According to a CBS poll that's both sweet and disturbing, American parents think their kids are model citizens, and that they avoid sex and drugs.
The good news, kind of, is that unlike in, say, the movie Thirteen, parents of kids aged 9 to 17 seem generally satisfied with their offspring's behavior. 85% are fine with their kids' Internet use, saying they spend just a little, or some, but not too much, time online. Three out of four think their kids understand the value of money, and 62% say they help out regularly around the house.
All this seems a little rosy, but in a way it's nice that parents think highly of their kids. Less nice: they seem to overwhelmingly believe that their teens haven't tried sex or drugs. Several questions in the poll were aimed at parents of kids 13 and over. Among those moms and dads, a staggering 90% thought their kids had never used illegal drugs, or abused prescription ones. Of course, it's hard to get accurate data on how many kids are actually using drugs. But one 2006 study found that 29% of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders had tried marijuana at some point in their lives. And the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that 1 in 5 teens has abused a prescription drug. Meanwhile, only 22% of parents think their teens are sexually active (though 35% think they may have engaged in "sexting"). Again, real data about sex is hard to come by, but in a 2003 study, 48% of 9th-12th grade boys, and 45% of girls in the same age bracket, reported being sexually active.
Obviously the discrepancy between boys' and girls' percentages casts these numbers into some doubt (unless the difference is entirely accounted for by gay sex), and the slightly different age groups may hamper comparison as well. However, the CBS poll still seems to reflect a general and probably misguided belief among parents that their teens would never have sex or do drugs. Of course, parents may be embarrassed to tell researchers their suspicions about their kids, for fear of seeming like bad caregivers. But if it's true that many parents assume their teens are sex- and drug-free, this may mean kids aren't getting the advice about safe sex — or the education about drugs — that they need. It also may indicate that parents view sex and drug use as behaviors that only bad kids engage in, further hampering communication and making kids less likely to ask for help. The CBS poll studied only parents' attitudes — a useful follow-up might examine whether moms and dads talk to their kids about these issues, and how those conversations make kids feel.