Influences on Teen Decisions

Published on by CMe


Today's youth are faced with the challenge of coping with an ever-broadening spectrum of influences on decision making and behavior. Many of these influences have potentially negative effects on growth and development. For example, social environments have been associated with participation in potentially "at-risk" behaviors such as use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.1 Consequently, 4-H and Extension must be aware of the sources and magnitude of these influences and create environments where positive influences dominate.

A study conducted at the University of Kentucky assessed the magnitude of various sources of influence on the decisions made by a select group of Kentucky teens about contemporary youth development issues.2

During the Summer of 1988, a written questionnaire was developed to collect information from teens attending the 1988 Senior 4-H Conference on the University of Kentucky campus. The questionnaire was reviewed for content validity by a panel of experts in the field of youth development. On the second day of the conference, the questionnaire was administered to the 453 teen delegates by county Extension agents in attendance. A total of 384 completed questionnaires were returned and usable. Several items on the questionnaire focused specifically on sources of influence on teen decision making.

Respondents were predominantly rural (35%), female (72%), and from families where a natural mother and father lived at home (83%). Seventy-three percent of the respondents were 14-16 years of age.

When asked if parents or friends had the greater influence on decision making, 51% of the respondents indicated friends had greater influence, while the remaining 49% cited parents as having more.

Half the respondents said that what they learned at home had more influence on their decisions than school or church. School was cited as most influential by 31.5%, while church was cited by only 19%.

Of media sources, television was cited as having the most influence, with 58% citing it as the source of greatest influence on decision making. What was read in print was second with 27%, while 15% indicated that radio was most influential.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the respondents said they had someone they considered a role model. Of those who said they had role models, 27% said their role model was a friend, 15% said a parent, while 12% said an athlete. Other role models cited included actors, other family members, doctors, lawyers, 4-H agents, leaders, ministers, politicians, and musicians.

How effective Cooperative Extension is in affecting the growth and development of youth may hinge on how well it aligns itself with sources of influence on the decision-making process.


Sex and Violence in the Media Influence Teen Behavior

  • Sex on TV and teen pregnancy. A total of 2,003 teens (ages 12 to 17 years) were asked how often they watched 23 popular TV shows that portrayed passionate kissing, sexual talk, and sexual intercourse. One to three years later they were interviewed again; 744 teens reported being sexually active. Those who watched the most TV shows with sexual content were two to three times more likely to become pregnant or to impregnate someone than were teens who watched the least. The authors say that the findings of this longitudinal study demonstrate "a prospective link" between watching the shows and becoming pregnant, with implications for pediatricians (who should be aware of the link), media outlets (which should portray the negative outcomes of sex), and parents (who should watch TV with their children and talk with them about sex).
  • Web sites and teen violence. A total of 1,588 10-to-15-year-olds were asked about the types of Web sites they visited. Youths who most frequently visited sites depicting real people fighting, shooting, or killing were five times more likely to report engaging in assaults, stabbings, robberies, and other violent behavior than were those who never visited violent Web sites. "Violence online may be particularly important to our understanding of seriously violent behavior among today's young people," the researchers write. They advise health care professionals to encourage parents to install software that blocks and filters violent sites as a way of reducing access to online violence.
  • Video games and violence. Teens in both Japan, considered a "low violence" culture, and the United States, a "high violence" culture, who chronically play violent video games behave more aggressively than classmates who don't play these games, researchers say. Analyzing data from studies of 1,231 Japanese students (ages 12 to 18 years) and 364 U.S. students (ages nine to 12 years), the authors found that children who played violent video games early in the school year exhibited increases in physical aggression such as kicking, punching, and hitting three to six months later. The authors conclude that the two cultures' similar behavior "strongly supports the theory that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for relative increases in later physical aggressiveness," and rules out the notion that naturally aggressive children prefer violent video games. Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Second Edition (Resources for Changing Lives)
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