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Full text of "What does it mean to be a success? : the future goals and values of American teenagers"

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A SUCCESS?: THE FUTURE GOALS AND VALUES 

OF AMERICAN TEENAGERS 



By 

KRISTIN E. JOOS 



A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS 

FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY 



UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 
2003 






Copyright 2003 

by 
Kristin E. Joos 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

I have always been one to ask questions. As soon as I learned to speak, I began 
relentlessly inquiring of my parents and teachers "why? and how come?" Instead of 
placating me with responses like "because I said so," or "that's just the way it is," my 
parents patiently dealt with my persistent questions and nurtured this inquisitive nature. I 
feel fortunate to have to have grown up during the seventies and eighties, and to have 
attended schools at a time when asking questions was not immediately considered a 
challenge to authority or disrespectful. 

My academic pursuits have been driven by a curiosity to understand "why things 
are the way they are." I have learned to deconstruct everything from the mundane to 
sophisticated postulates based on empirical evidence. These discussions (whether in 
conversation with others or in my own mind) typically run in circles and are reduced to: 
"What is reality?" I have come to question the very meaning of terms and concepts 
typically taken for granted, and the assumptions upon which they are based. 

This dissertation research grew out of a larger project on the goals and values of 
teenagers as emerging adults who are constructing their identities. As a first year 
graduate student, I was studying young peoples' expectations and aspirations for the 
future and found that 89% of American high school students considered "being a 
success" quite or extremely important. This finding was not entirely surprising, due to 
the focus on achievement in American society, but it raised another question in my 
mind, "what do they mean by 'success'?" And thus, this dissertation was born. 



mi 



Throughout the research and writing process, I faced stressful situations and 
met many challenges. I able to make it through, only with the help and support of others. 
I have been contemplating the feeling of gratitude and the difficulty of expressing the 
depths of my thankfulness to so many people. Frankfurter expounded on the challenge 
to communicate appreciation, saying, "Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the 
emotions, especially when it is deep." I have often found myself speechless with awe at 
the generosity of others, and could no better describe the situation than with this quote 
by Steindel-Rast, "As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it, and the 
greater my awareness, the greater my need to express it." What is gratitude? Massieu 
says, "Gratitude is the memory of the heart," and Chesterton says, "I would maintain 
that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by 
wonder." There are many people to whom I would like to express my gratitude, 
thankfulness, and appreciation... 

I would like to begin by thanking the members of my committee: Connie Shehan, 
Jay Gubrium, Barbara Zsembik, Richard Hollinger, Arne Heggestad, and Mary Ann 
Clark. They have generously given so much of their time, support, and expertise during 
this project and through out my graduate studies. I am especially grateful for the 
mentorship offered by the chair of my committee, Connie, who has nurtured and 
believed in me since I was a student in her undergraduate classes. She truly embodies 
what it means to be a mentor and I respect her immensely. I would also like to recognize 
professor Kendal Broad for her mentorship and advice, and for the giving me the 
opportunity to work with her. She is a much admired scholar and a role model, and I 
appreciate her generosity of time. The administrative staff in the department of 
Sociology, Kanitra Perry, Justin Smith, and Sheran Flowers, have been quite helpful in 
getting me through the system. I give my utmost thanks for administrative help to 



IV 



Nadine Gillis and Diane Buehn. Nadine deserves a doctorate for her extensive 
knowledge about all things bureaucratic always shared with warmth and kindness. I also 
thank to Debbie Wallen for her help in transcribing the interviews. Finally, I am indebted 
to the McLaughlin family and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for supporting my 
work with the McLaughlin Dissertation Fellowship Award. 

I want to thank my fellow graduate students in the department, as they fulfill the 
definition of what it means to be a "colleague." Sara Crawley and Lara Foley 
successfully went through this process ahead of me, demystifying its complexities, and 
providing much valued advice, time and time again. I also thank those who are just 
ahead or just behind me, Laurel Tripp, Helena Alden, and Melanie Wakeman, for 
reminding me that I was not alone in this often complex and frustrating process. I am 
especially thankful to a few members of newer cohorts of graduate students, Ana 
Pomeroy, John Reitzel, Danielle Dirks, Liv Newman, and Victor Romano, for helping me 
this winter. Most importantly, I am thankful for the three remaining colleagues in my own 
cohort with whom I have been privileged to study and work, laugh and cry: Shannon 
Houveras, Yvonne Combs, and Leslie Houts. Thanks especially to Leslie who has been 
my closest friend during this process; she is a most admired and respected person, not 
just for her academic success, work ethic, and dedication, but because she is genuinely 
kind, incredibly considerate, and wears a constant smile. 

For the past four years, I have had the pleasure of teaching "Marriage and 
Family" (which I insist on renaming "Families and Marriages") and problematizing the 
notion of what it means to be a family. What is a family? Does it only include persons to 
whom we are related through ties of blood and marriage? As a social scientist who 
studies families, I answer with a resounding "no." I contend that friends are the families 
we choose for ourselves. I would like to thank other students who have been friends to 



me throughout graduate school, Dana Bagwell, Nicole Kitos, and Jana Bailey. I am 
especially grateful for the humor and late night communications of Dana and Nicole- as 
they often kept me awake and working. Next I would like to thank Renee Gibbons, 
Stacey Cihlar, and my friends at Apeiron Pilates for their talents, kindness, and for 
helping me stay balanced. I owe my health and well being to those who have 
considerately cared for me over the years, Terry Burke, Joanne Block, and Miranda 
Monkhorst. I also thank my childhood friends, Ceclia Prater, Rachel Morgan, Kelley 
Kish, and Caren Morgan for their consistent friendship, despite long gaps in 
communication. I would be remiss if I did not recognize two families, the Pratts and the 
Fines, who have welcomed me into their homes and lives, and treated me as much 
more than just a tutor. From the depths of my heart I thank the Haineses for welcoming 
me into their home, especially these past few months. 

I am most thankful for the friendship and support of the Sonlight community, 
especially my former co-workers Erin Costello, Chris Slattery, Jocelyn Holt, Kristi 
McClellan, and Amy Haines. Amy has given me an incredible gift of time, patience, and 
editorial talent these past few months and I owe her immensely. I am also indebted to 
the members of Sonlight in 1 998-2000 for willingly participating in this study, particularly 
the class of 1999, who welcomed me into their world to observe and conduct interviews. 
Other members of the Sonlight community have sustained me over the years with their 
friendship and support: Lindsay Hollinger, Candy Hollinger, Sarah Stone, Alex Bishop, 
and Liz Reiser. I cannot begin to express the depths of my appreciation, admiration, and 
love for Rebecca Brown and her mission to understand young people from where they 
are, and to help 'see the star' from their perspective. She has taught me, and so many 
others, to risk love and risk a dream. Without the Sonlight community, I would not be 

here now. 

vi 



In closing, I would like to thank my own family. My grandparents, Richard and 
Marjorie Joos, are no longer here, but their memory lives on. I thank my mother, Alice 
Privett for doing her best as a single parent and teaching me the value of education. I 
owe thanks to my brother, Ron Joos, who is far more intelligent than I and a real-life 
MacGyver, for patiently teaching me about all things important, for not questioning the 
futility of my studies, and for motivating me, simply by saying, "I'm timing you." I would 
also like to thank my brother's partner, Gabriella Corriere, and her brother, Sebastian, 
who have been kind and gracious family members, making holiday dinners a time of 
laughter and fun. Finally, I am thankful for my father, Ron Joos. He has given me 
unconditional love and sacrificed much so that I could pursue my dreams. I could never 
repay him for his kindness, patience, and constant support. He has enabled me to be 
who I am today. My father's invisibility has challenged me to speak out and use my own 
voice to work for change and justice. The diploma for this degree is not mine alone. It 
should state the names of all of those mentioned above, as they have helped me along 
the way, and for that, I am grateful. 



VII 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

Page 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS '" 

ABSTRACT xi 

CHAPTER 

1 INTRODUCTION 1 

Teenagers Today 1 

'Troubled Teens" 1 

Young People Today: a Second Look 5 

Generation Y: Motivated, Ambitious, and with an Eye on the Future 7 

Background 8 

Purpose ^ 

Significance 10 

2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 12 

Defining Terms 12 

Adolescent 13 

Juvenile 14 

Youth 14 

Teenager 16 

Appropriate Terminology 19 

Theoretical Background 20 

Deterministic Approaches 20 

Constructivist Approaches 23 

Interactionist Approaches 37 

Conceptual Model 42 

3 METHODOLOGY 44 

Introduction 44 

Data Collection 44 

Quantitative Analysis of Monitoring the Future 44 

Qualitative Analysis of Sonlight Members 49 

Instrumentation 57 

Assumptions and Limitations of the Study 57 

Limitations of Monitoring the Future 57 

viii 



Limitations of Data from Sonlight 61 

Data Analysis 62 

4 IMPORTANCE OF "SUCCESS" AND OTHER FUTURE GOALS TO AMERICAN 
TEENAGERS 64 

Results from Monitoring the Future: Overall Importance of Future Goals .... 67 

Race and Students' Future Goals 69 

Father's Education and Students' Future Goals 70 

Mother's Education and Students' Future Goals 71 

Gender and Students' Future Goals 71 

Summary 72 

5 FUTURE GOALS OF YOUTH: COMPARISON OF SONLIGHT MEMBERS WITH 
NATIONAL SAMPLE 79 

Comparison of Future Goal Ratings: Overall MTF and Sub-sample 79 

Gender and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals 80 

Grades and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals 81 

High School Program and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals 82 

Expectations to Graduate from College and Sub-sample Students' Future 
Goals 83 

Goal Ratings of Monitoring the Future Sub-sample Compared with Sonlight . . 84 

Summary of Goal Rating Comparisons Between Monitoring the Future and 

Sonlight Members 88 

Trends: Changes in the Importance of Future Goals Since the 1960s 89 

6 HOW DO TEENAGERS DEFINE "SUCCESS"? 101 

Overview of Frequent Responses 104 

Definitions of "Success" 1 04 

Visions of "Being Successful" 1 05 

Models of "Successful" People 107 

Emergent Themes 1 08 

Self-Realization 110 

Money 111 

Philanthropy ("making a difference in the world") 114 

Work = Contributing to Society 116 

Connecting with Family and Friends 117 

Infrequent but Salient Responses 119 

Nontraditional Gender Aspirations 119 

Aspirations of Gender-Matched Parents 120 

Religion and "Serving Others" 122 

Summary 123 

7 CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION 125 

Sonlight as a Values Education Program 127 

Overview of Program 127 

Focus as Values Curriculum 1 30 

ix 



Importance of Sonlight as a Values Education Program 135 

Case Studies Exemplifying the Effectiveness of Sonlight as a Values 

Education Experience 136 

■^ •■ 14? 

Discussion ,HO 

LIST OF REFERENCES 148 

APPENDIX 

A INTERVIEW INSTRUMENT 158 

B ORGANIZATION AND LEADERSHIP OF SONLIGHT 160 

C ARTICLES ABOUT SONLIGHT FROM A LOCAL NEWSPAPER 163 

D ACTIVITIES OF SONLIGHT: 1984-2001 164 

E A SONLIGHT FOCUS: Convictions or Post-it Notes? 166 

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 168 



Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in 
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A SUCCESS?: THE FUTURE GOALS AND VALUES 

OF AMERICAN TEENAGERS 

By 

KRISTIN E. JOOS 
May 2003 

Chair: Constance L. Shehan 

Major Department: Department of Sociology 

This dissertation concerns the values and goals of teenagers from a 
constructivist and interactionist perspective-as opposed to the vast majority of research 
which problematizes adolescence and focuses on juvenile delinquents. Specifically, it 
focuses on the future goals and values of American youth. 

This research is based on Monitoring the Future, a quantitative survey of over 
60,000 high school students, as well as an original study involving qualitative interviews 
of 70 teenagers involved in a local youth program. The data indicate that in 1999, over 
89% of American teenagers considered "being a success" quite or extremely important, 
while only 22% of those teens said it was important to "make a contribution to society." 
These statistics have "flipped" since the late 1960s, when 24% of teenagers considered 
"being a success" extremely important and over 85% thought it important to "make a 
contribution to society." How do teenagers define success if it is so important to 
them-might this definition even include "making a contribution to society?" 

Comparison of responses of the national study with those in the local sample 
suggests that trend data of large scale surveys tend to collapse differences and hide 



XI 



niches such as those revealed by the in-depth interviews, reiterating the importance of 
focusing on the "small worlds" in which teenagers are involved. 

Although the survey data provide telling statistics-that "being a success" is very 
important to young people-it does not explain what they mean by "being a success." 
The teenagers interviewed who were involved in the "small world" of a local youth 
program, did not define "success" as a singular concept. Instead they equated "success" 
with 1) an overall sense of "happiness" and achieving their goals; 2) doing well in both 
work and family; 3) helping others and making a difference; 4) having time to engage in 

activities they enjoy. 

This study shows how the values of self-actualization, philanthropy, and 
connecting with others were cultivated in the "small world" of a youth organization. The 
findings suggest how other youth programs might employ a 'Values curriculum" and 
provide insight on the goals and values of emerging adults. 



XII 



CHAPTER 1 
INTRODUCTION 

Teenagers Today 

The prevailing image of teenagers today is that they are deeply troubled. Both in 
the media and in social science research, young people are often depicted as problems 
and the experience of adolescence is characterized as problematic. Dominant notions, 
as well as academic research, tend to focus on the deficiencies and difficulties of youth 
rather than their assets, competencies, abilities, and goals. In this chapter, I outline 
these contradictory views of teenagers to show that while the notion that the majority of 
teenagers today are "troubled" captivates much attention, it is not an accurate depiction. 
Contrary to the popular perception that young people today are troubled, delinquent, 
and ill-prepared to enter adulthood, the vast majority (90 percent) do not experience 
these problems (Furstenberg 2000). Utilizing both constructivist and interactionist 
perspectives, I explore the future goals of American youth 1 . Specifically, I focus on 
teenagers as active agents, constructing their future goals and values within their "small 
world" experiences. 
"Troubled Teens" 

When adults were surveyed and asked what words most applied to today's 
young people, compared with young people 20 years ago, they chose "selfish" and 



Throughout this dissertation the phase "American youth" or "American teenagers" is 
used to refer to high school students in the United States. I realize that this terminology 
may be problematic, as the term "America" includes not only the United States, but other 
territories as well. However, I persist in utilizing the vernacular "America" as it is stated 
most often by the participants themselves and in the literature. 



2 
"materialistic" for the youth of today, and "patriotic" and "idealistic" for the youth of the 
past. The majority of Americans agree that teens today are both dangerous and in 
danger, silly and self-absorbed, lazy and corrupted by consumerism (Stepp 2002). 
Indeed, it may be hard to be optimistic about the future of the nation's youth when the 
prevalent images are of their violence, lack of motivation, poor performance in school, 
sexual promiscuities, drug abuse, and selfishness. According to popular media, "Teens 
are lost to heroin, engage in random promiscuity in junior high school, drink 
dangerously, and are just plain mean" (Males 2002b). Perceptions of this widespread 
deviance among youth have led to 'ephebiphobia,' an extreme fear of young people 
(Males 2002a). 

Media headlines proclaim that violence is a problem among young people in 
America today. The tragic events at Columbine High School in 1999 were a wake-up call 
to adults, bringing attention to violence in schools and young people's relationships with 
their peers. In 1999, students ages 12 through 18 were victims of approximately 2.5 
million total crimes at school. There were 47 school-associated violent deaths in the 
United States that same year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics 
(2001). In the past, violence was primarily a problem among boys. However, it seems to 
have become an epidemic among all teenagers, as evidenced by the attention garnered 
by two books that made the best sellers lists this past year: Odd Girl Out: The Hidden 
Culture of Aggression in Girls and Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter 
Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. Not only are 
young people committing violent acts, there is a proliferation of violence in the media. By 
the time a young person is 18 years old, they are likely to have witnessed over 200,000 
acts of violence on TV alone. Sixty to ninety percent of all video games include violence 
as a prominent theme and over 1000 studies by experts have proven that exposure to 



3 
violence leads to an increase in aggressive behavior (American Association of 
Pediatrics Committee on Communications 1995). 

Of course, teens are playing more video games, watching more TV, music 
videos and movies, and listening to music with censored lyrics. Young people in the U.S. 
spend, on average, 6.5 hours per day in front of electronic screens including televisions, 
computers, and video games (Woodard 2000). Eighty-two percent of youth aged 10 to 
17 say they play video or computer games at home; forty-two percent play every day 
(National Public Radio, 2000). The average American born in the 1980s and 1990s 
grows up in a home with two TVs, three tape players, three radios, two VCRs, two CD 
players, one video game player and one computer (Kaiser Family Foundation 1999). 
Children spend more time sitting in front of electronic screens than any other activity 
besides sleeping (Annenberg Public Policy Center 1999). With all of this time spent as 
"couch-potatoes," these behaviors cause some adults to conclude that America's youth 
tend to be lazy, lacking in motivation, and that they are primarily consumers and 
spenders, lacking the work ethic of past generations. In 2001 , youth aged 12 to 19 spent 
$172 billion (an average of $104 per teen each week), up 11% from $155 billion in 2000 
(Teen Research Unlimited 2002). In addition, their lack of physical activity has led to a 
chronic problem of obesity. In 1999, 25% of children were overweight or at risk for 
obesity; these figures have more than doubled in just one generation (Troiano 1998). 

More teenagers these days are engaging in dangerous risk behaviors than in the 
past. They are having more sex, using more drugs, and committing more crimes. The 
average age of first sexual intercourse for young women is 16 and 17 for young men. By 
the time they graduate from high school, fewer than 30% of young people are still 
virgins (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1999). In 1998, 54% of high school students said they 
had used drugs (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman 1998). The rise of illicit drug use, 



4 
including dangerous "date rape" drugs such as ecstacy, among teenagers more than 
doubled from 1999 to 2000 (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman 2000). In 1997 juvenile 
offenders were involved in 1 ,700 murders in the U.S.; 37% of high school students were 
involved in a physical fight (Snyder & Sickmund 1999). Almost 10% of American 
teenagers suffer from depression (Birmaher, Ryan, Williamson, et al. 1999), which often 
leads to suicide attempts. In 1997, suicide was the third leading cause of death among 
10 to 24 year olds (Hoyert, Kochanek, & Murphy 1999). 

Research shows that in addition to participating in dangerous risk behaviors, 
young people today are generally ignorant of important facts and basic information. 
According to the 1999 Nations Report Card study conducted by the National Center for 
Education Statistics, "one-third thought Columbus reached the New World after 1750, 
and the same proportion couldn't identify Abraham Lincoln. Sixty-two percent were 
unable to place the Civil War in the years between 1850 and 1990, while one-third had 
no idea what the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education involved. Half 
could not calculate the area of a rectangle, and one-third could not identify the countries 
the U.S. fought against in World War II. One-third did not know that the Mississippi 
River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and only 20% could write a simple one-page letter to 
a local supermarket manager applying for a job" (National Center for Education 
Statistics 1999). Performance on national standardized tests has fallen over the past 
decade and students' workloads and understandings have been declining. In spite of 
these changes, however, average grade point averages have been increasing. "Three 
decades ago, only one college-bound high school senior in eight carried an A average. 
Today that figure is one in four" (Zinsmeister 1 997). 



Young People Today: a Second Look 

The events of April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado 
drew the attention of the nation and the world. Twelve students and one teacher were 
killed, and more than twenty people were wounded, as two "outcast" students went on a 
shooting spree, finally killing themselves. In the weeks and months that followed, a 
debate ensued among politicians, news commentators, journalists, talk show hosts, and 
various "experts" as to the culprit: guns, violence, poor parenting, inattentive teachers, 
gangs, music, TV, web sites, or video games. Talking to the students themselves 
revealed a different explanation: a lack of "fitting in" or belonging, exclusive cliques, and 
teasing and bullying prevalent in schools and youth culture (Joos 1999). 

Images of teenagers as violent and potential delinquents are common. With all 
the media attention focused on these events, it is easy to forget that they are isolated 
and exceptional situations, and not indicative of statistical outcomes or trends. In 
actuality, the rate of violence committed by young people in 1999 dropped 39% from its 
peak in 1993; serious violence by juveniles dropped 33% between 1993 and 1997, while 
violence among adults declined by only 25% during the same period (Snyder & 
Sickmund 1999). Crimes committed by youth have actually gone down, according to the 
FBI's Uniform Crime Report. In 2000, young people committed just 5% of the nation's 
homicides, the lowest proportion on record (National Criminal Justice Reference Service 
2000). American adults believe that juveniles cause about half of all crimes; in reality, 
they caused about 10-15% of violent crime (Greenwood et.al. 1998). "Ignoring clear 
statistics and research, authorities seem to lie in wait for suburban youth killings, months 
and thousands of miles apart, to validate a false hypothesis of generational disease..." 
(Males 1999). These pessimistic perceptions vary from the realities experienced by the 
majority of young people. As stated by one 18 year old student, "if the media focused on 



6 
our achievements instead of our mistakes, then we would have something to aspire to" 
(Howe & Strauss 2000). 

