Ep. 374: Monthly Tracker – Teens 2023

May 18, 2023

Highschool Senior Patrick McGrath joins EdChoice team members, John Kristof and Colyn Ritter, to discuss the findings from the latest survey on teenagers today.

John Kristof: Hello and welcome to the youngest ever edition of EdChoice Chats, and that’s going to make sense in a second. I am John Kristof, Senior Research Analyst at EdChoice, and you have joined us for one of our Opinion Tracker podcasts, which we do on the regular. And we’re talking about our new survey of teenagers today. And that’s something that we do a handful of times a year. And a new wave is out on our website with Morning Consult, or satellite website, edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. You can check out the report and follow along here if you would like. 

Joining me today is Colyn Ritter, as always, a research associate here at EdChoice and a brand new guest here today, Patrick McGrath. Himself, a certified teenager. Currently a senior at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana, and incoming freshman to Ball State University. Chirp, chirp, so I hear. 

Patrick, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Patrick McGrath: Thank you for having me. I’m excited. 

John Kristof: We’re excited to have you. 

I haven’t fact checked that this is the youngest ever EdChoice Chats podcast, but I feel pretty confident in that, since I’m kind of the outlier. I think I’m the outlier dragon that aged up a little bit. 

But anyway, we are going to follow a format that people who have heard the Tracker podcast before should be familiar with, we’re going to go over some results that we find surprising, some results that we find not very surprising, some results that we are going to want to keep an eye on going forward, because we think they might be important, and I’m sure we will find some other insights in the meantime. 

So with that, I think we’ll just get started. Colyn, I’m going to throw the first question to you. There’s a lot of meat in this teen survey this month. What was the biggest eye-opener for you? 

Colyn Ritter: Thanks, John. I agree, the teen surveys always have… It’s tough. We can almost do like two or three podcasts on this. I had a couple different directions. I’m going to go with… We ask a question, we ask this in our gen pop parent surveys as well, but we asked teens directly, “Thinking about your future, academics and mental health, so in these three areas, how supported do you feel by your school, your parents, your teachers, and your friends?” So those four support systems asking about really important things like the future, their academics, and mental health. 

There’s so many different ways you can go with this. The first thing that sticks out is that mental health support, teens feel that their mental health support from their school is not up to standard. 34% of teens say that they feel supported by their school. That means that two in three teens don’t feel supported. Their school does not support their mental health. That stuck out to me. Their teachers support their mental health at about 42%, so roughly half of teens. That wasn’t too surprising to me. 

The thing that stuck out to me, and I’m curious, kind of how this will change in the future, but the support from the teens’ school really lagged behind, especially with mental health in the future. I mean, I don’t know if schools are the most traditional source of support for mental health, but I was hoping that the number would be higher than one in three teens feel that way, especially with the mental health crisis in our country now and just how much it’s talked about and how important it is. 

But the thing that really stuck out to me, and I think it’s kind of an indictment on the schools in general, is when you’re looking at how supported they feel academically, teens are more likely to feel supported from their parents, from their teachers and from their friends more frequently than their school. I mean, I was shocked by this. I thought schools would at least be number one or number two. I mean, when you’re thinking about academic support, obviously teachers and parents are up there, but the school being last, I mean, behind friends. 59% of teens said they feel supported by their friends academically, compared to 56% of teens feeling their school supports them academically. That was shocking to me and I think it was just kind of a theme. It was one of the big themes that I took away from this teen’s report, is that teens’ schools, they’re not doing as well as I thought and teens are definitely kind of bearish on how their school is supporting them, especially when it comes to mental health, but academics and future as well. 

John Kristof: Those are some really good insights there. And certainly contrary to, I think, how we talk about academics in school. I feel like there’s enough conversation out there about how friends are negative influences on your academics, so for a lot of teenagers to feel like they’re actually better than the school itself probably should maybe insight some soul-searching. That’s a good insight. 

Patrick, what about you? What jumped out to you? 

Patrick McGrath: The thing that I highlighted first when I was reading through it was the bit about ChatGPT. So more than two in five teens have heard about ChatGPT. And for me personally, at my school, it’s taken our school by storm. A lot of people are using it right now for our comp classes and just for these random throwaway assignments that teachers assign us. The reading check ones, a lot of people are just using it for that, and it’s kind of scaring our teachers a bit. A lot of them are turning to us to ask, “What should we do about ChatGPT and what should the punishment be for using it essentially?” So, I found that one really interesting. 

