Revelations about America’s Youth
By Humair Hashmi

I am currently spending my annual summer holidays in the small town Jonesboro in Arkansas. Jonesboro is in the heart of the American Midwest with a population of less than a hundred thousand. The people here are relaxed and friendly unlike those in big cities like Chicago or New York. These days the weather is hot with clear skies.
America hasn’t changed much except for an increase in the prevalence of computer usage and the number of television channels. There are a hundred TV channels to choose from, including South Asian channels. The whole world is available on the computer via fast Internet connections.
Recently, while browsing the Internet, I came across the results of a study undertaken by the Associated Press and MTV about the nature of happiness among America’s youth. The study involved a comprehensive survey spanning over one hundred questions with a sample of 1280 young men and women between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four years.
Preconceptions about American youth would have one believe that the results of the study would be replete with drugs, sex, violence and disregard of parental authority; adoration of wealth and money as the main source of happiness; pre-marital sexual relations, scorn for marriage; hero-worship of Batman, Spiderman or other comic book characters; and a rejection of spirituality and religion.
Surprisingly, the AP-MTV survey does not support any of these suppositions and myths about American youth. In fact, the survey presents a stark contrast to these views. To begin with, seventy five percent of the participants revealed that healthy relations with their parents are the most important source of satisfaction and happiness for them.
After parents and family, friends are considered to be the other source of happiness. Spending time with family, friends and significant others fares very high among American youth. Also, money was low on the priority list for most of the participants. The American youth feel that their happiness is fairly unrelated to the money they may have, though the survey revealed that youth belonging to higher income groups were generally happier than others.
A large majority of the surveyed youth who indulged in premarital sex was found to be less happy than others; hence happiness for American youth may be negatively correlated to sex before marriage. This is totally contrary to what the media would have us believe about the American youth. The results for marriage trends also negated preconceived notions about the effects of co-habitation and the ‘live-in’ trend prevalent in the US. Ninety two percent of those surveyed said they would like to get married and settle down with their partners in the future.
It may be hypothesized that if a majority of children feel that spending time with parents gives them happiness, then those children whose parents are divorced or separated would be less happy than those whose parents live together. The results of the survey supported this hypothesis: children of divorced parents were found to be less happy than the children whose parents were living together as a family unit.
The supposition that religion and/or spirituality would be shunned in a developed society was also disproved by the results of the survey. Over fifty percent of American youth consider religion and spirituality to be a very important part of their lives.
The survey also revealed that sixty six percent of the participants felt happy about not using drugs, and only forty nine percent, less than half, reported that they were happy with drug usage.
The results for happiness levels varied according to racial differences. While seventy two percent of white participants revealed high levels of happiness, only fifty-six percent of black participants reported to be happy, and only fifty one percent of Hispanics reported to be happy. Given the results of the AP-MTV survey, it is important to consider that widely accepted assumptions about a society are quite likely to be incorrect and should always be verified with empirical research.
(Humair Hashmi is a consulting psychologist who teaches at the Imperial College Lahore. Courtesy Daily Times)



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.