by Kelly Boggs
MTV and the Associated Press recently released the results of an in-depth study concerning the "nature of happiness" among America's young people. Researchers were surprised to find that family and parents were significant factors in determining a young person's happiness. Sex, however, conspicuously was absent.
In fact, young people who indicated they were sexually active were found to have significantly lower levels of happiness than those who were chaste.
The joint online venture took place over a seven-month period and consisted of 1,280 young people ages 13 to 24. The 100-question survey covered a variety of subjects ranging from family and friends to school and sex.
One question asked, "What one thing in life makes you most happy?" Forty-six percent indicated spending time with family, friends, spouse/loved ones or children. Sex was mentioned by less than one percent of the respondents.
When it came to religion and/or spirituality, 44 percent said it is either very important or the single most important thing in their lives. Another 21 percent indicated it is "somewhat important." More than 10 percent indicated that God was their "hero" and five percent said that God was the "thing in life" that makes them most happy.
Seventy-nine of young people answered "does not apply" when asked if drugs make them happy or unhappy. When the same question was posed in reference to alcohol, 55 percent replied "does not apply."
While the aforementioned are just a sampling of the responses, they nonetheless are indicative of the entire survey, which gives a picture of young people who are more turned on by parents, friends, and religion that they are by sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
While there are still too many kids who are sexually active, drinking, and doing drugs, the MTV/AP survey does provide some positive news about America's youth.
What should we think about the survey?
First of all, it seems that the media may not have as much influence over teenagers as once thought. Today's young people are very media savvy. The MTV/AP survey suggests that many of them are able to see through the smoke and mirrors of televised raunch and discern what is real and lasting.
Another takeaway is that parents and family matter. So, don't throw in the towel and ship your teens off to boarding school in Siberia just yet. Keep having meals together. Keep spending time with them. And yes, as corny as it may seem, plan a family time. Do things together. It seems that today's young people really do believe that fathers and mothers know best.
The survey also makes it clear that among today's young people, God is anything but dead. There is a keen interest in spiritual things. Churches need to heed this bit of information and strengthen their efforts to reach out to young people with content that can help quench their spiritual thirst.
One aspect of the study that I found interesting had to do with sex-or rather, its relative unimportance. Sex is not the be-all, end-all for today's youth.
However, if you survey today's music, television and movies you will find it saturated with sex, sex, and more sex. And while most youth consume it, it seems they might be open to something other than sex-charged media.
A case in point was the success of the Disney Channel's "High School Musical" in 2006 and its recently-aired sequel "High School Musical 2." The former garnered 7.7 million viewers and boasted the top selling album of 2006. The latter had 17.2 million viewers which made it the highest-rated cable broadcast of all time.
The most telling characteristic of both movies is that they were clean. There was not a hint of raunch or sleaze. And they were wildly successful. Young people respond to decent media when it is offered.
Will MTV heed the results of its own survey and abandon its sexualized content? After all, we have long been told the media doesn't influence behavior, it just reflects it. Well, according to its own survey, MTV is not doing either very well.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of
the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.