It reminded me of a discussion we had in my comp class the other day. My teacher was talking about how do we use it in the future because the site that we use to turn in our papers, turnitin.com, it scans for plagiarism and all that, and it just got a ChatGPT AI detection checker, and she went through a bunch of our papers and there were high percentages on how much was used by AI. 

So, we were kind of talking about that and I kind of brought up in that class that ChatGPT and AI is going to be like the calculator. At some point, people didn’t have a calculator in math class and all of a sudden it came on. I can imagine it was a similar reaction by math teachers. So I think it’s going to be more used as a source and more as a way to format papers and format responses, but you can’t just ban it all together. That’s what my school has done at the moment. But people are finding ways around it, evidently by the amount of papers that my teacher said flagged at over 80% AI generated. That’s kind of what I highlighted first, just because it’s been our topic of discussion in multiple classes this past week. 

John Kristof: I think that’s really interesting. And for those who haven’t seen, we did ask a couple ChatGPT questions for the first time, and I think it’s true that this is our first teen survey that we’ve done since ChatGPT kind of took the world by storm a little bit. 

I guess, I should explain too. If you don’t know what ChatGPT is, it’s basically a new AI tool that is probably just the most user-friendly. It’s the best combination of user-friendly and also capable, basically a chatbot that you can ask it questions or you can try to talk to it, and then it can churn out some pretty good results. So you can look up news stories if you haven’t seen them yet about concerns of… You ask ChatGPT to write a five paragraph essay about Shakespeare for you or whatever. And it does a decent level job, as Patrick has mentioned. Or at least decent enough job that it’s become a matter of concern. 

I’ll actually ask you a follow-up question, Patrick. The results that we have say that, I guess it would turn out to be like 39% of teenagers say that they have not used this before, and 15% say that they use it in their free time, and I guess a combination of 13% say that they use it at school. Based on what you’re telling me, that sounds low. So in your case, does it seem like maybe more than 13% of your school’s using it. Or is that about right, and that’s actually just a big enough influence? 

Patrick McGrath: So me personally, when I read that, I thought that was low. A little bit of background on my school, my school, it’s a middle-class, high-class suburb. There’s lots of technology available in my school. Everyone has a computer and almost everyone has phones. Some people have iPads as well. So there’s lots of technology in my school and lots of people familiar with technology and the ability to use it at home, not just at school. So I think that’s kind of played a role in, everyone knows what it is, everyone’s using it. So that number to me, it did seem low when I read it, but I think it could also just be part of, my school is very technologically advanced. There’s lots of opportunities to use it. 

John Kristof: No, that’s fair. I was just curious about that. That’s good stuff and I’m definitely going to be interested to see if ChatGPT answers, familiarity, all that kind of continues to go up over time. 

I’ll quickly jump in and say, something that jumped out to me was how much optimism improved over several different factors in teenagers life. 

So we have a beautiful little chart in our slide deck if you take a look that keeps track of how teenagers feel about their relationships with their immediate family, their physical health, their family’s finances, their relationships with friends, happiness, motivation, mental health, anxiety, and stress. So that’s a lot of different categories. 

And what’s cool about it is you can see changes over time. So our earliest data point is March 2021, and then we have data points for each, for March 2022 and then March 2023. And in a lot of areas, when we’re asking about how people are feeling specifically related to COVID, with the way we phrased this question is, “Since the coronavirus began in March 2020, how have each of the following changed for you?” 

For a lot of COVID questions that we have asked before, once you hit March 2022, things kind of stabilized. People kind of felt about COVID how they did and things didn’t really change until we stopped asking COVID questions that summer. But, when it comes to things like relationships with closest friends, when it comes to happiness, when it comes to motivation, when it comes to physical health, all of those things improved for teenagers, where they are significantly more likely to say that those things have improved since the beginning of the pandemic than they were last year. So in the case of relationships with closest friends, they’re 21 percentage points more likely to say that their relationships have improved since 2020 than they were last year. When it comes to happiness, 8 percentage points more. Motivation, 16 percentage points more. Physical health, 15% points increases. These are very substantial increases, and I’m very curious as to the reasons why that these might have jumped when so many other kind of COVID related questions really stabilized over time. 

