see the good parts about the world and people. Expose your teen to goodness. Clip out those articles about the wonderful, caring things people do. They’re always those articles tucked away in the back pages of the paper. Many parents cut them out and use them each night as “Good News Reports.” I love the idea. Our children deserve to hear the better parts of life.

For the most part the MTV/AP survey of our teens revealed promising, hopeful findings. What could be better than knowing our kids love us and want to be with us and that their families bring them the most joy? That alone is grounds for celebrating. After all, the single greatest determiner in how our kids turn out is the strength of their relationship with their parents. We’re doing something right. Our Reality Check: Let’s just make sure we keep an eye on the stress and pressure plaguing today’s teens.

For specific solutions on how to boost communication skills, talk about drinking and sex with kids, curb the growing up too fast (and too sexy, too soon look) refer to my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Many of these activities are from the book.

Dr. Michele Borba, parenting expert