The realities of the majority of teenagers in the U.S. today is that they are 
actually engaging in fewer "deviant" behaviors than young people of the past. According 
to the Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health, the average age of first sexual 
intercourse has not significantly changed since the 1970s. It has gone down by just 
about one year (Stodghill 1998). Teenage pregnancy rates have reduced sharply, falling 
19% from an all-time high in 1991 , and are now at record lows (Center for Disease 
Control 2001 ). Not only are they engaging in less unprotected sex, teenagers are also 
using fewer drugs. For the past five years, statistics have indicated that teenagers are 
less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use marijuana or other illicit drugs. 
There is one exception to this trend: the use of ecstacy, which has been on the rise 
recently (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman 1998, 2000). Thus, it seems the media's 
image of the majority of young people as juvenile delinquents and potential criminals is 
largely inaccurate. 

There is evidence that students today are actually working harder and scoring 
higher than students in the past. In 1997, the average time spent per week on 
homework was 123 minutes, compared to just 44 minutes in 1981 (Institute for Social 
Research 1999). The number of high school seniors taking Advanced Placement 
examinations (for college credit) tripled between 1984 and the late 1990s (U.S. Center 
for Education Statistics 1998). Mean IQ scores increased 20 points from 1932 to the late 
1990s and continue to rise (Azar 1996). 

Students, parents, teachers, and administrators all report that college admission 
standards are becoming more and more challenging, even for top students. It is no 
longer "good enough" to have an above average GPA. Students today are often 



7 
expected to have excellent GPAs (3.9 or above) in advanced classes, high scores on 
the SATs and ACTs, be involved in sports, activities, and clubs, volunteer, and show 
leadership qualities in order to gain college admission. Many young people report feeling 
stress and pressure to meet these high standards. One 17 year old student interviewed 
in a study said that, "Getting into college has become a tough competition because of 
the number of successful students in our generation. We're forced to work twice as hard 
just to receive the same recognition as others who used to be able to get by" (Howe & 

Strauss 2000). 

In addition to striving to do well in school and school-related activities such as 
competitive sports and performances, many young people hold part-time or even full- 
time jobs. On any given day in the U.S. one-third of all high school students are working, 
and fully 80% will hold a job at some time before they graduate from high school 
(Mogelonsky 1998). Volunteerism, helping others, and community service are on the 
rise. Statistics vary, but the trends clearly indicate that the percentage of young people 
who report having engaged in volunteer activities increased from about half to almost 
90% in the past decade (National Association of Secretaries of State 1999). 

The realities of the experiences of many teenagers today may actually be quite 
the opposite of the prevalent stereotypes and images in the media. Arguably, the 
majority of youth in America make it through adolescence just fine and emerge as 
effective, well adjusted young adults. Millions of young people are hard working, 
engaged, and hopeful about their future. 

Generation Y: Motivated, Ambitious, and with an Eye on the Future 

Today, over 88 million youth make up more than one-quarter of America's 
population. This group of young people is known as "The Millennial Generation" or 



8 
"Generation Y" encompassing those born between 1982-2002. The vast majority of 
these youth are not "delinquent" and, moreover, they have been characterized as 
motivated, innovative, and optimistic about the future (Howe & Strauss 2000). One 
might think that the study of youths and teenagers would be common in the social 
sciences. However, a review of the leading journals on adolescence indicated that at 
least half of all articles were about the misbehavior or maladjustment of youth 
(Furstenberg 2000). Often, the existing literature approaches adolescence as a 
problematic life stage in modern society and casts teenagers as potential problems. 
Furstenberg emphasizes the great need for research that provides a rich description of 
the actual lives of teenagers: how they experience, perceive, and organize their social 
world. Too little recognition has been paid to the obvious fact that most youth make it 
through adolescence quite well. We know little about the competencies of these young 
people. Thus, there is a great need for research on young people's values and 
aspirations for the future. 

Background 
This project and my interest in this area actually began about 10 years ago when 
I was in high school. I was observing the social interactions at my high school: the 
"popular" kids, the "band nerds," the "hippies," the "skaters," the "rejects," etc. There 
were especially poignant scenes, such as lunch time, where we negotiated where to sit 
and who to be "seen" with-it all seemed to matter so much! I found myself not only 
participating in these "negotiations," but also deeply interested in them, analyzing them 
on somewhat of an intellectual level. As an undergraduate, I studied psychology, 
sociology, and women's/gender studies in hopes of shedding light on these issues-that 
is, the experiences of teenagers. What I found instead were the theories of "experts" 



9 
that did not at all fit what I had experienced as a teenager, or what I had observed in my 
later interactions with high schoolers. From 1994-2001 I was an intern with a local youth 
organization of more than 150 teenagers. During my internship I spent about 10 to 20 
hours per week with the organization and facilitated a small discussion group of 12-15 
girls. 

In my first year of graduate level research methods, I began a quantitative 
analysis of a large probability data set called Monitoring the Future (MTF). MTF is often 
cited in the popular media for its statistics on drug use, though it actually includes a wide 
range of variables and explores changes in important values, behaviors, and lifestyles of 
contemporary American youth. I was interested in the future aspirations and 
expectations of American teenagers. The study I conducted at that time was concerned 
with the increasing "pressure" on high school students. It seemed that students were 
faced with extremely high expectations: to have high GPAs, excel in at least one sport, 
and be involved in multiple extracurricular activities. This phenomenon has since been 
backed up by the literature in school counseling. I had planned to use these data for my 
master's thesis, but ended up doing a rather timely project on Columbine, as I was 
privileged to travel to Littleton with 70 teenagers. While in Colorado, I interviewed them 
about social pressures in high school and their reflections on the tragedy at Littleton. 

Purpose 

In this dissertation, I examine the future goals of American youth, using both 
quantitative and qualitative approaches. I begin with a quantitative analysis of Monitoring 
the Future (1999) to see with what importance teenagers rate various life goals. Results 
from the 1999 MTF indicate that over 89% of American teenagers consider "being a 
success" quite or extremely important-where only 22% of those teens said it was 
important to "make a contribution to society." Unfortunately, large scale surveys such as 



10 
MTF do not provide information about the ways in which teenagers define success. To 
address this gap in the literature, I supplement the data available in the MTF with 
information drawn from in-depth interviews with members of a local youth organization. 

Significance 

Very little sociological attention has been focused on the experiences of youth 
that are not considered juvenile delinquents, according to the distinguished family 
sociologist, Frank Furstenberg (2000). Furthermore, there has been essentially no 
research on white, upper-middle class, college-bound teenagers and how these young 
people construct their adult identities. Furstenberg states that much of the existing 
literature on youth focuses on "juvenile delinquents" and treats the lives of teenagers as 
potentially problematic. He emphasizes that there is a great need for research that 
provides a rich description of the actual lives of teenagers: how they experience, 
perceive, and organize their social world, focusing on their positive attributes and roles 
as agents. 

Specifically, I hope that this study will provide insight into the ways in which 
young people construct their goals and values and how these constructions might be 
influenced through their "small world" experiences. There are few works in sociology or 
the social sciences that explicitly utilize a "small worlds" approach, though this 
perspective is especially advantageous when exploring the experiences of youth. "Small 
worlds" is a phrase coined by West and Petrik (1 992). Their premise is that the 
interactions of young people occur within a variety of seemingly separate but often 
overlapping and interconnecting "small worlds," including but not limited to their family, 
friends, school, and other groups and various other assemblies and settings. I extended 
the notion of "small worlds" to explain the orientation of this dissertation research. In 



11 

addition to the obvious three (family, school, and peers), young people in contemporary 
American society experience "small worlds" in each of the sports, activities, clubs, 
organizations, and programs in which they are involved. Sonlight operated as one such 
"small world" in which the youth interacted and constructed their own definitions of 
"success," goals for the future, and values (ideas about what is important in life). 



CHAPTER 2 
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 

Defining Terms 

A number of terms are used synonymously with the words "teenager" for labeling 
young Americans. "Adolescent," "juvenile," and "youth" are three such terms common in 
the academic literature. Other words, such as "high schooler" and "student" are also 
often heard. Some terms seem so noticeably inappropriate that it may seem redundant 
to address them. However, I feel it is important to define my population of interest (and 
alternative conceptions) as precisely as possible. Before discussing the terms I use to 
define the population of my research, I would like to review alternative concepts, and 
why I consider them to be problematic. 

Although seldom used, the phrase "young person" is too broad. Depending on 
the context, it could be used in reference to a child in elementary school or a middle- 
aged adult (if, for example, the speaker was an elderly individual). The words "kid" and 
"child" are technically correct if it is a parent who is speaking about their own offspring. 
However, many youth over the age of 12 or so become rather offended when called 
"kids," interpreting it as an insult, meaning "immature." According to a 1990 Gallup poll, 
71% of American 13-17 year olds said it was "not acceptable" to describe persons of 
their own age as "children" or "kids." It would be accurate to use the words 
"highschooler," "high school student," or "student," but they are also flawed. 
"Highschooler" is not grammatically correct, as indicated by the spell-check on the 
computer and a professor's red pen. "High-school student" and "student" are both 

12 



13 
precise terms; however, they are too specific because they ignore other roles or 
identities (such as friend, athlete, family member) and seem to reduce individuals to 
their educational status. 

Adolescent, juvenile, youth, and teenager each capture certain aspects of, and 
share much similarity, with each other, but they also tend to exclude essential qualities 
or carry their own distinct connotations. The term "Gen Y" or "the Millennials" is not 
included on this list because they were generally aschewed by the youth with whom I 
worked. I will explore the notions of adolescent, juvenile, youth, and teenager below, 
discussing which is most appropriate for usage in this study. 
Adolescent 

"Adolescent" is most often used by psychologists to speak of individuals who are 
within a period of development that precedes maturity, and by sociologists and 
anthropologists to speak of a period between physical and social maturity. Though there 
is disagreement as to exactly when this term was coined- whether credit goes to 
Artistotle, Rousseau, or if it is a modern invention-it gained salience and notoriety at the 
turn of the twentieth century. In the 1904 tome, Adolescence: Its Psychology, and It 
Relations to Physiology, Anthropology. Sociology. Sex, Crime, Religion and Education . 
G.S. Hall promoted the notion of adolescents as incompetent, troubled, half-mad, and 
dangerous, along with the stereotype of having "raging hormones." This stereotype of 
adolescents promoted by Hall, as an "expert" has a veneer of being accurate and 
unquestionable, and becomes essentialized. I find such stage theories to be problematic 
and will detail this in a later section of this paper. Accordingly, I generally avoid the term 
"adolescent" unless speaking specifically of developmental experiences. 



14 

Juvenile 

Juvenile is not used as often in common speech as the other terms, but 
according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the noun juvenile refers to a "young 
person; youth." However, the term is usually paired with the word "delinquent" to form 
the phrase "juvenile delinquent" and thus frequently carries connotations of deviance. 
Actually, the term "juvenile delinquent" was coined by social workers in the early 
twentieth century. Piatt (1969) explained that it part of an early effort to save children 
from themselves, as older generations have always viewed younger generations as a 
threat and something to be feared. Thus, I avoided use of the term juvenile in order to 
avoid associations or inferences to deviance. 
Youth 

Youth is a broad term, but it answers the question, "if none of the 
aforementioned terms are appropriate, what term should be used?" How should one 
best conceptualize this population? Youth? There are inadequacies with the word 
"youth" but at least it is not associated with such negative concepts as are juvenile and 
teenager. Some would assert the term is too broad, however. 

In America and other industrial societies the distinction between youth and 
adolescence is often blurred. Some social scientists further complicate the matter by 
ascribing their own highly specific definitions to the term. For example, Keniston (1968) 
studied the increasing numbers of young people who experienced particularly delayed 
entry into adulthood. He coined the time between adolescence and adulthood 'Youth," 
applying it specifically to those aged 18 to 26. The label 'Youth" in this context was 
applied by Keniston to the growing segment of America's young who are highly talented, 
affluent, and educated, but who have not yet assumed the roles and responsibilities of 



15 

"adulthood." He hypothesized that these young individuals prolong experimentation with 
life's possibilities and their personal potentials. Their identities are tied up with a 
generation and not with a tradition. Since generations succeed each other quickly, these 
individuals stuck between adolescence and adulthood are worthy of study as such 
"youth." This is further complicated because Roszak (1976) called this same youth 
culture "counterculture" thus attributing even more connotative meanings to the concept. 
It is important to note how "youth" has been literally loaded with these other notions. 
The choice of term should be governed by the nuanced meaning one is trying to 
communicate. As commonly used, the term youth has an inclusive connotation (Sebald 
1992). 

From a sociological perspective, individuals can be defined in terms of their 
status within society as indicated by their self-sufficiency; these young people are not 
self-sufficient, and thus, according to this perspective, they are not adults. Yet they are 
not completely dependent, and are thus not children either (Bakan, 1971). "Youth" and 
"adolescence" have both been used to refer to a transitional period between childhood 
and adulthood. The markers indicating both its beginning and end are ambiguous. 
When exactly does childhood end: with the completion of elementary school, with the 
start of puberty, or at age thirteen? It could be any one of or none of these markers for 
different individuals. The end of this period is just as unclear: when one graduates from 
high school, at age 20 when one is no longer a teen, as early as 13 or 14 when puberty 
is complete and one is able to have a baby, or at age 18 when one is legally an adult? 
Legally, adulthood begins at age 18, when persons are no longer sheltered by 
protections enacted for "minors." However, as social scientists (such as Bakan 1971, 
Cote 2000, 2002, Csikszentmihalyi & Schneider 2000, Elkind 1998, Furstenberg 2000, 
Schneider & Stevenson 1999,) suggest, complex social conditions in the United States , 



16 
including the attendance of college becoming a more normative experience, 
necessitated the prolongation of childhood, thus delaying adulthood. 

Industrialization also created a shift in the distribution of the population from rural 
to urban. Large numbers of young people, of the same age, became concentrated in 
one place. Furthermore, a growing middle class made it possible for parents to send 
their children to schools (where there were more students than the "one-room 
schoolhouse," divided in class by age) in order to prepare them for the better jobs that 
were becoming available. The first high schools in the U.S. were in the industrial, urban 
centers in the early 1900s. The youths who attended them were a recognizable group. 

More recently, especially with the post-World War II baby boom, the time of 
transition into adulthood has become even more delayed. Some social scientists 
contend that this "long goodbye" phenomenon has a number of underlying factors 
related to the "baby buster" generation. The high cost of living, coupled with diminished 
earning power, is resulting in a significant increase in the average age at which 
individuals leave home. Thirty five percent of young men in their twenties still live with 
their parents (Zill & Robinson 1995). 

Even among current researchers who agree that adolescence exists, the age at 
which they believe it to end and begin varies dramatically. Cobb (1997) contends that 
adolescence is the period from age 13 to age 19. Sebald (1992) holds that adolescence 
begins with puberty and ends at age 18, with legal adulthood. Zill and Robinson (1995) 
insist that adolescence continues well into the twenties, and ends sometime after the 
individual finally leaves home. 
Teenager 

"Teenager" is a term that was first coined in a 1 941 article in Popular Science 
magazine (Hine 1 999, p. 8). The word came into use during World War II and was in the 



17 
title of a book by 1 945. It seems to have leaked into the language from the world of 
advertizing and marketing, where demographic information was becoming an 
increasingly important part of predicting which sales approaches were most effective 
with particular buyers. References to a person in his or her teens had been part of the 
language since the 1600s. But such references had always been used to describe 
individuals. With the rise of the industrial era, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, 
large groups of people became increasingly identified by single characteristics. People 
aged 13 to 19 became "teens" or "teeners" or "teen-agers." After World War II, they 
were largely in the same place, high school, sharing a common experience, and were 
young and open to new things. They were in short, easy to sell to (Hine 1999) In age- 
graded societies, people are classified by chronological age and are assumed to be 
similar on many important dimensions. 

The term "teenager" is especially problematic because it is imbued with a sort of 
mystique that is full of conflicting ideas. Teenagers seem to occupy a special place in 
our society. They are envied and sold to, studied and deplored. The teenage years have 
been defined simultaneously as both the best and freest time of life and a time of near 
madness and despair. Our beliefs about teenagers are deeply contradictory: They 
should be free to become themselves. They need many years of training and study. 
They know more about the future than adults do. They know hardly anything at all. They 
ought to know the value of a dollar. They should be protected from the world of work. 
They are frail and vulnerable figures. They are children. They are sex fiends. They are 
the death of the culture. They are the hope of us all (Hine 1999). The very qualities that 
adults find exciting and attractive about teenagers are entangled with those we find 
terrifying. According to Hine (1999) the energy of a teenager can be perceived as 
threatening anarchy. Their physical beauty and budding sexuality intimidate moral 



18 
standards. Their assertion of physical and intellectual power makes their parents both 
proud and aware of their own aging and mortality at the same time. These qualitites, the 
things we love, fear, and know about the "basic nature of young people," constitute a 
mystique: a seductive but damaging way of understanding young people. This 
encourages us to see teenagers (and youths to see themselves) not as individuals, but 
instead as potential problems (Black 1999, Hine 1999). 

Most people treat teenagers as some self-evident phenomenon, an unavoidable 
stage of life (Black 1999, Hine, 1999). Adults both lament and fondly recall their teenage 
years. Children are encouraged to look forward to being teenagers. Yet the concept of 
teenager remains both arbitrary and confusing. The word "teenager" tells us only that 
the person is older than 12 and younger than 20. This seven year period represents an 
enormous component of a person's life, one in which most of us experience physical, 
emotional, intellectual, and social changes. The word "teenager" actually hides 
tremendous differences in maturity and the experiences of members of the age group, 
and it masks the differences within individuals as they pass through their teen years. 

The trouble with creating a distinct group defined solely by age is that we conjure 
up phenomena that do not really exist and essentialize or reify those that do (Black 
1999, Hine 1999). We tend to make assumptions about an entire group of people based 
on the actions or characteristics of a few. For example, in both the 1 950s and the 1 990s 
there was much in the popular press about an epidemic of youth violence, when the 
actual rates were declining. Today's teenagers almost seem to serve a sentence of 
presumed immaturity, regardless of their achievements or abilities. Furthermore, 
teenagers spend much of their lives (eight hours a day in school alone) dealing with 
people who often do not know them as individuals and under the control of institutions 
that strive to deal with them uniformly. 



19 
At most, we can say that a "teenager" is a social invention that took shape during 
the first half of the twentieth century, not some objective reality. I would assert that 
remnants of this "mystique" remain. In our time, teenagers are often judged to be less 
able than they are (Furstenberg 2000). The concept of the "teenager" seems to be a 
sort of impediment that keeps youths from becoming the people they are ready to be. 

Appropriate Terminology 
In this dissertation, I resolve this dilemma of terminology by deferring to the term 
that the members of the population themselves prefer and utilize most often: 
"teenagers." Depending on the context or situation, they will often rely on phrases such 
as "youth," "young people," "high-schoolers," and "students" to refer to themselves and 
other members of this group to which they belong. Using the language of the group 
members puts their experience at the center instead of imposing the preconceived 
notions of the researcher upon the participants and their lives (Holstein & Gubrium 
2000). According to Holstein and Gubrium's interactionist perspective, it is important to 
pay attention to how and what people use as they talk themselves into being. This is 
also consistent with feminist perspectives that assert the importance of using the 
language currently being embraced because that is part of a reclaiming effort and part 
of a construction of oppositional knowledges (Collins 2000). Interestingly, a nationally 
representative survey indicated that the preferred terms that most American teenagers 
use to call themselves include: "teenagers," "young adults," "teens," "young men and 
women," "youth," and "adolescents" (Gallup 1990). 

