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WHAT DO TEENS WANT? LESS RACISM

“I said one day, out of excitement, ‘I wanna be an FBI agent!’” recalls Brewer. “And my father said, ‘You’re not allowed in the FBI. They don’t allow blacks to be FBI agents.’” Brewer’s father was a steelworker with a sixthgrade education, and his mother didn’t make it past the fifth grade. But Brewer, surrounded by gang violence, was convinced an education would get him wherever he wanted to go. So each morning, he took two buses and an L train to Lindblom Technical High School, where he got A’s (and one B) and took honors courses. He dreamed of going to college and studying architectural engineering.

“If teenagers have the right education, they won’t have any problems,” he told Newsweek in 1966, when he was 15. “The gang members were taught this, but it just didn’t sink in.… When they get to be 18 and it’s time to get a job, then they find out that they need a good high school education to land one. So crime is the easiest way out. There’s no pressure like there is in school.”

Brewer’s story was part of a landmark 1966 cover story, “The Teen-Agers: A Newsweek Survey of What They’re Really Like,” that investigated the teen world in fine detail: their heroes, politics, spending habits and sexual proclivities, as well as what they thought about the world, their parents and their future. The article was old-school journalism at its best: Correspondents in Newsweek bureaus fanned out across the country, interviewing hundreds of teens as well as parents, psychologists, principals and other experts, while pollster Louis Harris and Associates conducted an extensive survey of 775 teens. Newsweek also profiled six teens in depth: a farm boy from Iowa, a California girl, a Manhattan prepster, a free spirit from Berkeley, a middle-school girl in Houston and Brewer.

This past fall, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of “The Teen-Agers,” Newsweek enlisted Harris Poll to conduct an online survey replicating key questions in the original work and to expand on it. We asked 2,057 teens, ages 13 to 17, from diverse backgrounds and geographic areas, about everything from politics and education to parents, sex, mental health and pop culture. The result, “The State of the American Teenager,” offers fascinating and sometimes disturbing insights into a generation of teens who are plugged in, politically aware and optimistic about their futures yet anxious about their country.

Two-thirds of teens (68 percent), for example, believe the United States is on the wrong track, and 59 percent think pop culture keeps the country from talking about the news that really matters. Faith in God or some other divine being dropped from 96 percent in 1966 to 83 percent. Twice as many teens today feel their parents have tried to run their lives too much (24 percent, up from 12 percent in 1966). Fifty years ago, the five most admired famous people were John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Lyndon B. Johnson and Helen Keller, in that order. Today, pop culture rules, as President Barack Obama, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé top the list, with Selena Gomez tying Lincoln for fourth place.

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The Teenagers - Ask a bedraggled parent “What do teens think?” and you just might get, “They think?” But what they know and feel and do is vitally important. After all, they are the future. Just maybe not yours.
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