New Barriers, New Battles


From curfews to clothing bans, teens are wrestling with how much freedom they want -- vs. how much protection they need.


Teenagers acknowledge they need and want rules -- even if their freedom is curtailed -- according to a surprising new nationwide survey by USA WEEKEND.
The magazine's annual teen survey spurred 218,350 students ages 13-19 to speak out powerfully on a wide range of current issues: curfews, school uniforms, limits on Internet access, television's V-chip and more. The Teens & Freedom Report, based on a non-scientific write-in survey, offers new insight into how young people feel about the new restrictions parents, principals and politicians want to impose. In general, most teens say, adults try to restrict them too much. But when asked about specifics, at least half support adults' right to search student lockers, ban gang-style clothing at school, and keep teens off the streets at night.

 A closer look at the main findings:
Teens want freedom -- and limits. Overall, most teens in the survey -- 70% -- say adults try to restrict them too much. But in many important areas, students are willing to abdicate some rights. At school, at home, in the community and even in cyberspace, some teenagers tolerate some restrictions.
 Psychologist Laurence Steinberg, author of the highly regarded book You and Your Adolescent, says the survey results reflect teenagers' sophistication about their own rights -- and limits. "There isn't a blanket attitude of 'we deserve everything we want' that grown-ups are fearful of. It's a paradox of the teen years: There's always the tension between wanting freedom and still wanting to be protected.''

 And though teens complain about adult incursions on their freedoms, when asked about their own lives they say they have plenty of latitude. The vast majority, more than 8 in 10, say they are free to pick their own friends, listen to whatever music they like or decide how to spend their own money.

Teens are most willing to sacrifice freedoms in matters of safety and health. Surprisingly, half of the teens in the survey support now-widespread curfew laws that require them to be off the streets at night or face penalties. (A 1996 CBS News/New York Times poll found most adults, 87%, favor them.)

 "I totally agree with adults wanting to step up laws to protect millions of minors," says Brandi Yasuoka, a 15-year-old ninth-grader at Hawaii Baptist Academy in Honolulu. "If teenagers want the freedom to be out later at night, teens have to prove that they can control themselves."

 Teens who don't like curfews also see some advantages. Roy Quitter, 16, a 10th-grader at Bartlesville (Okla.) Middle School, calls curfews one more example of adults being overprotective of young people on the threshold of adulthood themselves. In his town, teenagers must be in at midnight on school nights, 1 a.m. on weekends. "It singles out teens as being the primary source of trouble after dark [when] research disproves this theory," Quitter says. But he concedes the curfew could help students be more rested for school.

 Even in that symbol of youthful freedom, the car, some teens approve of controls. About a third say parents should have the right to monitor their kids' driving speed with new high-tech recorders.

 Rules at school designed to protect students also receive strong approval. Although most students say public school officials have no right to tell them what to wear, three-quarters of teens in the survey support banning clothes with gang symbols. Many also support other kinds of dress bans: 44% would ban body piercing; 42% would ban bare midriffs. Even short skirts would be banned by 35%. (More girls than boys would ban miniskirts and exposed midriffs.)

 The majority, 58%, also endorse the right of school officials to search lockers without permission for drugs and weapons.

 Gary Marx of the American Association of School Administrators puts it this way: "Many students today have seen someone stabbed or shot in the streets. It's very hard to teach someone who is looking over his or her shoulder."

 Some censorship is all right. At school and in cyberspace, teens show a willingness to have offensive material censored. Examples:

-- About one-third say parents have the right to block offensive TV shows or computer material.

-- 38% agree schools have the right to censor the student newspaper. And about one-third think schools have the right to ban from the library any books, newspapers and magazines that offend them.

 -- A majority, 58%, say school officials have the right to restrict foul language in writing assignments.

 Says Mary Laeger-Hagemeister, a Pennsylvania State University family expert: "Teens today are exposed to so many more things -- to more violence at school and in the home -- and aren't having as much adult interaction. They need adults to set limits and help them make decisions."

 Teens show a conservative streak. In several other areas, teens display attitudes that might surprise many of their baby-boomer parents:

 -- Most say teens must be 18 to be sexually active. And 4,400 wrote that sex should wait for marriage. For drinking alcohol, most say 19; for smoking, most say 18. One in 4 says teens should never smoke; 1 in 5 says they should never drink.

 -- 69% think students should be required to rise for the national anthem at sporting events.

 Interestingly, about half of the teens say they will be as strict as their own parents. And most, 65%, think their parents trust them enough.

 "I respect her and her role," Tracy Antrim, 17 and a straight-A junior at Goshen (Ohio) High School, says of her mom, Melinda. Tracy has dyed her hair purple three times, but when her mother said no to keeping a self-pierced brow, Tracy acquiesced: "There was no justification for it."

 Says Christy Sherman, 17, an 11th-grader at Cedarcrest High in Duvall, Wash.: "Life is full of responsibility and tough decisions - why take on more than you can handle?"


10th annual survey results 

Results roundup: What 218,350 teens said about freedom and rules. 

Rules at school:
75% of teens would ban clothes with gang symbols at school. But, 83% oppose school uniforms. 
58% believe school officials should have the right to search a student's locker for drugs or weapons without permission.
43% say public schools should be allowed to lead students in prayer.
69% say students should be required to stand for the national anthem. 

New technology, from Internet access to the V-chip, poses dilemmas for kids and parents. 
35% think it's OK for parents to block violent or offensive content on TV.
30% want restrictions on teens' Internet access.

Town curfews and mall limitations have gained popularity to fight crime. 50% of teens surveyed support nighttime community curfews for protection. 

Tattoos taboo? 17% say tattoos on teens should be prohibited. 

Teen idols say they have limits and rules to follow, too 


    Give the English meanings of the 17 underlined words in the main

    What do you deduce from this article/survey? What do teens really
         want ?  Why ? Do you agree with them?

    What do YOU want ? Freedom or Limits ? Why ?

    What is Real Freedom ? What are its characteristics ?