In an effort to avoid being redundant and repetitive, 'teenagers,' 'youth,' 'young 
people,' and 'high school students' will be used somewhat interchangeably when 
referring specifically to the participants of this study. However, the use of 'adolescent' 



20 
and 'juvenile' will be avoided. Additionally, when discussing issues of gender, I will not 
use "young women" and "young men" as frequently seen in the literature, nor the term 
"boys," as is common in educational settings. I have observed both of these options to 
have "chilling effects" when working with teenagers. Instead I will again rely on the terms 
that the participants themselves utilized: "girls" and "guys." Not all teenagers may prefer 
these terms, however, within the "small world" of Sonlight, consisting of white, privileged 
high school students, they were the words of choice. In many circles, the usage of the 
term "girls" when referring to (young) women is not considered as diminutive as it was in 
the past. According to Baumgardner and Richards (2000, p. 52), "calling an adult 
woman 'girl' was once insulting, like calling and adult black man 'boy.' But now that we 
can choose and use the word ourselves and not have it forced on us, "'girl' is 
increasingly rehabilitated as a term of relaxed familiarity, comfy confidence, the female 
analogue to 'guy' and not belittling." 

Theoretical Background 

Throughout the 20th century, a number of theories have emerged about children 
and youth which can be categorized into three types: determinist, constructivist, and 
interactionist. In this section, I will appropriate the theoretical explanation outlined by 
Corsaro in his "Sociology of Childhood" (1997) to discuss these three major approaches 
to studying childhood and youth in the social sciences, outlining the advantages and 
disadvantages of each. I will explain how I employed both constructivist and 
interactionist approaches in this work. I will also discuss the potential benefits of a fully 
interactionist approach, endorsing its use in future research endeavors. 
Deterministic Approaches 

Much of traditional theorizing about youth was from a deterministic perspective. 
This includes the aforementioned work by G.S. Hall, as well as Coleman's Adolescent 



21 
Society . Deterministic models of youth focus on the process of socialization, 
characterizing the young person as a passive being who is largely being guided and 
shaped by society in order to be a functioning member. This model tends to be 
individualistic, calling out the ways in which young people are appropriated by society. 
An advantage of these early theories of youth is that they legitimized the study of young 
people within the social sciences and were ground breaking, opening the door to this 
field of study. 
"Adolescent society" 

In 1951, James Coleman published The Adolescent Society: The Social Life of 
the Teenager and its Impact on Education . The research was conducted between 1 957 
and 1958. Coleman originally conceived of the project in the early 1950s after reading A. 
B. Hollinshead's Elmstown's Youth (1949), a ground breaking study of youth culture and 
cliques. According to Coleman, there were two reasons why he engaged in his study: 
First, a deep personal concern for the "better functioning" of high schools; and second, 
an interest in different kinds of status systems, particularly the distribution of status and 
the consequences and rewards of given systems. Coleman's structural-functionalist 
standpoint becomes evident. According to Coleman's opening statement, "Educating its 
young is probably a society's second most fundamental task- second only to the 
problem of organizing itself to carry out actions as a society. Once organized, if a 
society is to maintain itself, the young must be so shaped as to fit into the roles on which 
the society's survival depends." He sets out to describe his project as objectively making 
evident the ways in which society goes about this aforementioned task, with funds from 
the U.S. Department of Education, by surveying ten midwestern schools. 

Coleman describes adolescents of the time as being shaped entirely by their 



22 

surroundings, mere players of an ascribed role. The following passage is representative 

of Coleman's descriptions of "adolescent subculture." 

This setting-apart of our children in schools... He [sic] is 
"cut off" from the rest of society, forced inwards towards 
his [sic] own age group, made to carry out his [sic] whole 
social life with others his [sic] own age. With his [sic] 
fellows, he [sic] comes to constitute a small society, one 
that has most of its important interactions within itself, and 
maintains only a few threads of connection with the 
outside adult society. In our modern world of mass 
communication and rapid diffusion of ideas and 
knowledge, it is hard to realize that separate subcultures 
can exist right under the very noses of adults- subcultures 
with languages all their own, with special symbols, and 
most importantly, with value systems that may differ from 
adults. Any parent who has tried to talk to his [sic] 
adolescent son or daughter recently knows this, as does 
anyone who had recently visited a high school for the first 
time since his [sic] own adolescence. To put it simply, 
these young people speak a different language. What is 
more relevant to the present point, the language they 
speak is becoming more and more different (Coleman, 2). 

Coleman views adolescent subculture as deviant because it goes against what 
he perceives to be the natural order of the world. Coleman seems to imply that the 
"adolescent subculture" he described is problematic, as if there was something 
inherently wrong with youths associating with one another. He explains that the 
education of adolescents is a "normal process" yet he seems to think that the trend 
during his time, of an increasing amount of time spent at school, is adverse. His 
concerns largely echoed those of Talcott Parsons, an oft cited functionalist: young 
persons are a threat to society, they must be trained to conform. 

Deterministic models of childhood and youth consider young people as 
potentially functioning to maintain and sustain the social order, yet these theorists view 
youth as a sort of "'untamed threat', who must be controlled through careful training" 
(Corsaro 1 997, p. 9). Weaknesses of the deterministic model include an overemphasis 



23 
on the outcomes of the process of socialization while discounting the active and 
innovative capacities of young people. In addition, it tends to ignore issues of 
contextuality (historical and local specificity), instead inferring that interaction occurs in a 
vacuum of sorts. I adopt Corsaro's sociology of childhood to critique such deterministic 
models of youth that were dominant in the U.S. throughout the first half of the twentieth 
century in order to assert that these abstract models simplify highly complex processes, 
and overlook the importance of youth in society (Corsaro 1997, p. 10). Hall, Coleman, 
and other determinists tend towards a reductive approach, considering the activities and 
interests of youth to be inconsequential or nonfunctional. They tend to ignore or are 
dismissive of the idea that young people do not just internalize society, they are active 
beings and, as such, can even bring about positive changes. 
Constructivist Approaches 

During the 1960s, constructivist approaches to youth studies emerged as an 
alternative to the essentialist deterministic models. Constructivist perspectives address 
the issue of the young person as an active agent, much more so than did the 
functionalists of the deterministic model. In terms of the issues explored in this study, 
constructivist theories are a preferable option to deterministic models; however, they 
have some drawbacks which make them less than ideal. Constructivist approaches, as 
typified by developmental stage theorists will be discussed below. 
Developmental stage theories 

Developmental stage theories share many of the same assumptions about the 
role of young people purported by the determinists. They focus on the process of 
development from childhood to adulthood as unilateral. Much developmental stage 
theorizing is from the discipline of psychology, explaining that young people are 



24 
"shaped" by behaviorism, reinforcement and punishment of their actions. In this section, 
I will briefly discuss the major developmental stage theorists including: Piaget, Erikson, 
Kohlberg, and Gilligan, and their approach to studying youth. I will place particular 
emphasis on the ways in which they explain young peoples' values, under the rubric 
"moral development." The developmental stage theories of Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, 
and Gilligan are theories about the development of young people and are constructivist 
in orientation. Beginning with Piaget, these theories were the first to systematically study 
human intellectual development. Erikson built upon Piaget's work and generated a 
theory of adolescence as a moratorium period of identity search. He said it was a time 
when young people explore their identities-their ideas, ideals, and goals for the future. 
Kohlberg derived his theory of moral development from the basic stages of human 
intellectual development delineated by Piaget, focusing on the question of how people 
make their decisions about "right" and "wrong." Gilligan was a student of Kohlberg who 
criticized his work for being based entirely on the experiences of men, and its culturally 
bound assumptions. She developed a theory that took gender into consideration and 
emphasized the ways in which people care for each other rather than compete. Some 
developmental stage theorists have come to recognize, but do not emphasize, the active 
role of young people, organizing and constructing their world. They also ignore the 
contextuality of such interactions, unlike interactionists, who make this their starting 
point. These developmental stage theorists share a set of constructivist assumptions 
which function as limitations and thus lead to the conclusion that an interactionist 
perspective is the best framework for the current study, though there were 
methodological limitations to the extent to which it was employed, as discussed later. 

Piaget's Theory of Intellectual Development. Piaget has been recognized as 
the founder of stage theories of development. He integrated biology and the study of 



25 
knowledge to form a theory of children's intellectual development, explaining that 
cognitive capacities in humans develop in a series of stages. Piaget asserted that 
beginning at birth, humans interpret, organize, and gather information about their 
environments to construct conceptions of their physical and social worlds. He believed 
that young people do not merely accumulate facts and skills at random, instead, they 
progress through a series of qualitatively distinct stages of intellectual ability. Piaget 
reminds us that the cognitive perceptions of children and young people can be very 
different from those of adults. He theorized that people progress though four stages, 
according to their age: birth to age 2, sensorimotor; age 2-7, preoperational; age 7-14, 
concrete; and age 14-adulthood, postoperational. Piaget held that as children age, they 
naturally gain more cognitive ability and begin to see things from perspectives other 
than their own, and that once they progress to the last of the four stages, they will be 
able to think abstractly. This sequence is useful because it describes the way that 
reasoning develops for most people, emphasizing young people as actively promoting 
their own intellectual development. 



Approximate Age 
Range 


Stage 


Typical Developments 


Birth to age 2 


Sensorimotor 


Children develop the concept of 
object permanence and the ability to 
form mental representations. 


Age 2 to 7 


Preoperational 


Children's thought is egocentric; they 
lack the concept of conversation and 
the ability to decenter. 


Age 7 to 1 1 


Concrete 
Operations 


Children can decenter; they acquire 
the concept of conversion; but they 
cannot reason abstractly or test 
hypotheses systematically. 


Starts at age 11 or 1 2 


Formal Operations 


Children begin to reason abstractly. 



Figure 1-Piaget's Stages of Intellectual Development 



26 
Piaget's work is particularly relevant to this study because in his early writing, he 
focused specifically on the moral lives of children, studying the way children play games 
in order to learn more about their beliefs regarding right and wrong (Piaget 1932/65). 
According to Piaget, all development emerges from action; that is to say, individuals 
construct and reconstruct their knowledge of the world as a result of interactions with the 
environment. Based on his observations of children's application of rules when playing, 
Piaget determined that morality, too, can be considered a developmental process 
(Piaget 1932/65). Piaget theorized that during the concrete stage, children have a 
"dualistic morality," seeing things as only right or wrong, as they are primarily concerned 
with classification as a task of reasoning. Once they progress to the formal stage, they 
are able to move from a dichotomous view of social rules, morals, and values to one 
where they incorporate the views of others with their own. Weaknesses of Piaget's 
theory include: the assertion that development occurs linearly, in one direction, from one 
distinct stage to the next; the assumption that development is primarily individualistic, 
ignoring its collectivity and contextuality; an underestimation of the role of the 
environment, where each child is viewed individualistically in their discovery and 
development of capacities; and that the instruments utilized by Piaget were culturally 
specific, dependent upon exposure to western schooling. 

Erikson's Theory of Identity Development. Erikson was a colleague of Piaget 
who generated a model of human social development. Erikson's theory of development 
is useful in that it addressed the notion of continuity and transitions instead of 
emphasizing the discrete boundaries between stages. He draws connections between 
early childhood experiences, noting their effect on the young person's continued 
development (where Piaget tended to speak of intellectual capacities as just emerging 



27 
from within the person at certain ages). Erikson also attempted to account for the 
importance of social interaction and how relations with others stimulate personality 
development throughout the life course. He outlined a series of eight stages through 
which human development progresses: age 0-1 , Trust/Mistrust Stage; age 2-3, 
Autonomy/Doubt Stage; age 3-6, Initiative/Guilt Stage; age 7-12, Industry/Inferiority 
Stage; age 12-18, Identity/Identity Diffusion Stage, late teens-early twenties, 
Intimacy/Isolation Stage, age 20-60, Generativity/Stagnation Stage; age 60 and beyond, 
Integrity/Despair Stage. 

Erikson was especially interested in and emphasized adolescence, the 
"identity/identity diffusion stage," which he said occurred naturally from ages 12-18. He 
said that adolescence was a moratorium period in which youth may find their identities 
and, only after successfully accomplishing this task, may progress on to adulthood. 
According to Erikson (1968) adolescence is the period in one's life when choices are 
made and identities are formed. It is through this process that peer groups, cliques, and 
subcultures flourish. Central to this period is the choice of a future career (Epstein 
1998). In addition to its linear, one-way model of progression, Erikson's theory has been 
criticized for being an idealized description of developmental patterns with an 
inadequate explanation of individual differences. I assert that another weakness is his 
construction of youth ("adolescence") as necessarily a time (he called it a "moratorium 
period") in which young people feel angst and alienation for the future. This has the 
effect of discounting their abilities and roles as agents, capable of accomplishments. 
Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development. Kohlberg was a contemporary of 
both Piaget and Erikson who modified and elaborated Piaget's work. His theory is often 
recognized for laying the foundation for the debate within the social sciences on moral 



28 
development. Though notions of morals, values, and goals were components of Piaget's 
and Erikson's theories, Kohlberg was the first to delineate stages of moral development. 
Consistent with Piaget, he proposed that people form ways of thinking through their 
experiences, including understandings of moral concepts such as justice, rights, 
equality, and human welfare. Kohlberg extended Piaget's formulation to include 
adolescence and early adulthood, and determined that the process of attaining moral 
maturity took longer and was more gradual than Piaget had proposed. He maintained 
that each stage consisted of a unique conceptualization of the requisites of social 
interaction, with each successive stage exhibiting greater cognitive complexity and a 
greater range of perspectives taken into account (Sunar 2002). Kohlberg's six stages of 
moral development are summarized in the table below. 



Approximate Age 
Range 


Stage 


Developments 


Birth to 9 years 


Preconventional 

1. Punishment and 
Obedience 

2. Instrumental Hedonism 


Decisions based on self- 
interest 


9 to 20 years 


Conventional 

3. Interpersonal 
Concordance (seeking 
approval) 

4. Law and Order 


Decisions based on opinions 
of others 


Age 20+ 


Postconventional 

5. Social Contract 

6. Universal Ethical 
Principle 


Decisions based on 
self-legislated, self-imposed 
universal principles 



Figure 2-Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development 

According to Kohlberg, as people progress through the stages they are less 
likely to make moral decisions based only on their own perspective, instead taking into 
account the perspectives of others and the impact that their own actions might have. In 



29 
the preconventional stage, moral decisions are egocentric and the reasoning upon 
which they are based is in terms of getting rewards and avoiding punishment. The 
conventional stage is based on the ability to take into account the perspectives of 
others, and the postconventional stage occurs when a person is able to make 
"universal" decisions, which, according to Kohlberg, are not culturally bound. In this 
model, youth are members of the conventional stage, where they make decisions in 
order to gain or avoid approval, and out of emotions of duty and guilt. 

Kohlberg's theory has been criticized for numerous weaknesses. Implicit is an 
assumption that teenagers are too young to achieve the ability to make moral decisions 
based on their effects on others and overarching (so called "universal") standards. 
Though he and his students conducted extensive interviews with children, youth, and 
adults, presenting them with situations and asking them their reasons for the moral 
decisions they made, his sample was remarkably limited. First, Kohlberg implied that the 
sequence of his six stages was invariant even though evidence suggests that people 
can and sometimes do regress with age (Peta 1999). He does not offer an explanation 
for how or why people progress through the stages. Additionally, Kohlberg places too 
much emphasis on individual thought processes and fails to take into account the 
importance of social interaction. As such, it is more a theory of moral reasoning than of 
moral behavior. Contemporary research has found that more people than Kohlberg 
estimated are able to make decisions based on the principle of universal morality if they 
are asked to recognize instead of generate responses (Peta 1 999). Finally, Kohlberg's 
theory of moral development was based largely on the experiences of boys and men, all 
of whom were white Americans. Kohlberg's theory has significant limitations in that it 

makes "universal" conclusions based on a select group of participants who are not 



30 

representative in terms of their gender, race/ethnicity, nor socio-economic status. 

Gilligan's Theory of an Ethic of Care. Carol Gilligan was a student of 
Kohlberg. She was particularly taken with a stage theory approach of moral reasoning. 
However, she disagreed with some of Kohlberg's underlying assumptions about the 
context of peoples' decision making. From her own experiences as well as patterns in 
data she gathered, she found that womens' moral reasoning was often based on criteria 
other than those included in Kohlberg's theory. For example, in Kolhberg's fourth stage, 
he indicates that decisions are based on duty and guilt; yet Gilligan (1992) found that 
women in this stage were thinking more about what the most caring thing to do would 
be, rather than doing what the rules required of them. Gilligan asserted that it was not 
that women were less morally developed than men (as they often scored lower on 
Kohlberg's test than did men), but rather that they possessed a different sequence of 
moral development. Women's morals were more likely to be focused on social 
interaction (connection versus separation with others) instead of rules and competition. 



Age 



not listed 



Stage 



Goal is individual survival 



Transition: from selfishness -» to responsibility to others 



not listed 



Goodness is equated with self-sacrifice 



Transition: from goodness -» to truth (honesty & integrity) 



maybe never 



Principle of of non-violence (do not hurt self or others) 



Figure 3-Gilligan's Stages of the Ethic of Care (Huff, 1998) 

Thus, Gilligan created a theory of moral development that emphasized an ethic 
of care. In doing so, she challenged the assumption that there is only one dimension of 
moral reasoning. Additionally, she connected the process of moral decision making to 
concerns about individual selves and the social context in which they live (Huff 1998). As 



31 
a constructionist, she continued to focus on outcomes rather than the interactions 
themselves. 
Critiques of developmental stage theories 

The four developmental stage theories mentioned above share a common set of 
assumptions, which leads to a number of weaknesses and limitations. In these theories, 
development is seen as unilateral, that is, irreversible progression through the stages 
occurs in one direction, and each stage is necessarily separate from the previous stage. 
The theories differ somewhat as to the extent to which they recognize the young person 
as an active agent, though Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, and Gilligan all asserted that 
young people are not merely passive sponges, shaped through behavioral 
reinforcement and punishment. They are involved in using information from their world 
to organize and construct their understandings and interpretations. However, 
developmental stage theorists persist in viewing human development as a largely 
individualistic task, occurring within the person; their capacities and abilities naturally 
emerge over time, as they grow older. In focusing on the individual, developmental 
stage theories ignore, fail to acknowledge, or de-emphasize contextual and cultural 
factors. Kohlberg was particularly culpable as he made claims of the "universality" of 
morality, ignoring issues of gender, racial, and socio-economic variation, as well as the 
notion that people's moral judgements vary according to the factors associated with the 
context of the situation. Furthermore, developmental stage theories tend to overlook the 
fact that the stages, as normative expectations, are constructed, in part through social 
exchange. The process by which children grow into adults is not internal, natural, innate, 
without variation, hierarchical, or independent of context and culture, though 
developmental stage theories tend to present it this way. 



32 

Critiques of the Constructivist approach 

According to Corsaro (2000, p.17), the focus of constructivist approaches tends 
to center on the effects of interpersonal experiences on individual development. There is 
insufficient consideration of how young people, through their participation in 
communication and social interaction, become part of interpersonal relations and 
cultural patterns, reproducing them collectively. Another weakness of constructivist 
approaches, such as developmental stage theories, is that they are primarily concerned 
with the endpoints and "outcomes" of development, as young people move from 
immaturity to competent adults. Finally, constructivists fail to ask questions about the 
realities experienced and constructed by the young people themselves. For example, 
there are few if any studies about the complex and interactive ways in which young 
people interact with their friends in various setting encountered in their worlds of school, 
activities, and families. The constructivist perspective has been the prevailing approach 
to youth studies for the past three decades (Corsaro 1997). Examples include Erikson 
(1965), Levitt & Rubenstein (1972), Austin & Willard (1998), and Lesko (2001). 
Contemporary research on youth 

At the beginning of the 21 st century, the role and place of youth in our society is 
changing. There are more of them than ever before. In the U.S. there are currently more 
young people between the ages of 8 and 25 (puberty to adulthood) than there were at 
the peak of the baby boom. Although adolescents comprise a smaller proportion of the 
population than the elderly, their absolute numbers are growing and will continue to do 
so for the next few decades. By the year 2005 there will be over 40 million young people 
in their second decade of life, roughly half between the ages of 10 and14, and another 
half between the ages of 15 and 19. Moreover, the population of youth in the U.S. is 



33 
already more ethnically diverse than the adult population. As the young people age, the 
adult population will become increasingly diverse. By listening to this generation, we 
may all learn how to value differences, instead of allowing differences to contribute to 
conflict (Hamburg 1998). 

