skip to main content

Teens Look Ahead With Youthful Optimism

Those engaged in risk behaviors are more pessimistic

by Linda Lyons

The world of "today" for U.S. teens includes an ongoing war against terrorism, a war in Iraq, and a shaky economy, but many teens see a much brighter world of "tomorrow." In a recent Gallup Youth Survey*, about 7 in 10 teens (69%) say they are more optimistic than pessimistic about the world their children will live in. About one in four -- 24% -- say they are more pessimistic.

Optimism on Many Fronts

Gallup also asked teens to give specific reasons for their optimism or pessimism. Some teens feel the world is a good place that will only get better. "I think that we're going to do a lot of good things in our lives and kind of put the world in an upward spiral," says one teen. "Our society is getting better and that leads to a bright future," says another.

Teens also often mention morals, ethics, and religious values as reasons to be hopeful about the world their children will live in. One teen thinks a strong family history of good values will serve her children well. "[I'm optimistic because] the values that I have and that my parents have taught me will be good for them," she says. Another puts her trust in the God. "God is in control and wouldn't let anything bad happen."  

The president and the U.S. government foster optimism among other teens. "We have a good president now and everything is going great," a teen says. "The president is doing a fine job," says another.

Some Teens Are Pessimistic

Just as some teens have specific reasons for optimism, others anticipate that the world their children will inherit could be less than perfect. Ironically, issues that spark optimism in some teens -- such as morality and America's government -- are a source of pessimism for others. "[I'm pessimistic] because it seems like the general morals of the entire society are decaying quickly and it does not seem like something I would want to raise a child in," says one teen. "I don't feel as safe with President Bush in office," offers another.

Additional reasons for pessimism include the Iraq war and terrorism. "The war doesn't create a safe environment," explains a teen. Another teen is pessimistic because "everyone is fighting with each other."

Pessimism, Alcohol and Marijuana

School counselors won't be surprised to learn that teens engaging in risk behaviors have a more negative outlook on the future. Teens who drink alcohol or have tried marijuana are much less likely to be optimistic than teens who say they do not drink or have not tried marijuana.

Bottom Line

When it comes to the future, more teens see the glass as half full than as half empty. For some teens, it may just be their natures to be optimistic. "Usually I just have a good outlook on things and they just turn out good," one teen says. Another teen believes that being optimistic never hurts. "You never know what can happen, so you can always hope for the best."

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,028 teenagers in the Gallup Poll Panel of households, aged 13 to 17, conducted Jan. 17 to Feb. 6, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030