You do have things like anxiety and stress where teenagers are still significantly more likely to say that they have weakened since the beginning of the pandemic than improved, but even so there’s like slight improvements there. So I guess it’s a surprise to me because in most areas, things that we would consider to affect teenager’s happiness continue to improve over time compared to the beginning of the pandemic. And I can’t attribute a specific reason why, but I think that is positive news. 

Moving from surprising results to not super surprising results, Patrick, I will throw this over to you. Were there any particular results in our report that you felt was really obvious and perhaps stating the obvious a little bit in their findings? 

Patrick McGrath: Yeah, so actually the whole section you just mentioned was kind of like a, yeah duh, to me. 

John Kristof: Oh good. 

Patrick McGrath: Yeah. So when you talk about relationship with the family, friends, physical health, mental health, a lot of those things, motivation, for me personally and I know for a lot of my friends, March 13th is when we got word that our school was shutting down of 2020 and we were all sweet, two weeks spring break. And that lasted about a week and a half and then we were like, this sucks. And you really go three, four months where you can’t see anyone, you’re not really talking to people that much just because like me and some of my buddies, we’d try and get a phone call going or on my football team, we had an Xbox tournament that we played and that’s like 30 minutes of your day, you’re spending your entire time really just alone. 

And then you go into that school year, that following school year, that would’ve been my sophomore year, and then that’s all virtual school, that’s all on Zoom. So again, you’re just not talking to people, you’re not hanging out with people and it really just sucks. So then even like you say like 2021 is where things stabilized for everything else, but then in this you continue to see the jump. And I kind of attribute that, so, 2021, my junior year, we were in the building but the way that they had us set up was desk had to be six feet apart, you had to wear a mask, you could only have four people sit at your lunch table, we all had to be spread out. And that was for most of the year. It wasn’t until really spring, pretty much this time last year, maybe little bit before, where they started to say, hey, you don’t have to wear a mask. You can have six people at lunch table. That was a big thing, six people could sit at your lunch table, not four. And desks could be three feet, not six. So you just get closer. 

And this year everything’s open. Summer, you’re able to go do whatever you wanted, go hang out with friends, spend time with people. And I think just those times where you get to be with people and friends, make new friends in your class. I mean, for sophomore to junior year I didn’t really make any new friends because you don’t have the opportunity. You’re just going to talk to the same people you’ve been talking to. And for me, I was fortunate enough, I played football. So I’m fortunate enough I have a bunch of teammates that I can hang out with every day, but especially for people not involved in sports, they were just going home. They didn’t get to hang out with people, they didn’t get to talk with anyone else. So that was kind of a, yeah duh, statistic for me just because everything’s open now. I think that’s what’s played into that. 

John Kristof: I think it’s really helpful that you followed up my little monologue with that because I guess what I hear in that is that there’s a cumulative effect of the opening up of society, if you will. So if you’re not making friends sophomore year, for example, but if you make a friend in junior year, maybe by senior year you’re even a better friend or you’ve had a lot of experiences together, you’re able to plan summer trips and activities and things like that. And it sounds like that has a cumulative effect on you feeling good about your relationships and life overall. 

So that’s a really helpful insight, I think, kind of a cumulative effect on happiness. Colyn, what about you? Any, well duh, moments for you? 

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, I want to touch on, like you said, it was really cool to hear Patrick talk about his experience and when he saw this figure in this graphic and to see his experience where it’s, yeah, well duh, of course we experienced this and now three years removed here we are. That’s a huge jump. And I think John, what you and I hear a lot from people not in high school, not in there in the moment, and especially when it comes to… And this doesn’t especially track academic performance, but I think some of the discussion in the narrative that I’m used to hearing, at least personally, and I’m sure John you’ve heard it as well, is that look at how far teens are behind from where they were pre-COVID. But I think the important thing and what is worth talking about is what Patrick highlighted too, is that think about where they were during COVID and where they are now. And I think both are true and I think both are important to highlight. So that right there was really good. 