It seems that in the U.S. we are not analyzing and approaching the experiences 
of youth with the degree of care they merit. Since the baby boom in the 1960s, 
researchers have concentrated on the ways in which adolescents differed from younger 
children or adults. These differences have been cast as problems that are unique to or 
characteristic of youth. Categorical approaches and programs devoted to each problem 
(e.g. adolescent suicide, unintended pregnancy, drug use) evolved, yet failed to listen to 
the authentic concerns of such youth. Emphasizing the problems related to youth 
brought attention to the age group, but results of this attention have been mixed. In 
some cases, increased awareness has led to a massing of resources to lessen 
problems facing youth. In other cases, the focus on youth has led to a sense that 
problems are inherent in their age group and therefore not amenable to intervention. 
The portrayal of young people in the mass media has tended to focused on the more 
spectacular events (such as the tragedy at Columbine High School) and has continued 
the practice of labeling entire groups of young people as problems because of these 
incidents. In some cases, reactions have led to the demonizing or blaming of young 
people for these problems (Epstein 1998). 

The time of transition from childhood to adulthood has expanded. Youth are 
physically maturing earlier, thereby engaging in some adult behaviors at earlier ages, 
while at the same time, the age for assumption of meaningful adult responsibilities, such 
as economic independence, is being delayed (the aforementioned "long goodbye" 



34 
phenomenon). Thus, the experiences of youth today can arguably be said to be 
profoundly different from youth of other generations. 

Emerging adulthood. A new body of literature has recently emerged in the field 
of interdisciplinary youth studies called "emerging adulthood." Arnett (2000) 
conceptualizes emerging adulthood as a period that begins in the late teens and lasts 
through the mid-twenties. He asserts that it is a transitional period, when youth move out 
of adolescence into adulthood, characterized by experimentation and exploration. Arnett 
(2000) draws on Erickson's developmental theory (1968) to propose that during this 
liminal period, young people often experiment with various possibilities in terms of their 
priorities, values, and beliefs. Thus, this theory provides some promise for orienting this 
dissertation project. However, upon closer examination, I discovered that even within the 
emerging adulthood perspective, there is little existing literature specifically about of 
teenagers' future goals and values. This is a new field that offers promise in the near 

future. 

Research on career development and occupation. Within the vast body of 
literature on career issues, the aspirations and expectations of young adults have been 
studied extensively. Drawing from Piaget's developmental theories (1977), career 
theorists have studied the career choices of young adults. Ginzberg, Ginsberg, Axelrad, 
and Herma authored a foundational book entitled Occupational Career C hoice: An 
Approach to a General Theory in 1951. They proposed that around the age of 15 or 16, 
young people begin to take their goals and values into consideration when thinking 
about their future careers. They weigh abstract questions about priorities, such as 
whether it is important to make money or to help others. (Ginzberg et. al 1951). Super 
(1990, 1997) a renowned career theorist, adapted the work of Ginzberg, et. al. in his 



35 
work on young people's attitudes and knowledge about their careers. However, Super 
does not address young people's values in his analysis. A survey of contemporary 
career development research offered nothing in terms of goals and values-instead the 
studies center on education attainment and career/occupational aspirations. 

Research on future goals. Although numerous studies have been conducted 
on the data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey series in its 23 years of 
existence, the overwhelming majority have focused on the core data or drug use and 
delinquency of American youth. Some studies have analyzed gender and/or race 
differences on various factors. The MTF researchers themselves have published a 
number of articles indicating the trends of their data over time. Only one study could be 
found that examined MTF data on high school seniors' plans for the future. These 
researchers, Easterlin and Crimmins (1988), looked at personal aspirations and life 
goals of students from 1987 MTF data and found that, in the preceding decade, 
materialism was on the rise. Making money had become much more important as a life 
goal, and this emphasis on finances had affected attitudes towards jobs, work, and 
leisure time. Coupled with two recent articles on teens' future goals (Mogelonsky 1998) 
and college education, and career aspirations of youth (Zill & Robinson 1995), an 
exploration of the expectations, aspirations, and future goals of American youth today is 
an important undertaking. 

Today's youth, more than those of the past, place a strong emphasis on the 
importance of earning college degrees. A vast majority of students aspire to graduate 
from college, regardless of whether or not they expect to do so, taking practical factors 
into consideration (Austin & Martin 1992, Looker & Pineo 1988, McCartin & Meyer 1988, 
Plucker & Quaglia 1998, Smith, 1989, 1991). The students feel that these credentials 



36 
are the passport to higher earnings and are enrolling in college at record rates (Zill & 
Robinson 1995). Furthermore, they tend to place much more of an emphasis on making 
money as a life goal, over other goals such as "finding purpose and meaning in life," 
"giving my children better opportunities than I've had," or "having time for other things in 
life (besides a job)" (Easterlin & Crimmins 1988). In addition, today's youth tend to rate 
both "financial success" and "helping others who need help" as extremely high 
(Mogelonsky1998). 

Research on moral development and values of youth. Since Kohlberg's 
studies in the late 1960s, there has been quite a bit of work on moral development 
within the fields of developmental psychology, philosophy, and education. However, 
sociologists have largely been left out of the conversation. Surveys of the recent 
research in the field of moral development (Kerka 1992, Mulder 1997, Sunar 2002) 
indicate that the prevailing theories fail to challenge the assumptions of the 
developmental stage theorists and instead attempt to apply or test these classic theories 
in various settings, such as the cross-cultural comparisons by Bersoff and Miller (1993), 
Miller and Bersoff (1992) and Miller, et. al. (1990), or with diverse populations of young 
people, such as Wark and Krebs' (1996) assessment of Gilligan's critique of Kohlberg's 
theory. Within the field of education, there has been a proliferation of work on moral 
education since the 1970s. Nucci (1997) offers a synthesis of contemporary 
developments, which is almost entirely applied in orientation. Almost without exception, 
these works do not challenge the assumptions of universality and linearity of the 
developmental stage theorists, and are largely formulations of curricula built upon the 
earlier theories (see Berkowitz 1 998, Kohn 1997, and Nucci, 1997). Though the terms 
"morals" and "values" are similar, I argue they are not synonyms and have distinct 
differences. 



37 
In this study, I define "values" as the ideas and ideals of what is important to a 
person. Though morals are also ideals, they seem to carry a connotation of judgement 
or obligation, sort of an imperative tone. Additionally, a person can have a value that is, 
quite possibly, considered "immoral." For example, a person can value financial success 
but in order to do so they might have to step on the backs of their families or betray their 
best friends. That is not "moral" behavior. This illustrates how values can actually be 
negatively regarded, and can lead to behavior that is not judged "moral." Morals are 
thought of as dichotomous, as actions that are "right" or "wrong" (Figurski 2000). Values 
are more accessible, they are simply "what is important" (Karp 2000). For this reason, 
this project focuses on young peoples' values, goals, and the experiences by which they 
are influenced. 
Interactionist Approaches 

Interactionism offers an advantage over constructivism in that it captures the 
innovative and creative aspects of young peoples' participation in society, actively 
contributing to cultural production and change (Corsaro 1997, p. 18). Youth are not 
merely socialized, like sponges, absorbing or internalizing normative expectations of 
society-instead they engage in what Corsaro calls "interpretive reproductions," that 
young people create and participate in their own unique peer cultures by creatively 
taking or appropriating information from the adult world in order to address their own 
concerns (2000, p. 298). Young people and their youth cultures are affected by the 
societies and cultures of which they are members and are in the process of co- 
constructing. Interactionist approaches are particularly interested in the importance of 
language and everyday interactions. This view is consistent with Holstein and Gubrium's 
perspective offered in Inner Lives and Social Worlds (2003), emphasizing that people's 



38 

interactions with one another assemble both their inner lives and social worlds. "As 
people interact, what they say and do creates a working sense of what is real for them. 
They establish, negotiate, and modify who and what they are in the course of the give- 
and-take of daily living, constructing and reconstructing their social worlds in the 

process" (2003, p. 5). 

This study draws from both constructivist and interactionist perspectives. It is not 
entirely interactionist because the methodological approach I utilized focused on the 
patterns that emerged in the definitions of success the teenagers articulated more than 
how their definitions of success were constructed through the our interactions in the 
interview and/or during the activities and focus lessons of the program. By relying 
primarily on questions of "what," this project addresses the content of meaning as 
articulated through interaction and mediated by culture (Gubrium & Holstein 1997, p. 
14). Studies about youth from an interactionist perspective are few as this is a newly 
emerging approach (see Epstein 1998, Farran 1990, and McDonald 1999). A more 
interactive approach would have focused on how the youths' definitions of success and 
articulation of their goals and values were produced in conversation and through the 
activities in which they were engaged. I would have employed a methodology different 
from that on which I relied, using more observational data and truly active interviews, 
more reflexive in nature. In the future, I hope to be able to conduct such interactive 
studies. In this study, however, I do draw from principles of interaction (a la Corsaro) as 
this work is based on the assumption that young people are active agents, engaged in 
co-creating the worlds in which they live. As a means of employing both constructivism 
and interactionism, I found the theoretical approach "small worlds" to be particularly 
useful in orienting to this project. 



39 
Small worlds 

It seems that there are few works in sociology or the social sciences that 
explicitly utilize a "small worlds" approach, though this perspective is especially 
advantageous when exploring the experiences of youth 2 . "Small worlds" is a phrase 
coined by West and Petrik in their 1992 edited volume, Small Worlds: Children and 
Adolescents in America, 1850-1950. The authors asserted that little had been written 
about young peoples' active roles and even less consideration of context and location 
that complicate and enrich such negotiations (1992). How children act depends partly on 
their surroundings and what the children bring to them (1992). The authors' premise is 
that the interactions of young people occur within a variety of seemingly separate but 
often overlapping and interconnecting "small worlds," including but not limited to their 
family, friends, school, and other groups and various other assemblies and settings. 

Phelan, et. al. also employed the notion of "small worlds" in their 1999 study of 
students' multiple worlds, "Adolescent Worlds: Negotiating family, peers, and school." 
They used a qualitative and generative approach, relying on data gathered from 
interviews and observations to form a model that emerged inductively, placing the 
perspectives of the youths at the center of their analysis called the "Student Multiple 
Worlds Model" (1999, p. 18). Accordingly, the term "model" referred to cultural 
knowledge and behavior found within the boundaries of students' particular families, 



It is interesting to note that within the discipline of Information Sciences and Technology 
the term "small worlds" has also been utilized to refer to expectations of normative 
behavior that occur within specific settings. Burnett et. al. (2001) appropriate the works 
of sociologists and social psychologists and attribute the roots of a "small worlds" 
approach to Cooley (1956), Douglas (1970), Anderson (1978), Watts (1999), and 
others. They explain that people look at the world, with its everyday realities, as defined 
by the horizons of the "small worlds," the specific, localized contexts in which we live and 
work (2001 , 536). 



40 
peer groups, and schools; presuming that each world contains values and beliefs, 
expectations, actions, and emotional responses familiar to insiders (1999, p. 7). 

Holstein and Gubrium indirectly refer to this notion of "small worlds" in The Self 
We Live By (2000). They speak of "local culture" and "organizational embeddedness" 
both of which are components of "small worlds." According to Holstein and Gubrium, 
local culture is a constellation of ways of understanding and representing things and 
actions, and of assigning meaning to lives (2000, p. 161). Local cultures offer resources 
for self construction and hold people accountable thorough their situated discourses. 
Holstein and Gubrium also assert that self construction is "organizationally embedded" 
(2000, p. 165). They explain that localized meanings are mediated by organizational 
conditions. 

Adler and Adler did not explicitly refer to "small worlds" in their study on 
preadolescent clique stratification and the hierarchy of identity, but they address the 
situationality of interaction by stating, "Identities symbolize meanings, and are acquired 
in particular situations based on people's comparison of their roles to others and others' 
counterroles" (Adler and Adler, in Holstein and Gubrium 2003, p. 431). Although Alder 
and Adler do not call these particular situations of identity production "small worlds," they 
are speaking to the same notion. That is, young people do not passively internalize their 
social world and define themselves in those terms; instead, they are engaged in 
constructing their selves through the ways they act and interact in particular peer groups 
and settings (Holstein & Gubrium 2003). 

Thus, I borrowed from the above works to extend the notion of "small worlds" to 
explain the orientation of this dissertation research. It is my assertion that in the course 
of their everyday lives, teenagers today experience many "small worlds." Phelan, et. al. 
(1999) referred to family, school, and peers as three such locations; however, I argue 



41 
that there are many more and they vary greatly in size and character. For example, 
school can be called a "small world," but there are many smaller "small worlds" that 
constitute the "small world" of school. The ride to school on the school bus, morning 
assembly in the auditorium, Ms. Smith's first period English class, the hallway and 
lockers where students rush between classes, the picnic tables under the oak tree in the 
courtyard where the "popular" students eat lunch, the dean's office where students sit 
nervously awaiting punishment, the Key Club meeting in the computer lab of the library, 
the back corner of parking lot after school-these are all locations and contexts that 
operate as "small worlds" within the "small world" of school. In addition to the obvious 
three (family, school, and peers), young people in contemporary American society 
experience "small worlds" in each of the sports, activities, clubs, organizations, and 
programs in which they are involved. Sonlight operated as one such "small world" in 
which the youth I interviewed interacted. 
Conceptual Model 

In this project I combined both qualitative and quantitative modes of analysis, 
focusing on the results from semi-structured interviews rather than relying solely on 
highly structured surveys. These formats tended to allow the participants more flexibility 
and room to express themselves in a manner they deemed appropriate, instead of 
forcing them into my preconceived categorizations. Additionally, when engaging in 
participant observation I made an effort to "check-in" with the participants from time to 
time in order to assess my interpretations. The following conceptual model emerged 
inductively in the process of gathering and analyzing the data gathered through 
interviews and participant observation. 



42 



Experiences <-* Values -*■ Future Goals 

^ "Being a Success* 

•Career/financial 

-being a success in my line of work 

-having lots of money 

-being able to find steady work 

-giving my children better opportunities than I've had 
•Connecting with others 

-having a good marriage and family life 

-making strong friendships 
•Self Realization 

-having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies 

-discovering new ways to experience things 

-finding purpose in my life 
•Philanthropy ("making a difference", "helping others") 

-making a contribution to society 

-being a leader in my community 

-working to correct social and economic inequalities 



Figure 4-Conceptual Model 

The model above shows that young peoples' future goals are influenced by their 
values, which are impacted by and affect their experiences. In this project, I used direct 
questions about future goals and definitions of success in order to understand their 
values. Goals are more concrete and easily definable than values. Asking a young 
person to explicitly state their ideals would likely elicit "canned," socially desirable 
responses. In order to avoid this as much as possible, I asked a series of questions, 
following the interview instrument, but unfolding in conversation. I began by asking 
about the importance of future goals, and then I asked the youth to define "being a 
success," to explain how they envisioned their own future success, and to describe a 
model of someone who was successful. Through analyzing this data, patterns in their 
responses emerged. 

"Success" is commonly thought of as the epitome of future goals, it is the highest 
achievement. It became clear that their discrete definitions of success and the future 
goals by which they planned to realize this notion of success were informed by ideas 



43 
of what is important in life. In other words, their values influenced their experiences. 
Notice the arrow between values and experiences goes both directions, that is, their 
experiences both influenced and were influenced by their values. Additionally, their 
experiences could have a direct effect on their goals. In the sections that follow, I 
articulate the methods by which this research was conducted, the quantitative and 
qualitative results, and conclude with an exploration of how participating in Sonlight was 
a "small world" experience that affected the teenagers' values and future goals. 



CHAPTER 3 
METHODOLOGY 

Introduction 

This dissertation concerns the lives and experiences of teenagers. Specifically, it 
focuses on how American youth make the transition to adulthood, looking at their future 
goals and values. This research is based on Monitoring the Future, a quantitative survey 
of over 60,000 high schoolers, as well as qualitative interviews of 70 local teenagers, all 
members of a community youth organization. In this chapter, I first describe the data 
from Monitoring the Future, then the methodology I used to conduct my qualitative 
interviews. 

Data Collection 
Quantitative Analysis of Monitoring the Future 

The quantitative portion of this study consisted of a secondary data analysis of 
the 1999 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. An annual survey in its 23rd year, MTF is 
a probability sample of high school students in the U.S. MTF explores changes in 
important values, behaviors, and lifestyles of contemporary American youths, as well as 
tracking demographics and drug use trends. It is the most appropriate survey for the 
current study because it is a large probability sample of high school youth with the most 
current data available. It provides both an accurate and systematic description of the 
youth and quantifies both the direction and rate of change of trends over time. Large, 
distinct, and nationally representative samples of high school students are asked to 
respond to questions on demographics, drug use, and a variety of subjects including 

44 



45 
attitudes towards social issues, changing gender roles, parental influences, educational 
and career expectations and aspirations, self esteem, exposure to sex and drug 
education, deviant behaviors, and crime victimization. Different versions of the 
questionnaire were administered to the sub-samples of the students. This file is 
available to download from www.icpsr.umich.edu. 

Sampling. MTF is a probability sample design of a multi-state area. There are 
three selection stages involved: primary sampling units (PSUs, consisting of geographic 
areas), schools within PSUs, and students attending the sampled schools. Eight of the 
80 PSUs were selected with certainty, while the other 72 were selected with a probability 
proportionate to the number of students. If the school had fewer than 400 students, all 
were asked to participate. Each school was asked to commit to two years of 
participation so that each year, one half of the sample could be replaced. Any school 
that refused to participate was replaced with a school of similar geographic location, 
size, and type (e.g. public or private). The total sample of students was divided into six 
sub-samples averaging 2,700 respondents each. The sub-samples were administered 
one of six different forms of the questionnaire containing the "core" drug and 
demographic questions, as well as various questions on the other topics. Since MTF 
began in 1975, the participation rate of the schools has ranged from 66-80%. In 1999, 
the overall response rate for students was 83%. 

The sample data are weighted for the characteristics of the school which the 
students attend. The focus of this study is limited to an analysis of the data obtained 
from students who identified their race as white. The available data did not provide 
specific information about those students who reported being a race other than white or 
black. Responses were coded "white," "black," or "other," because I felt uncomfortable 



46 
analyzing and making generalizations about minorities without being able to speak to a 
specific group; I chose to exclude all students whose responses were in the "other" 
category, thus the 0. This is one major limitation of the data, and future studies should 
take this into consideration or even opt to place their focus on the experiences of 
students of color. 

Measurement. The various content areas of MTF measure a wide range of 
topics. The current study will focus on the "future goals" subject area. Selected 
demographic variables were used to create cross-tabs to examine the relationship 
between the importance students place on certain future goals and some of their 
ascribed (age, gender, race, parents' education), achieved (high school program, GPA), 
and aspired (plans to obtain college and graduate/professional degrees) characteristics. 

Demographics. MTF provides demographic information about the respondents. 
I selected eight of the demographic measures, for descriptive purposes, in order to 
create cross-tabs. All missing data or extraneously coded responses were deleted. The 
variables included: Age ("In what year were you born?" 1 = <1981, 2 = >1981), Gender 
("What is your sex?" 1 = male, 2 = female), Race ("How do you describe yourself?" 1 = 
white, 2 = black), Father's level of education ("What is the highest level of schooling 
your father completed?" 3 = high school graduate, 4 = some college, 5 = college 
graduate, 6 = graduate or professional school), Mother's level of education ("What is the 
highest level of schooling your mother completed?" 3 = high school graduate, 4 = some 
college, 5 = college graduate, 6 = graduate or professional school), High school 
program ("Which of the following best describes your present high school program?" 1 = 
college prep, 2 = general, 3 = vocation/technical, 4 = other), and Grade point average 
("Which of the following best describes your average grade so far in high school?" 1 = 



47 
D, 1 .5 = D+, 2 = C, 2.5 = C+, 3 = B, 3.5 = B+, 4 = A). Father's education and mother's 
education were used as both an indicator of highest level of parents' education obtained 
and as a measure of SES of the student, since no other SES variables were available in 
MTF (Bennett and Gist 1964, Popenoe 1998, Grusec, Goodnow, and Kuczynski 2000, 
Wilson et.al. 1992). Additionally, the education of the parents is likely to influence not 
only the resources to which the student has access, but also their own future plans (Jodl 
et.al. 2001 , Marjoribanks 1994, 1998, Rojewski 1997). GPA is a quantitative measure of 
students' high school grades and is often used in studies as a "classic" indicator of 
motivation and achievement; GPA is often utilized for predicting graduation rates and 
job success levels (Bennet & Gist 1964, Nam & Terrie 1981, and Powers 1981). 

