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Teens Remain Uneasy About Terrorism

by Linda Lyons

Many teens may appear nonchalant, but don't be fooled -- when questioned in a Gallup Youth Survey*, a significant number of teens expressed fear about terrorism. Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, 4 in 10 teens are still very (14%) or somewhat (27%) worried that they or family members may become terrorism victims. This percentage is essentially unchanged from what Gallup found earlier this year (39%), but down slightly from half (50%) of all teens who said they feared for their personal safety and that of their families in January 2003.

There has been little overall change, either, on the level of confidence teens have in the Bush administration to protect them from terrorism; 58% continue to have a great deal or a moderate amount of confidence in the president and his administration to keep them safe.

Election Year Fear

The teen population has remained stable overall on terrorism fears this election year, and the patterns among teens who plan to become Republicans, Democrats, or independents when they are old enough to vote have been relatively stable as well. In the two polls this year, teens who identify themselves as future Democrats have been more likely to express fear than those who identify themselves as future Republicans. 

Partisan Politics

While both future Republicans and future Democrats are slightly more likely to worry now about terrorist attacks than they did earlier this year, they are sharply divided when it comes to their confidence in President George W. Bush's ability to protect the country from future attacks. Confidence in the current administration is extremely high among teens who plan to vote Republican (91%), and considerably lower among Democratic teens, with just 38% saying they have confidence in Bush to protect them from future attacks. About half of teens who plan to remain independent (51%) have confidence in the administration, while half say they have little or none (48%).

Bottom Line

Substantial minorities of teens worry about the possibility of future terrorist acts, but the good news is that the majority have confidence in the current administration to protect them from harm. It is not always easy to identify which teens are worried, but even if teens appear uninterested or reluctant to talk about terrorism, parents and teachers must give them ample opportunity to do so. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' publication, Talking With Teenagers About War and Terrorism, offers the following tips:

  • By being open, available and positive, parents can create an environment that supports communication among all members of the family -- even when the conversation is about war and terrorism. Finding time to have those conversations isn't hard. One way is to use family times (such as mealtimes) to talk about what is happening in the world.

  • Teenagers are likely to discuss these events with their peers. In some cases, these conversations may contain inaccurate information, even distortions and misinterpretations. Parents should express an interest in what their teenager is hearing from friends, and should help to correct any misperceptions and to reduce concerns.

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 439 respondents, aged 13 to 17, Aug. 8-19, 2004. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.


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