FAMILY SURVEY STUDY - Newsletter - Fall, 1995
Letter from the Director

Dear Parents and Youth:

As project director, I want to thank you again for your participation in this study. This continues to be a very important study that is influencing educational policy both within Prince George’s County and nation wide. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, I have been presenting the findings at national and international conferences. The work has also been highlighted on National Public Radio. Most recently, the work has been included in efforts to maintain government support for parent involvement programs within the schools. In addition, as is discussed more in one of the articles in this newsletter, the findings are being used to counter stereotypes regarding welfare parents.

The project is especially important in these times of changing government priorities. Prince George’s County has been highlighted in recent discussion regarding the positive role of affirmative action programs in insuring equal access of qualified African-American candidates to high level professional jobs, particularly in the government sector. Families in Prince George’s County also played a very important role in the Million Man March. Such visibility makes Prince George’s County a very special place - special for both adults and adolescents. And, precisely because Prince George’s County is such a special place in this country’s history, the information you have provided us about adolescent development has added importance for both researchers and policy makers. The information you will be giving us this spring will allow us to document directly the impact of the Million Man March on adolescents’ life goals, values and expectations. We are very excited about this possibility and are looking forward to talking with you about the March as well as the many other influences on adolescents’ lives we have talked with you about in the past.

Thank you again for all of your help,

Jacquelynne Eccles
Project Director

Family Changes: The Importance of

Education and a Good Life

"I sound just like my mother!"

Dad is always telling stories about "when he was my age..."

Almost everyone has noticed ways in which they are similar to and different from their parents and grandparents. Families have a big influence on how we think and behave, and the things we value. Although there are many ways in which family members share similarities across the generations, these charts show some of the differences that you told us about in your families.

Chart one shows that education is up. Today's parents are getting more education than their own parents did. Most grandparents stopped going to school after they graduated from high school. Today, most of your parents have two years of education after high school. In addition, most of your parents reported that they expect you to get a master's degree after you finish college!

Chart two shows that there are also changes in what parents see as important goals for their teenagers, in contrast to what they thought were important goals for themselves. Your parents thought that the most important goals for themselves as teens were getting a good education. Now, your parents tell us that their most important goal for you is to have you be happy. This does not mean that your parents don't care about education, since we know that they expect you to go quite far in school. Rather, this change may be because parents assume that their kids will get a good education, and thus worry about it less than they did for themselves.

Teens often have ideas about what they want to be like when they are parents themselves. We asked your parents about ways in which they think that their own experiences growing up have influenced how they parent you. Overall, your parents believe that they were influenced by their own parents. But, they also report having many ideas about how to improve upon things in your current families. A little more than a quarter (28%) of all parents in this study said that their own parents helped them understand how to raise a child properly, and said that they wanted to be the same as their parents. 24% of parents said that they wanted to communicate more clearly and openly, be more flexible, and not be as strict as their own parents. 17% of parents said that they wanted to have a warmer and more supportive relationship with you than their own parents had with them. Do you see any of these themes in your family?

Spotlight on Washington: The Politics of Welfare Reform

In the past two years, and especially in the past two months, welfare reform has risen to the top of the political agenda. An increasing number of policy makers want to "end welfare as we know it" by minimizing the role of government in helping low-income women and their families make a permanent transition from welfare to employment.

Some proposals, such as those currently under consideration by Congress,would make millions of mothers and children ineligible for benefits and would drastically change the rules of the welfare program for those who remain eligible. Many of these welfare reform proposals are based on political, religious, and moral ideologies rather than on demonstrated results from empirical research. For instance, politicians have espoused the view that welfare recipients become
lazy, unmotivated to work, and irresponsible parents as a result of having received Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and that these psychological deficits would be eradicated if "welfare as we know it" were eliminated.

However, an analysis of the data on welfare recipients in this study tells a very different story. While the percentage of Prince George's County families in our sample who report having received welfare benefits in the past twelve months is small (approximately 2%), we have substantial information about their parenting behaviors and employment-seeking activities.

These families are very similar to the other families in the study in every respect, including how much time they spend doing positive things with their adolescents and how carefully they monitor their adolescents.

In addition, many of the welfare mothers in the study reported making substantial efforts to become self-sufficient, despite the economic hardships they face. For example, 67% percent of the AFDC mothers stated that they were actively looking for paid work. Those who weren't actively seeking employment cited problems relating to the lack of good child care and/or transportation.