The thing I’m going to point to, and I find it funny because this is an OG, this is something we’ve been asking for a while, we ask parents and now we ask teens as well, how important is it for you to learn each of these at school? There’s a big disparity here. And the, well duh, comes from the fact that only 38% of teens think it’s extremely important to learn core academic subjects. And I want to get Patrick’s take on this as well. And I remember my experience in high school, I was thinking I wish we would spend more time on certain life skills, like how to change a tire, how to open a bank account, how to write a check, practical things that are going to matter and require attention as soon as you leave high school and become a young adult and go to college and things. Instead of worrying about classes like trigonometry. For example, like a high school student going to college for writing or going to school to be a doctor or something, they’re never going to use trigonometry or geometry, things like that. 

This graphic also shows that 58% of teens, and by far the most, think it’s extremely important to learn skills for future employment. I think that is, well duh, for me as well, because teens are thinking about what’s going to happen next. And parents as well agree that that is the thing they believe is most important for high schoolers to learn. But the disparity between parents and teens comes from the core academic subjects. And I find myself reflecting on my experience and thinking, yeah, I don’t know how important it is to continue to hammer these core academic subjects compared to learning things for future employment or getting ready for college or anything like that. 

So that was one of my takeaways and I’d really like to hear what Patrick, I’ve heard that you have an idea for an ideal school day or you’ve talked about what should be taught in schools and I’m curious what your takeaway was, if you have one from this slide. 

Patrick McGrath: Yeah. So last semester I took a class called Leadership and Legacies with Ms. Havick, she’s a fantastic teacher. And the first part of the class was kind of boring, sorry Ms. Havick. But the first half of the semester was kind of boring because it was pretty much just like a glorified book report. But the second part is where I really found interest and it was called the Shark Tank Project. So it was kind of modeled after the show Shark Tank where we pick a problem, whatever problem we want, it can be in the school, it could be in our lives, it could be in the world, whatever we want, and we’re going to spend three months working on it. And then we pitch it to just kind of people in our community would come in, different people in jobs, different leaders, just kind of a variety of people would come in and listen to us pitch. 

So my presentation was at my school we have a thing called Pathways. So we’re on block schedule or those not familiar half of our classes are on Monday, half on the other. We take seven classes, so we take four on one and then three on the other. And then to fill the other 82 minutes we have something called Pathways. So it’s an 82 minute block where you can go to any teacher you want for academic help, or if you don’t want academic help, you have a C or higher, then you can just leave. I think people leaving is kind of a waste of time. Everyone’s leaving. I mean, I leave because why do I want to sit around for an extra 82 minutes in a class I don’t need help in. My project kind of centered on how do we fix Pathways and then it expanded into something greater. 

So what I presented was for our Pathways period for four years, for freshman and sophomores, whatever classes they got to take to knock things out, those core classes, because you do have to take some core classes, you have to learn algebra, you have to learn those if not anything just for the process of learning something. But for your freshman, sophomore year in that Pathways period what I proposed was we have different people working variety of jobs. It could be college counselors, military, and then your Walgreens owner or someone who owns their own business or a firefighter, police officer, whoever it is, have them come in and kind of just talk about what they did in their job, what do they do, what do they like about it, what do they not? And then how did they get there, to kind of envision … Or give freshmen and sophomores a vision of, “I want to do this, how do I get to that?” I mean, certainly my high school experience, I went into freshman year and I immediately get asked what I want to be, and I had no clue what was even out there. And then when you started thinking about what is out there, it’s “Well, I don’t know how to do that.” So, I think giving that vision. 

And then junior year, or if we go freshman through senior year, junior year was going to be, you get ready for … If you want to go to college or if you want to get a trade or whatever you want to do, shore up your academics, make sure your grades are set. And then if you want to go to college, SAT prep because colleges still look at that. Get your grades and then talk about, how do you apply to college? What looks good? What do you need to be doing? Because for our school, we go on through Common App. Naviance is how we do our college applications and we just kind of do it on our own. And it’s not a terribly hard website, but you do go through it like, “I hope this is right. I don’t know really what I’m clicking on,” and it works out. But I think a simplified process could just make it easier for everyone. 

And then for those that want to go to trades or even those who don’t really know, show, “Here’s what I need to do to get that certificate once I graduate.” Or, “Here’s the different options. If I want to be an auto mechanic, here’s the trade schools in the area for that.” A buddy of mine is doing that right now, a little two-year program, and then he’s going to try and work for Andretti. Because Andretti Autosports just moved in, they’re going to open up a headquarters here, right where I live. 