Future goals. MTF included a section of variables measuring the importance of 
14 life goals. The question about future goals was worded as follows: "How important is 
each of the following to you in your life? A. Being successful in my line of work. B. 
Having a good marriage and family life. C. Having lots of money. D. Having plenty of 
time for recreation and hobbies. E. Having strong friendships. F. Being able to find 
steady work. G. Making a contribution to society. H. Being a leader in my community. I. 
Being able to give my children better opportunities than I've had. J. Living close to my 
parents and relatives. K. Getting away from this area of the country. L Working to 
correct social and economic inequalities. M. Discovering new ways to experience things. 
N. Finding purpose and meaning in my life." Responses were given in the following 
categories: "Not important, Somewhat important, Quite important, and Extremely 
important." 

Readers should note that the "future goals" section of MTF includes 14 items, yet 
for the purposes of this study, I omitted two: "J. living close to my parents and relatives" 



48 
and "K. getting away from this area of the country." In conversations with teenagers and 
undergraduate college students, students commented that the responses to these 
questions may be more a reflection of their "senioritis" (the "illness" that befalls many 
students as they approach high school graduation) than measuring a desire to live near 
or away from that which is familiar to them. As these two goals did not seem to fit into 
the themes addressed in this study, they are not included in this research. The 
remaining 12 goals can best be conceptualized in four themes: Career/Financial, 
Connecting with Others, Self Realization, and Philanthropy. 



1 . Career/financial 

-being a success in my line of work 

-having lots of money 

-being able to find steady work 

-giving my children better opportunities than I've had 

2. Connecting with others 

-having a good marriage and family life 
-making strong friendships 

3. Self Realization 

-having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies 
-discovering new ways to experience things 
-finding purpose in my life 

4. Philanthropy ("making a difference,""helping others") 

-Making a contribution to society 
-Being a leader in my community 
-Working to correct social and economic inequalities 



Figure 5-12 goals, listed by theme 

I examined both the chi-squares of the cross tabs, noting the associations to see 
if the relationships between the demographic variables and each of the goals were 
significant. I then created a sub-group, limiting the sample to white students whose 
parents had attended college. This sub-group better compares to the 70 students that I 
interviewed, as they were all white high school students who, with the exception of one 
student, planned on graduating from college, and the majority of whom came from 
families where the parents had at least a college education. The number of cases of the 



49 
entire MTF sample included 2168 to 2186 participants. The number of cases in this sub- 
sample of MTF varied from 917 to 921 . 
Qualitative Interviews of Sonlight Members 

A second data gathering technique for this study derives from interviews with 
and participant observation of 70 high school students who were all members of a youth 
organization called Sonlight. Sonlight Youth Ministries was a "youth choir" located at 
Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Florida. However, it was not a "typical" 
youth choir. In 1999 there were more than 150 youth involved, led by a team of 30 
officers elected by the members, and guided by the selected president and vice- 
president, two high school seniors. (See Appendix B for the Organization and 
Leadership of Sonlight.) Each summer a group of 70 singers and 20 instrumentalists 
and sound technicians, along with staff and chaperones, traveled for ten days on a tour 
to major cities across the U.S. The participants were comprised entirely of youth from all 
of the local high schools, both public and private. 

History of Sonlight. From 1984-2001 Sonlight Youth Choir was a dynamic 
youth organization at a large United Methodist Church in a mid-sized, southern college 
city. Under the direction of Rebecca Brown, this group grew from 15 to over 200 
members, all students from the local high schools. Over the years it grew and changed 
from a "church choir" playing "rock n' roll" music into a multifaceted youth program with 
committees, projects, and activities. Although it was housed at and supported by the 
United Methodist Church, Sonlight's message was one of pluralism. The young people 
who participated were not required to take part in any service, nor were they even asked 
to become "Christians." Unlike popular stereotypes of youth choirs, there were no "altar 
calls," where students were expected or pressured to partake in religious activities. The 



50 
message was one of interfaith spirituality-that "god's stuff" is in everything, from the 
lyrics of the latest pop song to the books read in literature class. 

Philosophy of Sonlight. Brown's philosophy led her to create a program that 
was seen by local teenagers as "cool." Many young people around the community knew 
of Sonlight, even if they were not a member. Each year brought a new flood of young 
people-the first few weeks they would number well over 200, sitting on each other's laps 
and on the floor, packing the room and pouring out the door. Rehearsals and meetings 
were often loud and rowdy. Brown ran a "loose" program because she was well aware 
that strict rules would not appeal to most young people. They already sat quietly in 
desks at school for hours each day; doing so on the evenings and weekends was not 
likely to keep their attention. 

The reason the program was effective was because Brown did not talk "at" the 
teenagers or tell them how they "should" be acting or what they "should" be thinking or 
believing, nor did she pass judgement on them for experimenting with alcohol, sex, or 
drugs-she viewed this as a "normal" part of adolescence. She respected that they were 
in an intermediary period between childhood and adulthood, often experiencing a sense 
of angst and trying on different identities in an attempt to "find themselves." Instead of 
giving pat answers, Brown asked questions. Brown played the role of counselor and 
friend to many of the youth. She talked about values and priorities, something rarely 
overtly discussed in the lives of young people today. Over the years Sonlight has been 
the subject of a number of articles in the local media. A few of the recent stories give a 
glimpse of the enthusiasm that teenagers in the community have had for this unique 
program, and how Sonlight has affected their lives (see Appendix C for a list of the 
articles, and Appendix D for a discussion of the activities of Sonlight from 1984-2001). 



51 
Focus Curriculum of Sonlight. Within Sonlight, a Focus was a message time 
(about 15 minutes) that Brown conducted every week in rehearsal. Rather than a 
"boring lecture, "Brown attempted to engage in discussion with 120+ teenagers gathered 
in the choir room. Focus was an integral part of Sonlight. When surveyed in 1996 and 
2000, an overwhelming majority of the youth indicated that, for them, it was the most 
meaningful part of the program. In an effort to reach the youth through as many 
avenues as possible, Brown used a variety of techniques such as illustrations, surveys, 
props, diagrams, guest speakers, panels, debates, and videos. Most Focuses were 
accompanied by a handout, and many members would take extra copies to share with 
their friends. The reason that Focuses were so popular was because they dared to talk 
about the issues and ask the questions in which the youth were most interested. 
Through forms of popular media (music, movies, etc.) and by using their "language," 
Focuses reached the teenagers, challenging them to think about their beliefs, priorities, 
and assumptions about the world. 

Membership of Sonlight. While there was no "typical member" of Sonlight, 
most of the students were from upper-middle class families. No data were gathered 
specifically about income, but almost all of the youth who were over 16 years old had 
their own car and affording the cost of travel for the summer tour to Colorado in the 
summer of 1999 was not a financial hardship for most, suggesting that the students 
came from a somewhat affluent background. Less than half grew up in, or had families 
that belonged to, the church. Each year a certain number (for 1999, this number was 
70) of participants were selected to travel on a ten day tour. This selection was based 
on an evaluation process that weighed the students' level of participation in the program 
as well as their seniority (as opposed to a strictly "talent-based" criteria). Specifically, the 



52 
sample used in my study consists of all of the youth who went on tour to Colorado-70 
high school students, aged 14 to 18 (median age equals 16). Sixty-eight percent (48/70) 
were females, and 32% (22/70) were males. The distribution across grades was roughly 
equal with 19% (13/70) ninth graders, 27% (19/70) sophomores, 24% (17/70) juniors, 
and 30% (21/70) seniors. The vast majority of the youth identified themselves as "white." 
Racial and ethnic minorities were considerably under-represented, with less than 5% of 
the youth identifying themselves as "African American, ""Asian American,""Native 
American, ""Latino" or "other."The mean grade point average (GPA) of the youth 
surveyed was 3.49 (with a standard deviation of .363). Therefore, in terms of their 
socioeconomic status, racial-ethnic identity, and education, these youth differ from the 
average American youth. Based on 1999 statistics from the U.S. Census, 63.8% of 
young people who lived in families with a median income of $38,885 identified 
themselves as "white." Eighty three percent graduated from high school, but only 24% 
graduated from college. 

Demographically the students involved in Sonlight were quite homogeneous 
(mostly white, upper-middle class, and academically successful). It would be an 
overstatement to assert they were "diverse," as they were a select group of relatively 
affluent students who were privileged to be able to engage in self-actualization. Yet 
these youth tended to consider themselves very different from each other, taking for 
granted their demographic homogeneity, as they demonstrated a wide range of 
extracurricular interests, belonging to various "cliques" that reflected their identities, 
interests, and claims of individuality. The sample included a student body president, 
band "nerds, "valedictorians, computer "geeks, "members of the varsity football, 
baseball, tennis, soccer, and volleyball teams, "rave kids," cheerleaders, kids with body 
piercings and tattoos, members of the homecoming court, and students labeled "losers 



53 
and rejects" by other students. And each week these youth set aside what they often 
perceive to be vast differences to come together to participate in Sonlight's programs. 

The youth were involved in ten "teams, "or project groups, and six interest 
groups in addition to performing music. The core of the program was the weekly "Focus" 
time in rehearsals, from which the "theme" of the year developed. During the year in 
which this research was conducted (1999), the theme was "perspective. "The songs and 
activities revolved around various aspects of "perspective": defining, explaining, 
applying, and expounding on the importance of recognizing that people's lives are 
contextualized. According to Brown (1999), to view a subject/idea/event in perspective 
one needs to place it in space and time. To give something its "relative importance," one 
measures personal value against universal spiritual value. An individual's birth date, 
birthplace, and upbringing create his/her space, time, and value index. Achieving 
perspective begins by realizing that one's point of view is just that.. .a view from one 
point in space and time. It involves seeing one's part as a mere piece of the whole. 
Thus, Brown and 70 members of Sonlight, along with chaperones, sound technicians, 
and staff traveled to Colorado in the summer of 1999 for a "perspective jolf'-to see 
"natural wonders" that spanned across time and space incomparable to those found in 
north central Florida, and to engage in activities and share experiences that emphasized 
a pluralistic point of view. Readers may recall that on April 20,1999, two Columbine High 
School students took the lives of 12 of their classmates, one teacher, and themselves as 
they held their high school captive in a terrorizing act, becoming a symbol of the 
proliferation of violence in schools. Sociologists have noted that this type of violence is 
often taken for granted in urban, lower socioeconomic schools, where the majority of 
students are persons of color, which explains why the violence at Columbine - a majority 
white, affluent school - garnered such media attention (Adler 1 999, Dryfoos 1 999, 



54 
Gegaz & Bai 1999, Janosky 2001, Males 1999). Although the Sonlight itinerary was set 
months before the murders at Columbine, coincidentally the first stop was to pay tribute 
to the high school in Littleton. 

Participant observation and interviews of Sonlight members. Brown allowed 
me to accompany the youth on their trip to Colorado so that I could complete this 
research. (It might be important to note that the local newspaper, The Gainesville Sun , 
ran a series of stories about Sonlight's trip to Colorado and pleaded with Brown to allow 
one of their journalists to travel with the choir. She refused, emphasizing that she did not 
want to sensationalize the event, nor place too much focus on the shootings at 
Columbine.) Brown also worried that a having a stranger along on the trip might have a 
"chilling effect" for the youth involved. 

My presence was not obtrusive since the members were familiar with me through 
my past involvement with the program. I was a member of the choir in middle school 
and high school (1988-1994) and returned after graduation to serve as an intern, 
working closely with the program from 1994-1999. From 2000-2001 I worked more 
behind the scenes on an archiving project, but was still involved and often present. 
During the 1998-1999 school year when I conducted the interviews, I was actively 
involved with the program. I was present at all of the weekly activities, interacted with 
the members at rehearsals and meetings, and facilitated the "women's group." 

As an intern (a position that I shared with another college student) I was a liaison 
with the youth, helping the committees carry out the activities and programs that they 
designed and planned. Although I did not primarily assist with the musical end of things, 
the musicians all knew me, as I gave them reminder calls each week throughout the 
school year, recorded the weekly message on the phone line, set up the equipment for 



55 
their rehearsals, copied their music and maintained their music notebooks and files, as 
well as a multitude of other tasks. The majority of my responsibilities centered around 
assisting the leadership teams and working on the "Focus" themes. I worked 
approximately 10-30 hours a week as an intern for Sonlight. Most, if not all, of the 
members who went on summer tour in 1999 already knew who I was. Actually, due to 
the "script" I relied on to introduce and identify myself in frequent reminder calls and 
announcements, I was known as "Kristin from Sonlight" (said in a very high pitched 
voice, with inflection at the end of the phrase). The youth did not see me as an adult 
"authority figure," instead I was somewhere between "member" and "adult." I was in a 
liminal stage of "college-age graduate," just a few years older than the current members, 
but not far enough removed that I was treated as imposing or as other authority figures 
in their lives. 

Two weeks before the choir departed on its summer tour, the informed consent 
of each youth's parent was obtained. This was an efficient process because the parents 
were required to sign a number of forms and make the final payments for the trip at an 
event called "Parents' Night." I approached each parent with the Instructional Research 
Board approved materials and explained that I was a graduate student at UF conducting 
research for my dissertation. All of the parents willingly signed the consents, and I 
reassured them that it would be up to their daughter or son whether or not they were to 
be interviewed, based on their response to the assent script. Each parent was given a 
copy of the consent document along with contact information in case of questions or 
concerns. 

Before departure, and again on the first night of tour, it was announced to the 
youth that I would be approaching each of them to request an interview, and that I would 
be observing and taking notes along the way. The majority of the interviews were 



56 
conducted on bus rides. I was careful to select individuals who did not appear to be 
otherwise occupied, choosing those who were sitting quietly, listening to CDs on a 
walkman, looking out the window, or resting. I reassured them that the interview would 
not last long and that they could discontinue their participation at any point. None of the 
youth refused to do an interview. Most were more than willing, and a number of times 
enthusiastic (or bored) youth asked if I wanted to interview them or repeatedly reminded 
me that they were waiting to be interviewed. Some of the interviews took place during 
extended periods of free time, while "hanging out" in the afternoons, or in the evenings 
at hotels, or on the flight back to Florida. 

Due to technical difficulties, six interviews were conducted by phone the week 
following the trip, with the help of the choir president. The quantitative data pertaining to 
the importance of various goals from 12 of the interviews are not reported, as they were 
lost due to equipment failure. However, their qualitative responses addressing the 
definition of "success" were intact and are included in the analysis. The interview 
instrument also included questions specific to the events at Columbine High School, 
which was the focus of my master's thesis. 

In addition to the 70 interviews, observations attained during my extensive work 
with the youth and the program provided a plethora of information about the experiences 
of white, upper-middle class youth in America today and their future goals, expectations, 
and aspirations. The qualitative data analysis software package, QSR Nud*st was used 
to examine the data. Although the findings cannot be generalized to all high schoolers, 
this study provided rich and vivid qualitative accounts of the future goals of a select 
group of relatively privileged, motivated, and engaged young people. 



57 
Instrumentation 

See attached IRB approved interview Instrument. 

Assumptions and Limitations of the Study 
Limitations of Monitoring the Future Analysis 

The sample data were weighted for characteristics of the school which the 
student attended. The majority of this study was limited to an analysis of the data 
obtained from students who indicated their race to be "white. "Black students were also 
included in the overall MTF analysis, but because the available data did not provide 
specific information about those students who reported having a race other than white or 
black, I did not attempt to include the "other" category in my analyses. Since all of the 
youth I interviewed identified themselves as white, black students were excluded from 
the analysis of MTF that matched the demographic of the interview sample. This is one 
major limitation of the data, and future studies should certainly take issues of race and 
ethnicity into consideration, focusing on the future goals and values of students of color. 

Another major limitation of the sampling procedure is that it does not include the 
youth who drop out of high school within the few months before graduation. It is 
estimated that this exclusion is just a small proportion of each cohort, around 15% 
(Johnston, Bachman, & O'Malley 1999). These youth are not unimportant; they exhibit 
certain behaviors, such as illicit drug use and delinquency, at levels that tend to be 
higher than the norm. However, the additional costs related to including the drop-outs 
would be immense because of the difficulty in locating these youth, and their general 
resistance to being interviewed. Furthermore, the current study is specifically interested 
in the attitudes of high school students, especially those that are engaged, and thus the 
small percentage who drop out are not included in this target group, although they may 



58 
be an important focus for other studies. Additionally, the conclusions drawn from the 
current study are not meant to be extrapolated to all youth of this age group; they 
remain valid for only high school students. 

Although the samples for this study are meant to be representative of high 
school students throughout the U.S., there are four additional ways in which the survey 
data may not be fully representative of all high school students, according to the MTF 
codebook (Johnston, Bachman & O'Malley 1 999). These considerations may limit the 
degree to which the collected data are valid. 

First, some sampled schools refused to participate, and this could introduce 
some bias. In the 23 years of Monitoring the Future's annual surveys, participation of 
schools has ranged between 66% and 80%, and those who refused were replaced with 
similar schools in terms of size, geographic area, urban/city, and size of senior class. 

Second, the failure to obtain questionnaire data from 100% of the students 
sampled in participating schools may also introduce bias. Completed questionnaires 
were obtained from three-quarters to four-fifths of all students sampled. The most 
common reason for having missed a student is their absence from school. However, the 
difficultly in rescheduling interviews is difficult. Students with high rates of absenteeism 
tend to report more drug use than the average, therefore, there is some degree of 
biased introduced by excluding the absent students, but estimates have determined the 
percentage to be quite small, so the use of weighting procedures is not necessary. 
Some students refused to complete or turn in a questionnaire, but this proportion is only 
about one percent. 

Third, the validity of self report data may be questioned, especially in regards to 
drug use and delinquency issues. Still, the present study does not include direct, 
objective validation of the measures because existing inferential evidence suggests that 



59 
the self report questions produce largely valid data. Furthermore, the questions used in 
this survey have been developed specifically for this project through a process of 
question writing, pilot testing, pre-testing, and question revision or elimination. Fourth, 
sample size and/or design limitations could restrict the accuracy of estimates. 
Issues of selectivity of the Monitoring the Future samples 

It is important to mention issues of the selectivity of the samples, as they make it 
impossible to draw conclusions about all American teenagers. Each of the three 
samples involve different selectivity concerns. When looking at the data from the overall 
MTF, being limited to only students who were present in school when the research was 
conducted tends to exclude from the sample young people of the same age who have 
dropped out of school and students with poor attendance. For example, the importance 
ratings of some of the future goals may have been overestimated in favor of higher 
aspirations relating to career and philanthropic issues (as the data indicated that 
students with lower GPAs were more likely to value money and less likely to value 
helping others). 

Additionally, the overall MTF includes only students who identify themselves as 
white or black (other persons of color were marked "other" and deleted from the 
analysis). This may potentially lead to an understatement of the goals of persons of 
color and persons from lower socioeconomic statuses. This may have the effect of 
skewing the goal ratings in favor of the values of representing a privileged white voice. 
For instance, one minority group that is completely excluded from all three samples are 
Asian-American students. These students are often more academically engaged than 
most, and are likely to place importance on goals related to being a success in their 
lines of work and having good marriage and family lives. In addition, African-Americans 



60 
have historically placed high value on the importance of community and collectivity, but 
by under-representing students who identify themselves as black in the overall MTF and 
excluding them entirely from the rest of the study, the importance ratings of goals 
related to connecting with others may be understated, when compared to the entire 
population of teenagers. 

There are also issues of selectivity when comparing the data from MTF to the 
sample of youth who participated in Sonlight. As previously mentioned, just under half of 
the youth in Sonlight grew up in the church, and about half of the remaining youth were 
from a Protestant Christian background. Therefore, those who were conservative or 
fundamentalist Christians, Catholics, Jews, or affiliated with other religious traditions, as 
well as those who were not affiliated with any religion, were under-represented in this 
study. This may potentially affect the importance ratings of goals by placing greater 
emphasis on more liberal ideals, such as educational attainment or philanthrophic 
notions of equality and social justice. Additionally, only 32% of the sample of Sonlight 
members were guys, which is substantially lower than the proportion of all American 
teenage guys. This potentially has the effect of overemphasizing the importance of 
goals related to connecting with others and making a difference in the world, and under- 
representing goals related to careers and financial success. Research consistently 
indicates that high school girls place more value on social values, while guys tend to 
emphasize career and financial achievement. 

