TAKE heart, parents, you must be doing something right. In a recent survey, 73 percent of young people 13 to 24 said their relationship with their parents makes them happy, and spending time with family came in first among the things that make them happiest.
And the good news didn't stop there in the survey, conducted by the Associated Press and MTV. For example, money got nary a mention when young people were asked what made them happy. Those 13 to 17 said being sexually active made one less happy, while 18 to 24-year-olds said sex might make you happier at the time but not in general.
Also, close to half of those surveyed said religion and spirituality are important, more than half believe in a higher power, most said school makes them happy, an overwhelming majority believes marriage makes you happy and wants to marry, most want children, and nearly half listed a parent as one of their heroes. Fully 65 percent of the respondents felt good about the way things were going for them.
On the downside, whites appeared to be happier than Hispanics or blacks, many young people feel stressed, and happiness appears to be directly related to higher family income and having more highly educated parents.
But, overall, parents can feel good about these results. Or can they?
Where in here is the callow, angst-ridden youth more concerned about this moment's pleasure than long-term consequences? Where is the sullen, angry, monosyllabic teen who lives in his room - talking on the phone, text messaging, Web surfing, listening to music, doing anything to avoid interacting with parents and siblings and emerging only to eat or borrow money and the car keys to head for the mall, skate park, or wherever friends gather?
Does he - or she - only live in caricature?
While we are inclined to breathe a sigh of relief that young people seem to get it, even when they'd never let on to their parents, we fear that there may be another answer. Young people are masters at giving adults what they want, while exposing no more of themselves than they must.
They are also frustratingly complex and inherently contradictory, alternately incredibly savvy and remarkably naive. And among the things they are savvy about are tests and surveys of this sort because by the time they're teens they've been tested, poked, prodded, analyzed, evaluated, dissected, and categorized so often that laboratory frogs pity them.
Is it wise, therefore, to assume that they saw through this latest attempt to plumb their psyches and parroted back what they thought the questioners wanted to hear? Or did they consider that tactic and decided it was important to be honest anyway?
We hope that's the case, but find ourselves reaching for a pinch of salt to go with the results.