These results suggest that the focus should be on helping welfare mothers get the resources they need to help them become self-sufficient, rather than on adopting punitive measures toward welfare mothers that will only increase the psychological and economic hardship they and their children already face.


Report card on the schools: What makes a difference for adolescents' grades?

What predicts how well your children do in middle school? Because good grades in school are a main path to later educational opportunities and jobs for young people, both parents and educators are interested in knowing what predicts positive achievement. To look at this question, we split adolescents into two groups - those whose academic grade point average (GPA) was a "B" or less, and those with a GPA of "B" or higher. We then looked to see if adolescents in these two groups had different experiences in school. We found that it was not things like the size of the school, or the percentage of black or white students in the school that were important for adolescents' grades.

According to reports given by your children, what was important was the quality of their experiences and the messages they got in school. For instance, adolescents who got lower grades were more likely to say that they had been ignored in class or that their teachers didn't expect them to do well because of their race or their gender. That is, these adolescents felt put down more by teachers at school simply because they were black or white, a boy or a girl. These kinds of experiences are likely to make adolescents feel angry or hurt, and may undermine their desire to try in school. In addition, lower achieving adolescents also said that competition and special treatment for the highest achieving students was emphasized in their school. Think about what competition and special privileges for only the highest achieving students must do to the other students who aren't at the top of the class. Rather than motivate them to try harder, when schools emphasize that some students are "the best," other students are more likely to feel that they will never be able to compete, that they are not "smart," and so they give up.

But the story's not all bad. The high achieving students gave a clue to what works. These youth said that their schools challenged each student to do his or her best, and gave the message that trying hard and self-improvement were the goals of learning, not doing better than other students. Although it sounds simple, schools may be able to increase achievement simply by treating youth with respect for who they are, by caring for each student as an individual, and by challenging them to do their personal best and to improve. Unfortunately, we know that schools today often don't do these basic things. Rather, schools are like society in general, and have a long way to go in treating everyone equally and in emphasizing the importance of personal improvement over competitiveness. According to your children, when this happens in schools, higher grades might be the result.

What predicts higher grades?
  • Equal treatment of boys and girls,
  • Challenge all students to do their best
  • Emphasize effort
  • Emphasize self-improvement
What predicts lower grades?
  • Different treatment by teachers due to blacks and whites race or gender of the student
  • Reward only the highest achieving students
  • Emphasize competition among students
  • Emphasize being better than other students

Who Decides What?

Families have different ways of making decisions: some parents decide without their adolescents' input, some parents and adolescents decide together, and some adolescents decide by themselves. We know that as adolescents get older, parents tend to give them more decision-making opportunities. But how do adolescents' perceptions of their decision-making opportunities vary according to the particular decision in question? As you can see from the graphs below, parents, for the most part, decide curfew and what age to date, while most adolescents decide which classes to take.

Adolescence is an exciting time for many reasons. Dealing with the physical changes related to puberty is one very salient aspect of this period. As teenagers' bodies change, so do their feelings about themselves and about their relationships with other people both at home and at school. Like all kids, the adolescents in this study are growing up at different rates; some of you were already finished with pubertal changes at the end of the 8th grade; others were just beginning to change. Other researchers have found that going through pubertal changes much earlier or much later than one's friends can be hard. Some kids whose bodies change very early or late feel depressed or angry, and have more troubles with their family. Is this true in Prince George's County?

In 8th grade, 48% of you reported that your body was changing at about the same time as other kids your age. That means that half of you think that you are either earlier or later than other teens. 22% of you told us that you were developing a little or a lot earlier than other kids your age, and 25% thought you were either a little or a lot later than other kids.


What girls told us: Girls who said that they were going through puberty earlier than others reported feeling more angry, needing to lose more weight, and having more eating problems. But, early maturing girls also reported feeling the most self-confident. Girls who reported going through puberty later told us that they felt a little more depressed than other girls. There weren't any differences between early or late developing girls when you were asked about your relationship with your parents; girls reported the same amount of conflict and enjoyment of activities with their families.

What girls' parents told us: Parents with early maturing daughters thought that there was more conflicts and arguing with these girls. In contrast, parents of late maturing girls reported the most enjoyment of time spent with their daughters.


What boys told us: Boys going through puberty earlier than other boys reported feeling more confident and able to handle things in their lives. Later maturing boys told us that they felt more depressed. Boys growing either earlier or later than others were more angry than boys who were growing at about the same time as other boys. Finally, boys' relationships with parents were not different depending on the timing of puberty.

University of Michigan
Family Survey Study
207 Canyon Blvd Suite 300
Boulder CO 80302