It should also be noted that the members of Sonlight were all residents of a 
medium sized university town located in the South; therefore they were more affluent 
and their family lives were more stable than those of a random sampling of American 
teenagers. These youth may have been more likely to emphasize the importance of 
philanthrophy and self-realization than all young people, because of their privileged 



61 
status. Finally, the members of Sonlight who participated in this study were a select 
group of the larger organization. As previously mentioned, not all members of the 
program go on the summer tour. Those who have high attendance, are involved in the 
leadership teams and service groups, and are musically or artistically talented are more 
likely to go on tour. Recall that all of the youth who went on tour in 1999 participated in 
this study. These highly involved youth were potentially more likely to stress the 
importance of education and career goals, as many were high achieving students. Most 
importantly, they were also likely to make statements reflecting the values curriculum of 
the Sonlight program (emphasizing the importance of philanthrophy and self-realization 
over financial and material success). Although these statements addressing the possible 
selectivity of the samples should not be ignored, they do not discount the importance of 
the findings. 

These limitations should not impede on the significance of the findings of this 
study. These data are the most appropriate survey for the current study because MTF is 
the most current large probability sample of high school youth data available. It 
succeeds in providing both an accurate and systematic description of the youth on 
important issues such as expectations, aspirations, and future goals in a manner that no 
other survey addresses. Furthermore, the 83% response rate of the students is 
impressive and allows the sample to be useful and nearly representative of high school 
students in America today. 
Limitations of the Data from Sonlight 

The students who participated in my interviews were all white, upper-middle 
class, academically successful, and engaged in extracurricular activities. Thus, this 
sample cannot not be generalized for all American teenagers. Additionally, these young 



62 
people were all members of a local youth organization and may offer similar accounts, 
given their shared experiences. However, it is an important beginning, and in the future I 
hope to expand the qualitative component of my research to other diverse groups such 
as racial and ethnic minorities and those of lower socioeconomic status. 

Data Analysis 

First I did a preliminary analysis of the 1999 MTF and noticed significant 
disparities between the importance ratings of various future goals. I decided to interview 
local teenagers in hopes of finding out how they defined "success," and what their future 
goals might be. After conducting the interviews I went back to the MTF data and 
constructed a sub-sample with demographic characteristics more similar to those of the 
youth I interviewed to enable a closer comparison between the national data and the 
accounts of the teenagers I interviewed. The sub-sample consisted only of students who 
identified themselves as "white" and whose fathers had attended college (and were thus 
likely to be of a higher than average socioeconomic status). I created and analyzed a 
series of cross-tabs looking at the associations between various demographic variables 
and how importantly young people rated these future goals. A number of tables were 
generated, listing the goals in descending order of importance (that is, the goals 
considered important by the most students are listed at the top, and those which the 
least students rated important are at the bottom). 

I then began to analyze the qualitative interviews, utilizing Nud*ist. I created 
similar tables as to their importance rating of four goals, and then focused on the 
responses to the open-ended questions about defining "success." I selected quotes 
based on their frequency (those that appeared most often), salience (statements that 
offered rich detail, about which the respondent was remarkably passionate, or held deep 



63 

and profound meaning), as well as mentioning quotes which seemed atypical (the 
exceptions to the patterns, those that differed from the others). As patterns emerged, 
the data were coded and sorted into various groups and categories by theme. As a 
result, four clear themes of what "success" means to young people became clear. 
Implicit in these themes were notions of what the youth considered most important-that 
is, their values. 



CHAPTER 4 
IMPORTANCE OF "SUCCESS" AND OTHER FUTURE GOALS TO AMERICAN 

TEENAGERS 

Popular images and stereotypes lead one to assume that young people today 
are focused on "making lots of money" and "being a success in their line of work," rather 
than helping others and valuing quality family life. While working on a paper for an 
introductory methods course my first semester of graduate school, I ran across statistics 
from a national representative study of American high school students supporting these 
assumptions: 89% of the students reported that it was quite or extremely important to 
"be a success in their line of work," 66% of the students reported that it was quite or 
extremely important to "have lots of money," while only 22% of the students reported 
that it was quite or extremely important to "make a contribution to society" (Johnston, 
Bachman, & O'Malley 1999). I found this interesting and speculated as to what was 
behind these numbers and what implications they inferred. At the time, I was working 
with a local youth organization and thought that these statistics were somewhat 
contradictory with the future goals and values of the 150+ teenagers that I observed. 

The young people I worked with did care about the well-being of others. They 
often talked of not really knowing what they wanted to do after college, but they aspired 
to "make a difference in the world." Yes, many of the teenagers were also very focused 
on material possessions: wearing the newest fashions, and driving the "cool" cars with 
"phat" sound systems. At the same time, many of the youth were highly motivated, 
academically successful, involved in numerous activities and sports, and struggling with 
planning for their future. GPAs, SAT scores, and college applications were a burden and 

64 



65 
the source of much stress. Competition to "succeed" and "be the best" academically, 
athletically, and even socially were constant pressures. Taking the scene at face value, 
one could have easily concluded that these were just a bunch of stereotypical teenagers 
and that most, if not all teenagers were the self-centered adolescents often portrayed in 
the media. But when speaking to the youth and listening to them struggle with questions 
about "who they are" and "what they want to do with their lives," superficial is an 
inappropriate label for the teenagers. 

Not only did these youth talk about their philanthropic aspirations, their actions 
evidenced their convictions to "change the world." Each year groups of these teenagers 
put together teams and committees in an effort to "make a difference." They donated 
thousands of dollars of products for people living with AIDS, served meals at a local 
homeless shelter, built and renovated homes in the Appalachian mountains, developed 
an after school tutoring program, went on service projects to Mexico and the streets of 
Philadelphia, among other activities. During the interviews, as well as in my roll as a 
"college student intern" they spoke to me of their college plans, especially seniors, who 
were required to declare their major in college during the spring of their senior year. 
Applying to college and worries about admission were frequent topics of conversation. 
More often than not, they expressed a sense of confusion or conflict- wanting to pursue 
a career that was meaningful but clear as to how that translated into a college major. In 
general they lacked basic information about the possibilities from which to choose. It is 
important to mention that this was not a representative sample of all American 
teenagers. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the students were all white, college- 
bound, and from relatively privileged families (middle/upper-middle class). 

I wondered what factors might have caused the vast differences between my 
own observation of teenagers and the statistical portrayal in MTF (showing that the vast 



66 
majority of high school students are focused on career and money goals, where very 
few consider it important to help others and work for societal change). Was it entirely 
due to the demographic differences between the privileged white youth with whom I 
work and the much more diverse sample of the probability survey (including students 
from all socioeconomic classes and various racial/ethnic backgrounds)? Has it always 
been this way or is this a 90s/Millennial trend? Maybe the difference stems not just from 
the demographic homogeneity of the youth with whom I worked, but is instead an 
outcome of their common experience in a program (a "small world") that encouraged 
them to think critically about their values, priorities, and goals. 

In order to investigate these questions, I decided to begin by interviewing some 
of the youth in the program about their future goals-how important they considered 
"being a success" versus "making a contribution to society." The interviews were 
qualitative in nature-asking the teenagers to define "success," give examples of people 
they considered to be "successful," and to talk about their personal goals and 
aspirations. I also planned to concurrently analyze data from MTF to take a closer look 
at the results from the surveys and attempt to control for demographic characteristics. 
Due to a timely opportunity to accompany the youth on a trip for 10 days during the 
summer of 1999, 1 completed the interviews before analyzing the MTF data. However, 
this enabled me to utilize the 1999 MTF results which were not released until late in 
2000 so that the youth I interviewed were of the same cohort as the high school 
students in the nationally representative survey. 

Having described my research question, the existing literature, and the 
population of interest in the previous chapters, this chapter and the subsequent chapters 
of this dissertation are about the results of this study. Chapter 4 consists of the analysis 
of the future goals of American youth through a data analysis from the full 1999 MTF. In 



67 
Chapter 5, 1 present the results from a sub-sample of MTF which is controlled for 
race/ethnicity (only including students who identified themselves as white) and 
socioeconomic status (selecting only those students whose fathers had a college 
education or higher). Chapter 6 begins with trend data as a transition between the 
quantitative survey analysis and the qualitative interviews. It may or may not come as a 
surprise that this emphasis on "being a success" and "making lots of money" over 
"making a contribution to society" is a relatively recent phenomenon. In order to better 
understand how teenagers today define "success," given that aforementioned trends 
indicate its importance has increased remarkably, the focus of this chapter is the 
analysis of 70 interviews with local teenagers, all members of the same youth 
organization, detailing the patterns and themes that emerged in their accounts of "what 
it means to be a success." Finally, Chapter 7 concludes with a discussion of use of 
statistics and large scale probability surveys like those from MTF, discussing in 
particular how these types of "normative" studies can hide smaller patterns within 
distinct subgroups ("small worlds") of the population. I close with an exploration of the 
implications of the results. 

Results from Monitoring the Future: Overall Importance of Future Goals 
In order to examine the overall importance of 12 future goals to American 
teenagers, I began by looking at the frequency distribution of the responses of 2224 
high school seniors. (Note: though MTF is administered to a probability sample of over 
60,00 students each year, the section of questions about future goals is only given to 
high school seniors.) The students did not rank the 12 goals in order of importance; 
instead, they were asked to evaluate each goal individually, and rate it as "extremely," 
"quite," "somewhat," or "not" important. In order to evaluate and compare the goals, I 



68 
have listed them in "ranked" order. The goals which the highest portion of students 
ranked "extremely important" are first, and those ranked "extremely important" by the 
lowest percentage of students are last (see Table 1). It is also telling to look at the other 
extreme, that is, students who responded that the goal was "not important." One would 
think that these two lists would be mirror opposites, and for the most part, they are. 
However, it is significant to notice the vast difference in the percentage of students who 
rate some goals as "not" important versus those who consider other goals "extremely" 
important. (I also did similar rankings by adding the proportion of the students who 
reported "extremely" plus "quite," and usually the rank order came out almost identical. 
See Table 1.) 

Looking at the table of results, one can see that certain goals were considered 
"quite or extremely important" by a vast majority of the students. Being able to find 
steady work, having strong friendships, being able to give children better opportunities," 
"having a good marriage and family life, and "being successful at work" were all rated as 
being "quite or extremely important" by more than 89% of American teenagers. Yet, less 
than 1/4 of the students ranked making a contribution to society, working to correct 
social and economic inequalities, or being a leader in their community as extremely 
important. Looking at the other end of the scale reiterates that same point. Over 20% of 
students said working to correct inequalities or being a leader in their community were 
"not important" to them, versus less than 2.1% of students who said that having strong 
friendships, finding steady work, having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies, being 
successful at work, and giving their children better opportunities were "not important" to 
them. It is clear that overall, American high school students rate certain goals, 
specifically those that relate to career/financial issues and connecting with others, as 



69 
"very important" in their lives, while they tend to consider philanthropic goals as "less 
important," or not important at all. 
Race and Students' Future Goals 

Race is controlled for in the sample as a means to determine whether 
differences between the responses of the MTF and sub-sample can be attributed to 
students' social locations. In MTF, 83.4% of the sample identified themselves as white 
and 16.6% of the sample identified themselves as black. Those who identified 
themselves as "other" were omitted, resulting in an N ranging from a low of 1780 to a 
high of 1796. There was a statistically significant difference between black and white 
students' rating of future goals in all but two goals (having a good marriage and family 
life and making a contribution to society). Black students were more concerned with 
financial security and connecting with friends and family than self-realization or 
philanthropy. For example, the top five goals rated as "quite or extremely important" by 
over 82% black students included finding steady work, giving children better 
opportunities, finding purpose in life, having a good marriage and family life, and having 
strong friendships. In comparison, the top five goals for over 89% of the white students 
were having strong friendships, finding steady work, having a good marriage and family 
life, giving children better opportunities, and being successful at work. A notable 
difference is that 77% of black students consider making lots of money "quite or 
extremely important" compared to only 58% of white students. Additionally, looking at 
the goals rated "not important" also provides interesting differences. The goal that both 
black (15%) and white (22%) students rate as "not important" is working to correct 
inequality. A summary of these data appears in Table 2. 



70 
Father's Education and Students' Future Goals 

This study utilized father's education as an indicator of SES. In order to confirm 
that there are differences due to SES, father's education was controlled for in the sub- 
sample. The highest level of education for 27.8% of the students' fathers was high 
school graduation. A college degree is the highest level of father's education for 23.8% 
of the students. MTF included seven categories for this variable, however, I combined 
the categories and only those that were similar to the parents of the youth who 
participated in Sonlight were included in this analysis. There were no significant 
differences between students whose fathers had high school diplomas and those whose 
fathers had college degrees for five of the twelve goals: being a success at work, 
having a good marriage and family life, finding steady work, being a leader in the 
community, and finding purpose in life. The two notable differences between students 
whose fathers only graduated from high school versus those whose fathers earned 
college degrees was the percentage of students who rated having lots of money (68%, 
61%) and making a contribution to society (59%, 67%) "quite or extremely important." 
Students whose fathers had higher levels of education were more likely to consider 
making a contribution to society important and less likely to say having lots of money is 
important. A comparison with existing literature indicates that students from high SES 
families tend to aspire to high SES careers, and students from low SES families tend to 
have occupational goals consistent with the SES of their families (Wilson, Peterson, and 
Wilson, 1993). Some theorists, like Biblarz, Bengston, and Bucur (1996) disagree, 
asserting that the influence of SES on young people's job choices is weaker now than it 
has been in the past. My results indicate that SES (as indicated by father's education) 
has a significant effect on the future goals of teenagers, at least for the majority of the 
12 goals measured. A summary of these data appears in Table 3. 



71 
Mother's Education and Students' Future Goals 

Mother's education was controlled for in the sample as a means to confirm that 
there were statistical differences due to mother's education but that it was not as sizable 
as father's education. Again, MTF included seven categories for this variable, but I 
combined the categories and only those that were similar to the parents of the youth 
who participated in Sonlight were included in this analysis. The highest level of 
education for 29.1% of the students' mothers was high school graduation. A college 
degree was the highest level of education attained by the mothers of 25.7% of the 
students. It is interesting to note that the percentage of students whose mothers had 
both high school and college diplomas was higher than the percentage of students 
whose fathers had the same. It is likely that more than one factor can account for these 
phenomena. Women now comprise 57% of all college graduates in the United States 
(U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of 
Education Statistics 1998). However, more men complete graduate or professional 
degrees. A summary of these data appears in Table 4. 

There were no significant differences in the rankings between students whose 
mothers had high school diplomas and those whose mothers had college degrees on 
five of the twelve goals. For mothers as well as fathers, the two goals for which mother's 
education seems to make a difference were having lots of money (66%, 60%) and 
making a contribution to society (59%, 66%). That is, students whose mothers had 
higher levels of education were more likely to consider making a contribution to society 
important and less likely to say having lots of money was important. 
Gender and Students' Future Goals 

The number of participants for the entire MTF sample ranged from 2168 to 2186, 
depending on missing values. Fifty two percent were identified as girls, and 48% as 



72 
guys (see Table 5). Throughout this study, I refer to the high school students with the 
colloquial terms "guys" and "girls," as opposed to the academic tradition of "young men" 
and "young women." My rationale for using this terminology is to remain consistent with 
the language most often used by the students themselves. 

Overall, there were statistically significant differences between the responses of 
the girls and the guys for all of the goals. Differences are especially notable when 
looking at the extreme levels: guys were much more concerned with monetary goals and 
having time for recreation than were girls, though they were similarly interested in career 
goals. There were a number of goals that girls rated as more important than did guys. 
Finding purpose in life was rated as "extremely important" by 63% of girls versus 55% of 
guys. Girls and guys had similar evaluations of the importance of making a contribution 
to society (both 22% of girls and guys considered it "extremely important") yet only 3% 
of girls compared with 8% of guys said it was "not important" to make a contribution to 
society. In general, girls indicated they were more concerned with socially oriented goals 
than were guys, though the differences were not vast. A summary of these data appears 
in Table 5. 

Summary 

Next I will be detailing the results from the matching MTF. The matching MTF is 
a sub-sample of the entire MTF, which controlled for race and socioeconomic status; it 
was restricted to just white students whose fathers graduated from college. Its design 
was intended to "match" or approximate the demographic characteristics of the 70 youth 
I interviewed, as they constitute a more privileged group. This analysis was conducted in 
an effort to investigate whether the differences between the youth I interviewed and the 
statistical "norm" of high school students on their importance ratings of future goals can 



73 
be attributed to demographic variables such as racial characteristics or relative access 
to resources due to SES. Also in Chapter 5, I present the importance ratings of 
quantitative results from the teenagers interviewed in comparison with both the 
matching MTF sample and the statistics from the entire MTF, hypothesizing that the 
responses from the interviews I conducted will be more similar to those of the matching 
MTF than the overall MTF. It is expected that their relative evaluations of goals related 
to "making a difference in the world" versus the importance of financial and material 
goals may show an even wider variation from the overall MTF than the do the matching 
MTF, due to their unique experiences as members of a local youth organization, which 
will be discussed in Chapter 7. At the end of Chapter 6, I conclude the quantitative 
portion of this dissertation by looking at trend data which examine how high school 
students' importance ratings of future goals has changed in the past 30 years, becoming 
more focused on career and financial goals while the importance of philanthropic goals 
has decreased. The importance ratings teenagers give to goals related to self- 
realization (achieving one's own goals) and connecting with friends and family members 
have not changed significantly over time. 



Table 1- Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF 



74 



Theme & Goal 

(q+e ranks, not ranks) 


Rating 
q + e (%) 


Rating 
not (%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my line of work (5, 9) 


89.3 


2.0 


Having lots of money (8, 5) 


62.7 


5.8 


Being able to find steady work (1 , 11) 


94.1 


1.5 


Giving my children better opportunities than I've had 
(3,8) 


92.0 


2.1 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage and family life (4, 7) 


91.7 


2.8 


Making strong friendships (2, 12) 


92.5 


1.1 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies (7, 
10) 


75.9 


1.8 


Discovering new ways to experience things (10, 3) 


60.8 


6.5 


Finding purpose in my life (6, 6) 


86 


3.6 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to society (9, 4) 


62.5 


5.9 


Being a leader in my community (11,2) 


41.4 


21.1 


Working to correct social and economic inequalities 
(12,1) 


33.6 


21.4 


N = 2337 



75 



Table 2- Race & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: white, black, entire) 


n/p 


Rating 


White 
(83.4%) 


Black 
(16.6%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my line of work 
(5, 6, 5) 


n=1791 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


89.0 


77.3 


not 


1.3 


2.7 


Having lots of money (10, 7, 8) 


n=1793 
LR=.000 


q + e 


57.8 


76.4 


not 


7.1 


4.3 


Being able to find steady work 
(2,1,1) 


n=1792 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


93.6 


97.4 


not 


1.5 


1.0 


Giving my children better 
opportunities than I've had (4, 2, 3) 


n=1780 
LR=.000 


q + e 


90.3 


96.7 


not 


2.3 


2.0 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage and family 
life (3, 4, 4) 


n=1970 
LR=.642 


q + e 


93.0 


91.0 


not 


2.4 


3.0 


Making strong friendships (1, 5, 2) 


n=1796 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


96.3 


82.0 


not 


0.5 


4.7 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for recreation 
and hobbies (7, 8, 7) 


n=1796 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


78.5 


63.5 


not 


1.1 


3.3 


Discovering new ways to 
experience things (9, 10, 10) 


n=1796 
LR=.025 


q + e 


60.0 


61.0 


not 


7.5 


7.7 


Finding purpose in my life (6, 3, 6) 


n=1793 
LR=.000 


q + e 


85.0 


91.4 


not 


4.2 


0.7 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to society 
(8, 9, 9) 


n=1786 
LR=.303 


q + e 


63.6 


62.5 


not 


5.6 


7.1 


Being a leader in my community 
(11,11,11) 


n=1794 
LR=.000 


q + e 


39.9 


48.5 


not 


21.1 


15.4 


Working to correct social and 
economic inequalities (12, 12, 12) 


n=1793 
LR=.000 


q + e 


30.3 


43.5 


not 


22.8 


15.7 


a = one cell with less than minimum expected value 



76 



Table 3- Father's Education & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: college, high school, 
entire) 


n/p 


Rating 


College 
(23.8%) 