And then senior year, and what I talked about, was cut back some of the classes because a lot of people … We have a flex period where you can miss a day pretty much, so you only go to school every other day. And a lot of people, they’re not taking meaningful classes. I’m not really taking meaningful classes. Some of them are interesting, but a lot of them are just blow offs. I mean, right now I’m just counting down the days to graduation. 

So for senior year what I proposed was those same people that come and talk to us as freshman and sophomores, we can go do internships with them throughout senior year. And maybe you do a couple, but you get that work experience. And I think that’s where you can learn your skills for future employment. 58% of teens say they want that. And how do you teach that in a school? We have little 15 minute PowerPoints where they talk about, “Make sure you show up on time,” or … Most of them teachers don’t even play through it because they think they’re dumb, to be honest. 

I think that’s where you can teach that because you actually go out and you learn, “Okay, how do I do this job? What is it like to be in an office setting? What’s it like to run a podcast? If I want to be a firefighter, what’s a day in the life of a firefighter like?” And you gain that experience, because I think experience is more useful than … In terms of learning future employment skills I think that experience is more useful than any PowerPoint presentation a school can give us. 

So that was my project, and I believe one of the questions that got brought up in the project, I’ll just address it, was like, how do you get companies to come in and present and then be open to all these internships? We’re not highlighted, because right now I live in Indiana, the state of Indiana. It’s about a 50/50 shot of people that go to college if they come back to work in Indiana or if they move out. My proposed answer to that question was, I’m going to graduate from Ball State in four years. I’m going to come out, I’m going to look for a job. And if I already have that built up connection from freshman year of high school through now, and I know that person and they know me, maybe they’re more likely to offer me a job. Maybe we retain talent in Indiana instead of it moving to Chicago. I’d always joke that people that go to Indiana University always move to Chicago, because all my cousins have done that. 

I think that it’s a way for Indiana to retain talent. I think it’s a way to get more people learning their skills for future employment. I think it’s a way to also just get people more focused on what they want to do. One of the stats in here is about nearly one in four teens either have no specific post high school plans or don’t know what they want to do. And I think that’s a way to raise that number up, because if you’re hearing all that’s out there in freshman year, if you’re getting to experience it junior and senior year, right now maybe you’re able to narrow it down. 

I was able to take an EMT class this first semester because I thought maybe I’d be interested in that. I ended up not liking that, but at least I knew, “Hey, this isn’t something that I want to do.” And I know another person in the exact same class, they weren’t sure about it, they love it. They’re going to go be an EMT right after high school. They want to be a paramedic and a firefighter, that’s what they’re going to do. So I think that experience will just raise that number of nearly one in four teens don’t know what they want to do. And I think it’ll also help with the employment skills for future employment, I think it’ll help teach that. 

John Kristof: Yeah, I think that’s a nice innovative approach that does address a lot of things. Just for context for people listening, we ask this question to parents as well in the general population, and they also are most likely to think that high schools should be preparing teenagers for future employment. But a big difference is that it’s followed pretty closely by a belief that core academic skills are also extremely important for teenagers. And it’s for teenagers, it’s the core academic skills that are much less likely to be valued, 20 percentage points fewer think that it is extremely important. 

So teenagers are not seeing the connection between core academic skills that are involved in high school and future employment in a way that I think parents in the general population assume or believe. And I think the way Patrick is talking about this I think should communicate that teenagers are thinking about future employment, and perhaps not always seeing a clear way in which high school is preparing them for that. So thanks for sharing your thoughts on that, Patrick. 

I’m going to skip past my least surprising one quick just for the sake of time, and we will jump to the number moving forward. This is one of the beautiful things about this public opinion tracker is that we track it over time, since 2020, so we’re going to be looking at a lot of these same questions going forward. Colyn, what number do you think is going to be most important going forward? What are you going to be keeping your eye on? 

Colyn Ritter: It’s similar to the first question that I brought up about that was surprising, talking about school and highlighting how schools are not meeting the needs of teens when it comes to mental health in the future, and also with academics. So we did a little bit more of a deeper dive with that. And we asked, “How well do you feel your school addresses the following amongst the students?” And the four things we asked about were mental health, guns, bullying, as well as violent behaviors. So those four are really important, pressing issues when it comes to schools these days, especially for teens. 

