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Posted at 1:05 PM ET, 10/ 7/2009

Is It Tougher Being a Kid Today?

By Valerie Strauss

It isn’t exactly scientific, but a trove of letters and emails written by children each year reveals important information about their concerns. Kids worry about everything, especially tests and homework, but don’t want to tell their parents about it.

“Highlights for Children” magazine--yes, the one you used to read in the doctor’s office--receivesmore than 60,000 of the messages every year and uses them to detect trends in the lives of America’s kids.

The magazine's editors actually have been answering each one for 63 years! (Last year was the first time that the number of e-mails surpassed the numbe of written letters.)

You may think you know what's on your child’s mind, but you might be surprised if he or she really opened up.

The letters and e-mails from children ages 5 to 12 show that kids worry about everything--finishing homework late, struggling with particular subjects, pets, success, bullies, friends, even lunch.

Tests, too, are a prime concern. Magazine editor Chris Clark said recent letters are more focused on the high stakes of standardized tests.

“They understand there is so much more to them than just measuring their own personal progress,” she said. “You hear kids say they understand that the test will see if their teacher is doing the right thing and that the results are important to the teacher’s future.

"And they understand that kids who don’t perform, well, that that is bad news for the school. And that adds pressure,” she said. “They seem more stressed about it.... The good news is that they seem to be taking school very seriously.”

Highlights also did a survey of kids, asking them to answer 10 questions about their concerns. The magazine crunched the results on 845 completed responses and here are some of the results:

* Kids named schoolwork and tests as their biggest problem (23.4%).
-- Four percent more boys than girls listed school as their biggest problem.
--Kids age 9-12 cited schoolwork 7.4% more than kids 5-8.

*If granted an extra hour each day, 36.3 percent said they would spend it playing outside, on the computer or with friends or parents.
--23.2% of respondents said they would study, do homework, read or write.
--About 7 percent said they would sleep, which has in the past been a usual response from teenagers but not from preteens.

*Asked about their biggest problem, kids' most common complaint was related to schoolwork, 23.4 percent. This included concerns about getting homework done on time, finishing projects and studying for tests.
--But only 5.8% of boys wanted to tell grown-ups about school problems, compared to 9.3% of girls who did.
--Eight percent of all respondents cited problems with both parents, 9 percent with their siblings, and 7 percent with their friends.

*Asked what they wanted adults to know about their lives, 29 percent said they wanted them to know that being a kid is hard--but 21 percent said they wanted them to know that being a kid is fun.

*Thirty-three percent of respondents said they think it is harder being a kid today than it was when their parents were kids.

The Answer Sheet, actually, thinks it IS tougher to be a kid today than when she was, several decades ago. Do you agree or disagree?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 7, 2009; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  Homework, Parents, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  Highlights magazine, homework, standardized tests, what children worry about  
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Next: The Group: Our Kids' Teachers, Good and Bad


This looks like it would be skewed data. Any kid who would put in the effort to e-mail or write Highlights magazine would seem to be a different kid than the one who wouldn't e-mail or write the magazine. The real question would be "Is it tougher today for kids who read Highlights AND put in effort to send a letter to the magazine?"

Posted by: billybob123 | October 7, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't know that being a kid is harder today than at any other time.

I do think a lot of parents micromanage their kids unnecessarily, making it stressful for them.

Somehow, I survived my childhood and became a successful professional without having every second of my day scheduled and/or monitored.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 7, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it is harder to be a kid today, but I'm surprised that the majority of kids agree. Kids have a lot of challenges, and they may be different than those of my generation (I'm in my 30s), but different doesn't mean harder. I see a world that is increasingly complex for children, but also one with increasing access to information. And I think we are in a cultural era of self-aware parenting. That may be good or bad, but overall I think it means adults are more likely to think life is hard for kids because they are doing a better job listening to them and being attuned to their issues.

Posted by: walkeraza | October 7, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Are you kidding me? Kids have it WAY easier today than when I was a kid. Today's children are spoiled, coddled, and lazy. And as they go off to high school and college, they develop a sense of entitlement as big as Jesse Jackson's!

