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The Secret Life of Teens: A Special Report

They eat. They sleep. They study. They Facebook. But what goes on when kids are out of sight? And, more importantly, what are they thinking? To find out, we asked.

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THE QUANTIFIED TEEN: In April and May of 2009, Chicago conducted two surveys of teens in conjunction with C&R Research, a local market research company. In the first survey, 296 students between the ages of 13 and 18 from Chicago and its suburbs responded. In the second, 303 responded. Chicago also polled 250 parents for a side-by-side comparison of what adults and their kids think about Internet privacy, dating, and sex.

 

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Ever wondered what teenagers do when they are on their own, out of sight? We have—so we asked them. Earlier this year, we devised a large-scale survey and with a local market research company administered it in two stages: In April, we polled 296 Chicago-area teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, soliciting their opinions on an array of topics, including friends, school, parents, sex, and drugs. We studied the results, came up with additional questions, and surveyed 303 more teens in May.

The results (see “The Quantified Teen,” above) often confirmed what we thought we’d find: teens face adultlike pressures—and are giving into them earlier than ever before. Half of the high schoolers surveyed said they had tried alcohol, and 16 percent reported taking a drink in the past 30 days. Nearly a third of the teens said they had ridden in a car at least once with a driver who had been drinking.

Kids also attested to a significant amount of bullying. One in five had seen a weapon at school. Forty-one percent said they’d been bullied or harassed at school, in their neighborhood, or, reflecting our times, online.

The poll also shed light on some of the more banal aspects of teenage life: surfing the Internet, dating, and curfews. Turns out that 29 percent don’t have a curfew; dating starts around age 15; and a third of teens say their parents don’t know what they do online. Teens also copped to some typical bad behavior: 19 percent had sneaked out of their home; 37 percent had cheated on a test; and 21 percent had shoplifted.

 

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