And what we saw from September to March, September was our last wave of the teens survey, to this current wave, we saw a slight decrease in terms of how well teens thought their schools were doing addressing the following. We saw a slight decrease in mental health, 2%. Guns, 2% decrease. Violent behaviors, 3%. We also saw a 5% decrease, which is more significant, when it comes to bullying. 

But looking past just the decreases in terms of how schools are doing since last fall, just looking at the overall numbers, it’s pretty grim. One third of students think their school’s doing a good job addressing mental health. Two in five teens think their school’s doing well handling guns. One in three teens think they’re handling bullying well. And roughly again, one in three teens think that the schools are doing well when it comes to addressing violent behaviors. None of them at the 50% threshold. The majority of teens feel that schools are doing a poor job addressing these four issues. 

So that is something I’m going to look for, just to see if it can go back to September’s levels, which were slightly better, or if it can just improve in general. To me, I don’t know how much lower it can go with these four issues, considering the importance of them. One in three teens feel that their school’s doing a good job addressing mental health. Again, I saw a survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, I was reading it. They did a teen survey in 2022, and they said that two in three teens think that schools should talk about mental health, teach about it, and should help students in terms of how and where to seek treatment. 

I mean, teens are well aware of the mental health crisis that they’re facing, and they are pretty adamant, and they’re making it abundantly clear that school is not holding up their end of the bargain. Again, you could argue how traditional of a source schools are for mental health, but again, this is not a problem that was … It was more taboo in recent history and now it’s becoming way more talked about, which is absolutely necessary. 

But schools aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. And again, this just goes back into our overall mission of the fact that if your school isn’t meeting your students’, your child’s, in the fact of a teen, your own mental health needs, kids should be free to and families should be free to look elsewhere or have options when it comes to this, because mental health is paramount and schools aren’t doing enough. And that’s one thing that I saw from this report. That’s one of the first things I’ll look at during the next report, for sure. 

John Kristof: Yeah, I think that’s really good. And I just want to add two data points for context for people. In these four categories that Colyn mentioned, these are things that we ask parents in the general population about as well, or at least school parents. I actually can’t remember at the moment if we ask the general population about this as well. But parents are significantly more optimistic about their school’s abilities to handle dealing with these four issues than the teenagers are, which probably should be a signal. And the other thing is a data point that we have about where teenagers get their information about education and news generally. And as no one should be surprised by, teens are way more likely to cite social media than anything else. And so in a lot of ways, I think schools have taken it upon themselves to talk about physical health issues. It’s just general safety things. In a lot of ways, I remember stop, drop and roll stuff in elementary school. 

So schools have taken in some kind of regard, some general physical safety stuff. And obviously mental health is its own animal, but if kids aren’t getting the help that they need and they know that they need, that’s the thing, is there’s an awareness of this kind of thing. If they’re not getting the help that they need from school, where are they getting it from? And you can argue that there’s some perverse incentives when it comes to social media, which is where a lot of kids are turning to, but that’s my editorialization. Patrick, what about you? What’s the big number going forward for you? 

Patrick McGrath: The one that I want to focus on and hopefully see improvement, it’s under the category of almost one in three teens say they’re thriving to some degree, but more specifically, the disparity between male and females. So 39% of males say they’re thriving and only 22% of females say they’re thriving. That that’s the second lowest of the different groups with the lowest being LGBTQ groups. But just looking at the disparity between male and females, I think, well, you mentioned social media as the main source for people to get news, social media is the main source for how people get everything, especially people my age, especially coming out of COVID. When you didn’t have much to do, you hop onto TikTok. A lot of people didn’t have a lot to do. 

And then I think what you see on TikTok and if you watch the documentary, Social Dilemma, I don’t know if any of you guys have watched it, it’s on Netflix, I believe it’s still on Netflix, that talks about how the different social media companies target women, specifically teenage girls, about body types and different body issues and dysmorphia because they know girls will stay onto that. And I think you can see the results from it here. You can see only 22% of females say they’re thriving. That’s about one in five. And then when you look at it at a greater rate, on the Center for Suicide Prevention, men are more likely to die from suicide but women will attempt suicide two to three times more often than men. 