High School 
(27.8%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my line of work 
(4, 5, 5) 


n=2034 
LR=.235 a 


q + e 


91.0 


90.8 


not 


1.7 


1.8 


Having lots of money (10, 8, 8) 


n=2036 
LR=.009 a 


q + e 


60.8 


67.6 


not 


7.0 


5.7 


Being able to find steady work (1 , 
1.1) 


n=2035 
LR=.433 a 


q + e 


94.9 


95.6 


not 


1.2 


0.5 


Giving my children better 
opportunities than I've had 
(5, 2, 3) 


n=2024 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


90.8 


93.8 


not 


2.5 


0.7 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage and 
family life (3, 4, 4) 


n=2033 
LR=.846 a 


q + e 


93.2 


92.1 


not 


1.9 


2.1 


Making strong friendships 
(2, 3, 2) 


n=2041 
LR=.001 a 


q + e 


93.6 


93.5 


not 


1.2 


0.7 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for 
recreation and hobbies (7, 7, 7) 


n=2039 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


77.9 


75.5 


not 


1.0 


1.1 


Discovering new ways to 
experience things (9, 9, 10) 


n=2040 
LR=.045 a 


q + e 


60.9 


58.6 


not 


7.0 


7.6 


Finding purpose in my life 
(6, 6, 6) 


n=2037 
LR=.603 a 


q + e 


86.2 


86.7 


not 


4.3 


3.4 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to society 
(8,10,9) 


n=2030 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


67.1 


58.5 


not 


5.8 


5.5 


Being a leader in my community 
(11,11,11) 


n=2036 
LR=.428 


q + e 


43.4 


37.3 


not 


19.0 


23.5 


Working to correct social and 
economic inequalities 
(12, 12, 12) 


n=2036 
LR=.064 


q + e 


32.6 


31.8 


not 


21.1 


21.9 


a = some cells (5 or less) with less than minimum expected value 



77 



Table 4- Mother's Education & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: college, high school, 
entire) 


n/p 


Rating 


College 
(23.8%) 


High 

School 

(27.8%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my line of work 
(5, 5, 5) 


n=2107 
LR=.458 a 


q + e 


91.3 


90.7 


not 


1.5 


1.6 


Having lots of money (10, 8, 8) 


n=2109 
LR=.098 a 


q + e 


59.3 


65.7 


not 


7.9 


5.4 


Being able to find steady work (3, 
1,1) 


n=2107 
LR=.901 a 


q + e 


93.8 


95.0 


not 


1.5 


1.1 


Giving my children better 
opportunities than I've had 
(1.4,3) 


n=2097 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


95.6 


92.6 


not 


2.6 


1.8 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage and 
family life (4, 3, 4) 


n=2107 
LR=.371 a 


q + e 


93.0 


93.0 


not 


2.0 


3.1 


Making strong friendships 
(2, 2, 2) 


n=2112 
LR=.021 a 


q + e 


94.2 


93.4 


not 


0.9 


1.1 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for 
recreation and hobbies (7, 7, 7) 


n=2112 
LR=.014 a 


q + e 


77.9 


74.3 


not 


1.1 


1.3 


Discovering new ways to 
experience things (9, 10, 10) 


n=2113 
LR=.591 a 


q + e 


60.3 


57.5 


not 


6.8 


7.0 


Finding purpose in my life 
(6, 6, 6) 


n=2110 
LR=.053 a 


q + e 


84.4 


84.8 


not 


3.1 


4.4 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to society 
(8, 9, 9) 


n=2103 
LR=.020 a 


q + e 


65.9 


58.7 


not 


5.0 


6.8 


Being a leader in my community 
(11,11,11) 


n=2109 
LR=.148 


q + e 


42.6 


38.0 


not 


18.6 


23.3 


Working to correct social and 
economic inequalities 
(12, 12, 12) 


n=2109 
LR=.012 


q + e 


32.4 


29.6 


not 


21.7 


21.8 


a = some cells (4 or less) with less than minimum expected value 



78 



Table 5- Gender & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: girls, guys, entire) 


n/p 


Rating 


Girls 
(52%) 


Guys 
(48%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my line of 
work (5, 5, 5) 


n=2181 
LR= .003 


q + e 


91.5 


88.9 


not 


.06 


2.5 


Having lots of money (10, 8, 8) 


n = 2183 
LR =.000 


q + e 


58.5 


67.7 


not 


6.8 


5.2 


Being able to find steady work 
(1,1.1) 


n=2181 
LR= .021 


q + e 


95.7 


92.7 


not 


1.2 


2.7 


Giving my children better 
opportunities than I've had 
(4, 3, 3) 


n=2168 
LR= .068 


q + e 


92.1 


91.4 


not 


1.2 


2.7 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage and 
family life (2, 4, 4) 


n=2179 
LR= .000 


q + e 


94.1 


90.0 


not 


2.3 


2.7 


Making strong friendships (3, 2, 2) 


n=2186 
LR=.021 


q + e 


92.9 


92.5 


not 


1.1 


1.5 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for 
recreation and hobbies (7, 7, 7) 


n=2185 
LR= .000 


q + e 


69.8 


83.0 


not 


2.0 


1.4 


Discovering new ways to 
experience things (9, 9, 10) 


n=2185 
LR =.054 


q + e 


58.7 


63.1 


not 


7.3 


6.9 


Finding purpose in my life (6, 6, 6) 


n=2182 
LR=.000 


q + e 


84.3 


88.3 


not 


5.2 


2.1 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to society 
(8, 10, 9) 


n=2176 
LR= .000 


q + e 


65.4 


62.0 


not 


2.9 


8.2 


Being a leader in my community 
(12,11,11) 


n=2182 
LR=.015 


q + e 


29.5 


44.1 


not 


19.5 


21.5 


Working to correct social and 
economic inequalities (11, 12, 12) 


n=2182 
LR= .000 


q + e 


34.6 


33.3 


not 


17.3 


24.5 



CHAPTER 5 
FUTURE GOALS OF YOUTH: COMPARISON OF Sonlight MEMBERS WITH 

NATIONAL SAMPLE 

In an attempt to more closely approximate the demographic characteristics of the 

teenagers I interviewed, the analyses in this chapter are restricted to students who 

identified themselves as "white" and whose fathers had a college education or higher. 

Each of the variables below-gender, GPA, high school program, and expectations to 

graduate from college- were selected because they are measures on which the youth 

from which the qualitative data were gathered differ from the statistical mean of the 

overall MTF. 

Comparison of Future Goals Ratings: 
Overall Monitoring the Future and Sub-sample 

Looking at the summary table of the results from the matching MTF sample, the 

five goals that were most likely to be rated "quite or extremely important" are consistent 

with those included in the overall MTF, though they are in a somewhat different order 

(see Table 6). The top five goals according to the white, higher SES students include: 

having strong friendships, having a good marriage and family life, finding steady work, 

giving children better opportunities, and being successful at work; over 89% of white, 

privileged youth consider these goals "quite or extremely important." Yet, less than 1/4 

of the students ranked working to correct inequalities, being a leader in the community, 

having lots of money, and making a contribution to society as "extremely important." 

This list is the same as the overall sample, representative of all American high school 

students, with the addition of the goal of having lots of money. This may be because the 



79 



80 
higher SES students take for granted their positions of privilege. When looking at the 
other extreme, the five goals most frequently rated "not important" include working to 
correct inequality, being a leader in my community, having new experiences, having lots 
of money, and making a contribution to society. Again, these are the same five goals 
that the overall MTF sample rated "not important." Thus, it is clear that the matching 
subgroup of white, higher SES students does not differ notably from all American high 
school students in terms of how important they consider these future goals. They rate 
certain goals, specifically those that relate to career/financial issues and connecting with 
others as very important in their lives; while they tend to consider philanthropic goals as 
less important, or not important at all. A summary of these data appears in Table 6. 
Gender and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals 

When controlling for Race and SES, the gender differences within five of the 
twelve goals became insignificant (see Table 7). Those goals included: being a success 
in my line of work, being able to find steady work, giving my children better 
opportunities, discovering new ways to experience things, and being a leader in my 
community. Contrasting the entire MTF with the matching MTF, four notable differences 
became apparent. Overall, being a success was rated as less important by both the girls 
and the guys in the matching sub-sample MTF which is restricted to white, affluent, 
college-bound students. This pattern is reversed for one other goal; the privileged 
students were less likely to indicate that having lots of money was extremely important. 
Clearly these data show that gender matters in terms of young peoples' future goals. 
Furthermore, how gender matters varies by socioeconomic status, in that the 
differences between the girls and guys were more apparent among those youth who 
were less privileged. 



81 
Focusing on the responses of the matching MTF sub-samples, there are four 
goals in which a significant difference between the ratings of the girls and guys 
materialize. One quarter of the guys compared to 9.1% of the girls rated having lots of 
money as extremely important. Forty-two percent of the guys said having plenty of time 
for recreation and hobbies was extremely important, versus 28.6% of the girls. Almost 
three times as many guys than girls reported making a contribution to society was not 
important, though this is still a small portion of the overall sample (8.2%, 2.9%). A 
summary of these data appears in Table 7. 
Grades and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals 

Although MTF examines grade point average (GPA) along the complete 4.0 
scale, I restrict my analyses to A, B+, and C, as conceptually this seems to be the most 
appropriate, as only 12.7% of the MTF sample reported having GPAs below C, thus they 
were excluded from this analysis. Although it may be more traditional to examine A, B, 
and C, I selected to use the B+ category in order to directly compare the MTF sample to 
the youth I interviewed (who reported their mean GPA to be a B+). When controlling for 
Race and SES, the GPA differences within three of the twelve goals lost its significance. 
Those goals included: being a success in my line of work, being able to find steady 
work, and discovering new ways to experience things. Contrasting the entire MTF with 
the matching MTF, all of the ranks were similar except for the goal of having plenty of 
time for recreation and hobbies; this goal was fourth of on the list of importance in the 
entire MTF and it went down in rank to seventh for the matching MTF. A summary of 
these data appears in Table 8. 

Overall, students with higher grades were more concerned with philanthropic 
goals than were students with lower grades. Interestingly, the students with lower 



82 
grades gave more importance to having lots of money than did the students with higher 
grades. This finding is notable because doing well in school is positively associated with 
income, so it seems that the students who are earning the lower grades might have 
unrealistic expectations for their future earnings. Also, students with lower grades were 
less concerned with philanthropic goals than were students with higher grades. This 
might indicate that they were less motivated overall to engage in school, work, or 
helping others. Students with lower grades (16.7%) were four times more likely than 
those with higher grades (4.2%) to indicate that making a contribution to society was not 
important. Finally, students with an A grade point averages (10.9%) were more than five 
times as likely to say that working to correct social and economic inequalities was 
extremely important than those with C grade point averages (2.8%). 
High School Program and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals 

Students were also asked in the MTF study to indicate which high school 
program best describes their course of study: college prep, general, 
vocational/technical, or other. Consistent with GPA results above, the students in vo- 
tech programs were more concerned with financial success and less concerned with 
helping others than were students in college prep or general education tracks (see 
Table 9). Again, this finding is notable because college bound students are likely to earn 
thousands more each year than youth who do not attend college, thus the expectations 
of the vo-tech students seems somewhat unrealistic, as Adults age 1 8 and over with a 
bachelor's degree earned an average of $50,623 a year in 2001 , while those with a high 
school diploma earned $26,795 and those without a high school diploma averaged 
$18,793 (U.S. Census Bureau 2002). 

Focusing on the responses of the matching MTF group, there are five goals with 
a significant difference between students in different high school programs. Students 



83 
enrolled in vocational/technical programs (35.6%) were twice as likely to rate having lots 
of money as extremely important than those enrolled in college prep programs (15.0%). 
At the other end of the spectrum, those students enrolled in college prep programs 
(8.2%) were four times more likely to rate this goal as not important. The vast majority of 
college prep students (84.8%) said that having a good marriage and family life was 
extremely important compared to 68.9% of vocational/technical students. Students 
enrolled in college prep programs were more than twice as likely to emphasize the 
importance of philanthropic goals than were students in other educational tracks. A 
summary of these data appears in Table 9. 
Expectations to Graduate from College and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals 

The MTF study queried students about their intentions to graduate from college; 
responses were categorized as: "definitely will," "probably will," "probably won't," and 
"definitely won't." Fully 70.5% of students said they definitely intended to graduate from 
college (see Table 10). When controlling for Race and SES, three of the twelve goals 
became insignificant. These goals included: making strong friendships, having plenty of 
time for recreation and hobbies, and discovering new ways to experience things. Similar 
to the findings for GPA, when contrasting the entire MTF with the matching MTF, all of 
the ranks remained identical. 

Again, consistent with the findings in the prior two sections, the students who 
intended to attain college degrees were less concerned with financial success and more 
concerned with self-realization and philanthropic goals. Focusing on the responses of 
the matching MTF group, there were significant differences between students who 
indicated they will definitely graduate from college with those who definitely will not on 
six goals: having lots of money, having a good marriage and family life, finding purpose 



84 
in life, making a contribution to society, being a leader in their community, and working 
to correct social and economic inequalities. For example, seven percent of students who 
definitely plan to graduate from college said having lots of money was not important, 
compared to just 1 .8% of students who said they definitely will not graduate from 
college; more than twice as many students who definitely will graduate from college 
(29.5%) said making a contribution to society was extremely important, compared to 
students who definitely won't graduate from college (13.0%). A summary of these data 
appears in Table 10. 

Goal Ratings of Monitoring the Future Sub-sample Compared with Sonlight 
The teenagers who were interviewed for this study differ significantly from the 
representative sample attained by MTF. Specifically, the Sonlight sample consists of all 
of the youth who went on tour to Colorado-70 high school students, aged 14-18 
(median age 16). The gender distribution was 68% girls and 32% guys. The distribution 
across grades was roughly equal with 19% ninth graders, 27% sophomores, 24% 
juniors, and 30% seniors. The vast majority of the youth identified themselves as 
"white"; racial and ethnic minorities are considerably under-represented with less than 
five percent of the youth identifying themselves as "African-American," "Asian- 
American," "Native-American," "Latino," or "other." The mean grade point average 
(GPA) of the youths surveyed was 3.49 (with a standard deviation of .363). Most of the 
students were from upper-middle class families. No data were gathered specifically 
about income, but almost all of the youth who are over 1 6 years old had their own car 
and their parents were professionals. All. reported that they expected to graduate from 
college. Therefore, in terms of their socioeconomic status, racial-ethnic identity, and 
education, these youth differ from the average American youth, who, based on 1998 



85 
statistics from the U.S. Census, live in families with a median income of $38,885. Of 
these average American youth, 63.8% identify themselves as "white," 83% graduate 
from high school, and only 24% graduate from college. Due to technical difficulties (data 
lost in recording), these data are only available for 57 of the 70 youth interviewed. The 
adjusted number of girls is 42 (72%) and guys is 16 (28%). Again, it is important to keep 
in mind that this is not a probability sample and is in no way intended to be 
representative of the experiences of all American teenagers. 



•Gender: 46 Girls & 22 Guys 

•Grade in School: 13 Ninth graders, 19 Sophomores, 17 Juniors, and 21 Seniors 

•Median Age: 16 (range = 14-18) 

•Grade Point Average = 3.493 (s.d. = .363) 

•Race: all identified as white 

•SES: Majority from upper-middle class families 



Figure 6-Demographics of the Sonlight Members 

During the interviews I asked the 70 youths to rate the importance of four goals. 
Since the focus of the interviews was qualitative, I did not query the participants on all 
12 of the future goals. Instead, I selected the three most relevant: being a success, 
having lots of money, and making a contribution to society. Being a success is 
commonly thought of as the epitome of future goals in our culture, it is the highest 
achievement. The Focuses in Sonlight often asked the youth to think critically about the 
material values that are often promoted and perpetuated in American society, and to 
consider the importance of more philanthropically oriented goals such as helping and 
connecting with others. Thus, for the purposes of the interviews, I asked the youth to 
rate the importance of only these three goals. (Another reason for doing so was that the 
focus of the interviews was to gain an understanding of how the youth constructed the 
notion of success. I feared that if I first asked them to rate the importance of a series of 
twelve goals before asking how they themselves defined the concept, they might be 



86 
likely to define the concept using the same goals that I had just mentioned. I did not 
want to restrict the possibilities of their responses by offering them a list prior). 

They were asked to use a rating scale identical to the one from MTF, ranging 
between "extremely important," "quite important," "somewhat important," and "not 
important." Note that the first question is truncated from the version in MTF which says, 
"being a success in my line of work." The meanings of these two question differ 
somewhat, as does their interpretation. The question from MTF is more specifically 
career oriented than the open-ended version I asked. However, my purpose for doing so 
was to open up the topic of "being a success" and not limit or specifically associate 
"success" with work/career issues. Therefore, a direct comparison cannot be made 
when looking at interview participants' ratings of the goal "being a success," and those 

in MTF. 

Eighty-three percent of the youth interviewed indicated that being a success was 
"quite or extremely important," loosely compared with 88% of the MTF sub-sample who 
responded that being a success in my line of work is "quite or extremely important" (see 
Table 1 1 ). These statistics seem to suggest that being successful is both very important 
to the youth I interviewed, and consistent with many white, upper-middle class American 
youth, demonstrated in the sub-sample of MTF. However, a stark difference is seen 
when looking at how important the interviewed students rated the other two goals: 
having lots of money and making a contribution to society. Only 5% of the youth I 
interviewed said having lots of money was "extremely important," compared with 1 8% of 
the sub-sample from MTF. When I added those who rated having lots of money as quite 
important, the percentage increased to just under one-quarter, compared with over half 
of the sub-sample of MTF. Fully 22% of the students I interviewed said that having lots 
of money was "not important," versus just 7.5% of the matching MTF sample. We can 



87 
see from these telling statistics that a substantial variation exists between the youth I 
interviewed and other teenagers with similar demographics-as the teenagers with whom 
I worked did not place the same value on having lots of money as do many young 
Americans. Additionally, the youth placed much more emphasis on the importance of 
helping others and making a difference in the world than do most high school students. 
Almost half (48%) of the youth I interviewed said making a contribution to society was 
"extremely important" --coupled with "quite important," the percentage rose to fully 86%. 
In comparison, just under one-quarter of the matching MTF sample rated making a 
contribution "extremely important" and when added to "quite important" the statistic rose 
to just over two-thirds. Moreover, not a single participant in the interviews I conducted 
reported that making a contribution to society was not an important future goal in their 
life. A summary of these data appears in Table 1 1 . 

Some of these differences may be attributed to gender, as there were 
substantially more girls interviewed than guys. There is a body of existing literature 
supporting the notion that girls and women tend to value social and caring roles more so 
than do boys and men (Gilligan 1992, Danzinger 1983, Marlino & Wilson 2002). To 
examine these issues a bit more closely, I separated out the responses of the youth I 
interviewed by gender. Contrary to findings in existing literature and popular notions, a 
larger percentage of girls (45%) than guys (31%) said that being a success is "extremely 
important." However, when combining this number with those who said that it was "quite 
important" the percentages are very similar: 81% of girls and 88% of guys. Only two 
girls and none of the guys said that it was not important that they be a success. When 
looking at the future goal of having lots of money, the responses of the youth 
interviewed was remarkably different from the matching MTF sub-sample. Yet, a 
comparison between girls and guys shows that there is not much difference. About half 



88 
of both girls and guys said that having lots of money was somewhat important, and 
almost exactly one quarter of girls and guys rated this goal to be "quite or extremely 

important." 

The greatest difference between the girls and guys interviewed appears in their 
ratings of the importance of making a contribution to society. While none of the girls or 
guys rated making a contribution to society as "not important," a much larger percentage 
of girls consider it important than do guys, especially when looking at those who 
consider it "extremely important." Sixty percent of girls rated making a contribution to 
society "extremely important," while only 19% of guys did so. Almost all of the girls 
(93%) and only 69% of the guys rated this goal "quite or extremely important." Even 
though the girls seemed to value this goal more so than guys did, the emphasis here is 
that the vast majority of both the girls and guys I interviewed said that it was very 
important to them that they make a difference in the world, compared with two-thirds of 
the matching MTF sample, and even less than the sample representative of all 
American teenagers. Fewer of the young people I interviewed said that it was important 
to make lots of money or be a success than the national sample of high school students 
with "matching" demographics. A summary of these data appears in Tables 12-14. 
Summary of Goal Rating Comparisons Between MTF and Sonlight Members 

At the end of the 1 990s, the high importance ratings for being a success and 
having lots of money seemed almost understandable, given the context of 
unprecedented economic prosperity, technological innovation, and political peace. 
Pursuing a career and having a steady job was important, if not an economic necessity 
for both girls and guys. Additionally, the late nineties brought about a time of increased 
academic pressure on young people to have higher GPAs and standardized test scores. 



89 
There has been a proliferation in the availability of and number of students taking 
Advanced Placement (AP) courses, increased competition for entrance into college, and 
dramatic increases in first year college students admitted with a full semester worth of 
credits. In the 1990s, attending college became a normative experience, with fully 70% 
of youth aged 18-22 enrolled as students. 