Posted by: Ellvee | October 7, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Better/worse? How about just different? There are some things that have changed since I was a teenager (30+ years ago); parents now have access to Blackboard and can jump on a kid about a quiz grade before the kid even knows about it.
Some teachers expect that the kids should not want to be kids, that perhaps the only purpose an extra curricular serves is the more sinister purpose of building a resume. Heaven forbit a kid be involved in something for fun and for building HS memories. It is this attitude that had my daughter saddled with 4+ hours of homework on on a school night when a football game was scheduled. Her committment to the marching band meant she needed to be at school by 5 and didn't get home until 10:30. When I was a teen and a game was scheduled on a school night instead of a weekend night, you'd get a bit of homework with the added assignment, "go to the football game and support your team!"

Of course, if a kid wants to correspond with the editors of "Highlights" magazine, that is certainly easier in 2009.

Posted by: Sharon_59 | October 7, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Perhpas it's a little tougher to be a "student" these days with all the testing that goes on, but like Ellvee stated above, kids today are spoiled and coddled too much, and their sense of entitlement is astounding. My cousin got her kid a 22-inch TV and DVD player for his bedroom when he was FOUR. I got my first 13-inch TV when I was 16. The kids have cell phones, Internet, video games, all kinds of extracurricular activities. How is that hard?

Posted by: desbah11 | October 7, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I think it's much harder to be a kid in today's world. Where do I begin...?!Everything is hyper-sexualized which causes our children to think about things much earlier than they should. Kids are more isolated now in their parents' secluded neighborhoods. Grandparents, for the most part, are not down the street any longer, they're across the country. Schools have their hands tied in many cases as far as discipine goes so "good" kids are forced to try to learn through all the disruptions. Are they more spoiled? Yeah, probably but they're coping with a lot more pressures & stresses in today's world.

Posted by: CheleFernandez | October 7, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

It's much easier now to be a kid than when I was a kid. Access to information alone is so much easier, so much is free, so many activities are safer.

It's just harder to be a parent now, because the expectations are so much higher.

Posted by: staticvars | October 7, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Children's support programs are no better than they were fifty years ago. Perhaps for some children, life is better and easier. From the newspaper articles of children being hanged, beaten, shot, and killed daily. I would imagine it is much more difficult today than fifty years ago. Fifty years ago everything was slower and children could run from trouble. Now everything is faster and children cannot run fast enough to evade trouble.

Peer pressure, unwanted after eighteen, unwanted period, access to sex, it all adds up to easier for children to be exploited today than ever before, make their lives harder than before.


Posted by: patmatthews | October 8, 2009 5:47 AM | Report abuse

Are they kidding? Asking if life is tougher for kids today is like asking if the new screen door the government installed to help keep the Submarine water-tight is working correctly...

I don't think the world has ever seen such a group of entitled brats before...

God forbid Americans ever regain power in Congress again because we will ensure that Parents are held accountable for their own children once again.... And at the same time, slash all legislation giving the state or Federal Government power over your decision-making.

Posted by: indep2 | October 8, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I think the question depends on the kid.

As far as I can tell from the media, kids in poor inner-city neighborhoods seem much more likely to be killed or seriously injured due to violence today than, say, a few decades ago. A bully who might have made them miserable by saying mean things or punching them is more likely now to have a gun.

Kids in middle-class, suburban settings probably are much safer from accident or injury (including being mugged or killed), statistically. But they seem to have far less personal freedom, both physically (roaming around out of sight of the house for hours is no longer an option) and in terms of schedule (time is committed instead of up to them to decide what to do). I would hate that. It was more fun when I was a kid.

Kids from all backgrounds seem to be exposed to the good, the bad, and the ugly much earlier, which I think does make it harder to be a kid. I can actually recall the first time I saw a four-letter word written on a bathroom wall. It was a slang term for feces. Someone had to explain to me what it meant. Kids grow up faster than that now.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | October 8, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Are you serious? Compared to when I was 5-12 roughly in the late 70's crime is way down, average incomes are way up, standard of living is higher, technology makes life far easier. It's not even close.

As society gets older and wealthier, we get more risk averse. The added anxiety is a function of increased risk aversion, not actual stress.

Posted by: CapHillResident | October 8, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

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