So it gets somber but I think that’s a number that really needs to be focused on because I would say that that could be backed up in my school. A lot of girls are more concerned with how they look, how their bodies are, and how they’re going to be perceived through social media and by their peers. Then I wake up, roll out of bed, throw on some clothes and go to school. I don’t really care what I look like. I’m going to be at school for seven hours. But I think you see a lot of it like that. I think that’s the number of that. If you could get that number up, that’s the number to look at in the future. 

John Kristof: That kind of disparity between demographics and including a gender one is definitely something that we’ve been keeping an eye on for a while. So it’s really good of you to bring that up. It took a long time for girls taking the survey to even say that they had improved since COVID at all, whereas the guys taking our survey were much quicker to have the positive outweigh the negative. So it’s a good insight. 

Mine going forward is drawing attention to post-high school plans. So Colyn and I wrote an op-ed last fall after our last teen survey, noting that there was a substantial decline in teenagers who were saying that they were planning on attending college, going forward a four-year college specifically. And so we thought that that was something to keep an eye on and that schools and universities needed to respond to. So I feel like it is appropriate and maybe necessary to return to that question now because there is a decently big bump back, if you will, in favor for four-year college. 

So as a reference point, in September, 29% of teenagers said that they were planning on attending an in-state four year college or university after high school. And then another 18% were planning on doing out-of-state. In-state four year has jumped up six percentage points to 35% and out-of-state bumped up by eight percentage points, so within the margin of error or whatever for out-of-state four year college or university. So not a continued decline, which was something that Colyn and I said was definitely something to keep an eye on. 

And I’ll also say too, the age range of people taking the survey ranges from 13 to 18. So we have some 13 year olds who may be making their best guess and they don’t really know, and that’s completely fair. But just something that I think I wanted to highlight since it’s something that Colyn and I had talked about before, picked up a little bit of attraction. So still something I’m going to be keeping an eye on going forward for how teenagers seem to be feeling about four year college going forward and how optimistic or pessimistic they feel about its ability to be what they need after high school. 

To wrap this up quickly, Patrick, if you will, I want you to tell us, as our resident teenager today, what do you think the adults listening to this podcast, the decision makers in our education system, what is something that you think they’re not paying attention to that they need to be paying attention to that the survey brought up? 

Patrick McGrath: I would say that they’re not paying attention to the crying out for skills for future employment. At least they’re not paying attention to a way to improve it because I remember even going back to my freshman year, four years ago, there was all this push that we were going to have special employment classes or employment abilities where you were going to learn about how to be a worker. And that still hasn’t come. And again, they send out PowerPoints for us to look at the pathways and most teachers don’t show them because they’re not worth anything. You don’t look at a PowerPoint that you don’t really care about, that you’re not getting notes over because some teacher says, this will help you get a job, because even the teachers are saying straight up, that’s not. So I think that’s what policymakers, that’s what whoever’s listening, how do you get people to feel like they’re learning employment skills? You can’t judge the program by its intent. What are the results of the program? Do people feel like they’re getting what they want out of it? I think that’s what needs to be focused on. 

John Kristof: Awesome. That’s a great note to end on. The kids want to work everybody. Help them figure out how to do it. Thank you to everyone listening. Thank you to Colyn and Patrick for joining me on this special edition of our Opinion Tracker podcast. This, I am confident, is our youngest ever episode. It also might be the longest episode, I’m not sure about that, at least as far as recording time. We’ll see what makes it into the final version. So with that, we also thank Jacob Vinson, our art director here at EdChoice and wonderful podcast producer who makes us sound as professional as we possibly can. 

And thank you for listening. Thank you for checking out insights into something that is very important. If education is about kids, I think it is very important to listen to what they’re telling us, and that’s why I value the team survey that we do. Again, you can check it out on our satellite website with Morning Consult at edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. We also have all of the cross tabs and the questionnaire available there, free to access, so that you can check out everything that we’re doing on our own. If you have any feedback on what we might be able to include in future additions of this survey, we are always welcoming a feedback to help us make the survey better. But in the meantime, everyone enjoy the rest of your day wherever you are and we’ll see you on another edition of EdChoice Chats.