Personally, I grew up during this era of a "faster" paced culture. It was almost as 
if it did not matter how much we accomplished or how quickly we did it-we were still 
"behind" or "late." By the time I was in college, the status quo of a steadily rising bar for 
measuring one's achievements seemed as if it had always been. I could not recall a time 
when American youth did not place such importance on achieving status and financial 
success. Attending college has become a more normative experience for young people 
today, unlike previous decades when attending college was an opportunity afforded by 
those who were privileged. I had learned that the 1 960s and 70s were a time of social 
and political revolution-that young people in high schools and colleges across the U.S. 
joined together, committed to change and to working for civil rights, justice, and peace. 
Yet, as I was growing up, the 60s and 70s were a thing of the past, told only in stories or 
in history books, I had heard about student protests, sit-ins, and the like, but could not 
imagine that there was actually a time when a significant segment of college students 
were dedicated to working to change the world as they knew it. 

Trends: Change in the Importance of Future Goals Since the 1960s 

One of the benefits of using Monitoring the Future instead of other data sets is 
that it provides longitudinal data, appropriate for examining trends. Unfortunately, the 
few studies that do focus on trends analyze patterns regarding delinquent behaviors 
such as drug usage. The small body of literature on trends in the future goals and 



90 
aspirations of teenagers indicates that in the past three decades, there has been a 
sizable increase in the percentage of students who say that having lots of money and 
being a success in their work are very or extremely important, while the percentage of 
students indicating that making a contribution to society or finding purpose and meaning 
in their lives has dropped. An examination of the data (Crimmins, Easterlin, & Saito 
1 991 , Easterlin & Crimmins 1 988, 1 991 , Hoge, Luna, & Miller 1 991 ) shows that these 
are not just smooth curves of increases and decreases. Annual plots of the results show 
that these trends have actually fluctuated dramatically. There has been a significant 
change in how important young people rate these goals since the mid-1960s. Easterlin 
and Crimmins (1991) looked at personal aspirations and life goals of students from 
three decades of MTF data and found that since 1966, materialism and career goals 
have been on the rise. Making money has become much more important as a life goal, 
and this emphasis on finances has affected attitudes towards jobs, work, and leisure 

time. 

In the mid-1 960s, students were more likely to consider making a contribution to 
society important rather than having lots of money. By the mid-1970s, the difference 
between their ratings of the two goals had lessened. In 1976, 46% of American high 
school students said it was quite or extremely important to have lots of money and over 
half said it was important to make a contribution to society. By 1 986, almost two-thirds 
said it was important to have lots of money and the percentage of youth reporting that it 
was extremely important to make a contribution to society dropped to just over 20% 
where it currently remains. In the late 1970s, the numbers actually "flipped," meaning 
that more young people considered it important to pursue financial and career oriented 
goals and less indicated it was important to work to make a difference in the world. By 
the mid-1980s, the gap between the goals had increased, reversing the trend of the 



91 
1960s and 70s when philanthropic goals were rated to be of greater importance than 
economic and career aspirations. Throughout the three decades, having a good 
marriage and family life and finding purpose and meaning in life were continuously rated 
as more important than either financial or social welfare goals. However, by the late 
1980s those ratings began to drop as the importance of financial goals continued to rise. 
Easterlin and Crimmins (1991) have hypothesized about possible explanations for this 
"flip." They offer reasons including major social and political events (Vietnam War, 
Watergate, OPEC oil crisis), adverse economic changes breeding financial insecurity 
(inflation in the 1970s and Reagan's trickle-down economic policies, a decrease in the 
relative value of wages so that two incomes produce the same standard of living as did 
one full-time worker in the 1950s and 60s), and changes in family structures (dramatic 
growth in women's labor force participation rates, increase in the number of single- 
parent households, decline in the number of children per family). 

However, these justifications do not entirely explain the situation. Among the 
young people with whom I grew up and the teenagers in Sonlight with whom I worked, it 
seems that the national data do not reflect their priorities and values. While many of the 
youth in Sonlight do expect to have successful careers and relatively privileged 
lifestyles, they also tend to emphasize the importance of making a difference in society. 
MTF data indicate that as the importance rating of being well-off financially increases, 
the importance of helping others decreases. Yet my interviews indicate that there 
remains a vocal and committed group of teenagers who consider it important to have 
successful careers while contributing to the "greater good." Longitudinal trend data 
based on large scale probability surveys such as MTF mask differences found in 
smaller, select groups which may provide exceptions to the statistical norm. 



92 
At first I theorized that the differences between the MTF data and the accounts 
of the teenagers with whom I worked were solely due to demographic differences-the 
young people in Sonlight were all white, privileged, engaged students, and MTF reports 
the responses of black and white students, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, with 
varying future plans. Even when I created a sub-sample of the MTF data to match the 
traits of the teenagers who participated in my research, the participants were still much 
more likely than the "average" American high school student to underscore the 
importance of making a contribution to society. I theorized that perhaps it was their 
common experience in Sonlight, participating in the "values education curriculum" 
constructed in this "small world," that accounted for the differences. 

Large scale surveys such as MTF do not allow for open-ended questions and 
responses. They provide interesting statistics about the proportion of students rating 
certain future goals as "important" in their lives, yet do not provide any information as to 
how they define terms such as "being a success," what these goals mean to teenagers, 
and how they personally envision themselves fulfilling their plans and aspirations. For 
example, two students might have very different understandings of what a given item on 
the standardized instrument is asking, and thus would respond according to their 
personal interpretation. Yet, large scale surveys typically do not give any information 
about how the respondents might have understood the question and thus 
conceptualized their response. Additionally, MTF, like other secondary data sets, 
provides no information about the context in which the surveys were given. 

Contextualized and rich understandings can often be gleaned through qualitative 
research techniques such as participant observation and interviews, as a compliment to 
secondary data analyses of large scale surveys. My extensive involvement interacting 
with teenagers while working as an intern for a local youth organization (Sonlight) 



93 
provided me with the opportunity to conduct this research. As previously mentioned, I 
was a member of Sonlight during middle and high school (from 1988-1994) and was 
asked to continue working with the program upon my graduation from high school, 
during my undergraduate and master's studies at UF. Though I would have liked to 
include a more diverse group of participants in the study, this purposeful sample 
provided engaging and notable results about the future goals of teenagers in America 
today. The following chapter will detail my experiences interviewing and observing this 
local group of teenagers as they talked about their priorities and future goals. 



94 



Table 6- Importance Rating of Future Goals: Entire compared to sub-sample MTF 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: matching, entire) 


Rating 


Matching MTF 
(%) n = 2337 


Overall MTF 
(%)n = 918 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my line of 
work (5, 5) 


q + e 


88.8 


89.3 


not 


1.2 


2.0 


Having lots of money (10, 8) 


q + e 


54.1 


62.7 


not 


7.5 


5.8 


Being able to find steady work 
(3,1) 


q + e 


93.0 


94.1 


not 


1.7 


1.5 


Giving my children better 
opportunities than I've had (4, 3) 


q + e 


89.3 


92.0 


not 


3.0 


2.1 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage and 
family life (2, 4) 


q + e 


93.7 


91.7 


not 


2.3 


2.8 


Making strong friendships (1 , 2) 


q + e 


96.9 


92.5 


not 


0.7 


1.1 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for 
recreation and hobbies (7, 7) 


q + e 


79.9 


75.9 


not 


1.2 


1.8 


Discovering new ways to (9, 1 0) 
experience things 


q + e 


60.4 


60.8 


not 


8.0 


6.5 


Finding purpose in my life (6, 6) 


q + e 


85.4 


86.0 


not 


4.4 


3.6 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to society 
(8,9) 


q + e 


67.4 


62.5 


not 


5.8 


5.9 


Being a leader in my community 
(11,11) 


q + e 


42.3 


41.4 


not 


19.0 


21.1 


Working to correct social and 
economic inequalities (12, 12) 


q + e 


30.2 


33.6 


not 


23.3 


21.4 



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96 



Table 8-GPA & Importance Ratings of Future Goals: Entire compared to sub-sample 
MTF 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: B+,(Matching) 


n/p 


Rating 


A= 
20.9% 


B+= 
20.6% 


C= 

3.9%, 
(GPA<C: 
12.7%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my line of 
work (5, 5) 


n=917 
LR=.888 a 


q + e 


92.2 


88.4 


86.1 


not 


0.5 


1.1 





Having lots of money (10, 10) 


n=917 
LR=.023 a 


q + e 


50.7 


51.9 


58.4 


not 


11.0 


5.3 


8.3 


Being able to find steady work 
(3,3) 


n=917 
LR=.487 a 


q + e 


72.3 


91.1 


91.7 


not 


2.1 


1.6 





Giving my children better 
opportunities than I've had (4, 5) 


n=912 
LR=.045 a 


q + e 


88.5 


88.4 


82.8 


not 


3.2 


3.2 


11.4 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage and 
family life (2, 2) 


n=916 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


95.8 


92.6 


88.9 


not 


1.0 


5.3 


5.6 


Making strong friendships (1,1) 


n=920 
LR=.063 a 


q + e 


98.5 


98.4 


91.6 


not 





1.6 


2.8 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for 
recreation and hobbies (4, 7) 


n=920 
LR=.042 a 


q + e 


75.2 


85.1 


75.0 


not 


1.0 


1.1 





Discovering new ways to 
experience things (9, 9) 


n=920 
LR=.509 a 


q + e 


57.6 


60.3 


69.4 


not 


6.2 


10.1 


8.3 


Finding purpose in my life (7, 6) 


n=918 
LR=.065 a 


q + e 


88.1 


81.9 


86.1 


not 


3.1 


7.4 


8.3 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to society 
(8,8) 


n=916 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


78.7 


65.4 


44.4 


not 


4.2 


3.7 


16.7 


Being a leader in my community 
(11,11) 


n=920 
LR=.000 a 


q + e 


53.4 


45.5 


16.7 


not 


36.8 


17.5 


41.7 


Working to correct social and 
economic inequalities (12, 12) 


n=920 
LR=.012 a 


q + e 


33.7 


29.6 


22.2 


not 


15.5 


24.9 


36.1 


3 = some cells with less than minimum ex 


pected vali 


je 









Table 9--High School Program & Importance Ratings of Future Goals: 
to sub-sample MTF 



97 
Entire compared 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: college, prep, 
matching) 


n/p 


Rating 


College 

Prep 

(68%) 


General 
(23%) 


Votech 
(5%) 


Other 
(4%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my 
line of work (5, 5) 


n=927 
LR=.223 a 


q + e 


89.1 


89.4 


84.4 


90.9 


not 


0.8 


1.8 


2.2 


3.0 


Having lots of money 
(10,10) 


n=927 
LR=.021 a 


q + e 


52.8 


55.5 


55.6 


58.1 


not 


8.2 


7.3 


2.2 


6.5 


Being able to find 
steady work (3, 3) 


n=927 
LR=.232 a 


q +e 


92.6 


94.4 


95.6 


97.0 


not 


1.7 


0.9 


4.4 





Giving my children 
better opportunities than 
I've had (4, 4) 


n=921 
LR=.569 a 


q + e 


89.5 


90.8 


91.1 


81.8 


not 


2.7 


3.2 


4.4 


3.0 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage 
and family life (2, 2) 


n=926 
LR=.010 a 


q + e 


95.3 


91.3 


86.7 


90.9 


not 


1.6 


3.2 


4.4 


6.1 


Making strong 
friendships (1,1) 


n=930 
LR=.246 a 


q + e 


97.4 


96.8 


93.3 


90.6 


not 


6.3 


0.1 


4.4 


3.0 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for 
recreation and hobbies 
(7,7) 


n=930 
LR=.480 a 


q + e 


80.5 


79.9 


77.8 


72.7 


not 


1.3 


0.5 


4.4 





Discovering new ways 
to experience things (9, 
9) 


n=930 
LR=.033 a 


q + e 


58.7 


67.2 


51.2 


57.6 


not 


7.7 


6.8 


6.7 


24.2 


Finding purpose in my 
life (6, 6) 


n=928 
LR=.669 a 


q + e 


85.3 


87.9 


81.4 


87.9 


not 


3.8 


5.0 


11.6 


3.0 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to 
society (8, 8) 


n=926 
LR=.002 a 


q + e 


69.9 


64.3 


57.8 


54.5 


not 


3.6 


9.3 


11.1 


12.1 


Being a leader in my 
community (11, 11) 


n=930 
LR=.002 a 


q + e 


46.0 


35.2 


33.4 


36.4 


not 


15.3 


26.9 


33.3 


18.2 


Working to correct 
social and economic 
inequalities (12, 12) 


n=930 
LR=.001 a 


q + e 


27.7 


34.2 


26.7 


27.3 


not 


20.4 


26.9 


42.2 


27.3 


a = some cells (6 or less) with less than minimum expected value 



98 



Table 10- Expectations to Graduate from College & Importance Ratings of Future 
Goals: Entire compared to sub-sample MTF 



Theme & Goal 

(Ranks: def will, 
matching) 


n/p 


Rating 


Def. Will 
(70.5%) 


Prob. 

Will 

(1"8%) 


Prob. 

Won't 

(5.5%) 


Def. 

Won't 

(6%) 


Career & financial 

Being a success in my 
line of work (5, 5) 


n=905 
LR=.002 a 


q + e 


91.5 


81.5 


90.0 


81.1 


not 


0.6 


3.1 


2.0 


1.8 


Having lots of money 
(10, 10) 


n=905 
LR=.008 a 


q + e 


56.6 


43.5 


44.9 


60.0 


not 


7.1 


9.2 


14.3 


1.8 


Being able to find steady 
work (3, 3) 


n=905 
LR=.009 a 


q + e 


94.5 


88.9 


95.9 


89.1 


not 


1.6 


1.2 


2.0 


3.6 


Giving my children better 
opportunities than I've 
had (4, 4) 


n=900 
LR.086 3 


q + e 


91.7 


83.3 


87.8 


85.5 


not 


2.4 


4.9 





3.6 


Relationships 

Having a good marriage 
and family life (2, 2) 


n=904 
LR=.000 


q + e 


95.7 


88.3 


88.0 


96.2 


not 


1.4 


4.3 





5.6 


Making strong 
friendships (1,1) 


n=908 
LR=.110 


q + e 


97.7 


95.7 


98.0 


90.9 


not 


0.2 


1.2 





3.6 


Self realization 

Having plenty of time for 
recreation and hobbies 
(7,7) 


n=908 
LR=.312 a 


q + e 


82.5 


74.2 


74.0 


78.2 


not 


1.1 


1.2 


2.0 


1.8 


Discovering new ways to 
experience things (9, 9) 


n=908 
LR=.111 a 


q + e 


60.3 


58.2 


68.0 


67.3 


not 


7.7 


12.9 


4 


1.8 


Finding purpose in my 
life (6, 6) 


n=907 
LR=.003 a 


q + e 


85.8 


86.4 


90.0 


72.8 


not 


3.8 


5.6 





14.5 


Philanthropy 

Making a contribution to 
society (8, 8) 


n=904 
LR.000 a 


q + e 


71.7 


57.1 


56.0 


59.3 


not 


5.6 


3.3 


10.0 


14.8 


Being a leader in my 
community (11, 11) 


n=908 
LR=.000 


q + e 


48.3 


33.1 


22.0 


25.4 


not 


14.1 


27.6 


32.0 


32.7 


Working to correct social 
and economic 
inequalities (12, 12) 


n=908 
LR=.011 a 


q + e 


32.3 


29.5 


18.0 


29.1 


not 


22.8 


26.4 


30.0 


41.8 


a = some cells (5 or less) with less than minimum expected value 



99 



Table 11- Sonlight Members' Importance Rating of Future Goals 



Goals/Ranks (%/n) 


extremely 


quite 


q + e 


somewhat 


not 


Graduate from college 


74.1 
(43) 


20.7 
(12) 


94.8 
(55) 


5.2 
(3) 





Being a success in my 
line of work 


41.4 
(24) 


41.4 
(24) 


82.8 
(48) 


13.8 
(8) 


3.4 

(2) 


Making a contribution to 
society 


48.3 
(28) 


37.9 
(22) 


86.2 
(50) 


13.8 
(8) 





Having lots of money 


5.2 

(3) 


19.0 
(11) 


24.2 
(14) 


53.4 
(31) 


22.4 
(13) 



Table 12- Sonlight Members' Importance Rating of Future Goals by Gender 





Girls n = 42 (72.4%) 


Guys n = 16 (27.6%) 


Goals/Ranks 


extremely 


quite 


q + e 


somewhat 


not 


extremely 


quite 


q + e 


somewhat 


not 


Graduate 
from college 


76.2 
(32) 


16.7 
(7) 


92.9 
(39) 


7.1 

(3) 





68.8 
(11) 


31.3 
(5) 


38.1 
(16) 









3eing a 
success in 
my line of 
work 


45.2 
(19) 


35.7 
(15) 


80.9 
(34) 


14.3 
(6) 


9.5 
(2) 


31.3 
(5) 


56.3 
(9) 


87.6 
(14) 


12.5 
(2) 


Making a 
contribution 
to society 


59.5 
(25) 


33.3 
(14) 


92.8 
(39) 


7.1 
(3) 





18.8 
(3) 


50 
(8) 


68.8 

(11) 


31.3 
(5) 





Having lots 
of money 


7.1 
(3) 


16.7 

(7) 


23.8 
(10) 


52.4 
(22) 


23.8 
(10) 





25 
(4) 


25 
(4) 


56.3 
(9) 


18.fi 

(3) 



100 



Table 13- Importance Ratings of Future Goals by Gender: Comparisons of Overall and 
Sub-sample MTF with Sonlight Members 



Goals 


Rating 


Sonlight 


Sub-sarr 


pie MTF 


Overall MTF 






Girls 
(n = 42) 


Guys 
(n = 16) 


Girls 
(n*418) 


Guys 
(n * 500) 


Girls 
(n* 1130) 


Guys 
(n* 1051) 


Being a 
success (in 
my line of 
work) 


q + e 


80.9 


87.6 


88.7 


88.8 


91.5 


88.9 


e 


45.2 


31.3 


54.3 


60.2 


64.7 


62.5 


not 


9.5 





7.0 


1.6 


6.0 


2.5 


Making a 
contribution 
to society 


q + e 


92.8 


68.8 


68.6 


66.4 


65.4 


62.0 


e 


59.5 


18.8 


24.7 


23.4 


22.3 


22.3 


not 








2.9 


8.2 


2.9 


8.2 


Having lots 
of money 


q + e 


23.8 


25.0 


48.3 


58.8 


58.5 


67.7 


e 


7.1 





9.1 


25.4 


18.4 


33.3 


not 


23.8 


18.8 


7.7 


7.4 


6.8 


5.2 



Table 14- Importance Ratings of Future Goals: Comparisons of Overall and Sub- 
sample MTF with Sonlight Members 







Sonlight 
Members 
(n = 58) 


Sub-sample 
MTF 
(n * 925) 


Overall MTF 
(n ■ 2180) 


Being a success (in my line 
of work) 


rank 


2 


5 


5 


q + e 


82.8 


88.8 


89.3 


e 


41.4 


57.5 


62.8 


not 


3.4 


1.2 


2.0 


Making a contribution to 
society 


rank 


1 


8 


9 


q + e 


86.2 


67.4 


62.5 


e 


48.3 


24.0 


21.7 


not 





5.8 


5.9 


Having lots of money 


rank 


3 


10 


8 


q + e 


24.2 


54.1 


62.7 


e 


5.2 


18.0 


26.5 


not 


22.4 


7.5 


5.8 


Missing data on 12 of the 70 


Sonlight Member! 


3 for these go 


al ratings. 





CHAPTER 6 
HOW DO TEENAGERS DEFINE "SUCCESS"? 

Given the backdrop of the current trends in future goals, the results from my 
work with over 120 teenagers, including 70 interviews I conducted, are even more 
telling. Examining the quantitative evaluation of various goals alone indicates that the 
students I interviewed differ greatly from the majority of American teenagers, even those 
who are also white and relatively privileged. This raises a question as to why the 70 
teenagers interviewed were less concerned with material and financial wealth and more 
concerned with making a difference in the world than the average teenager. Could it 
possibly be that survey data, such as MTF, hides nuanced meanings and rich detail of 
how these youth define various future goals that would be better ascertained through 
qualitative interviews? Perhaps the Sonlight members' definitions of success and future 
goals differed from a representative sample of American teenagers due to their 
experiences in the small world of the youth program. 

In this chapter I begin by outlining the major themes that emerged from the in- 
depth interviews, specifically focusing on what the teenagers talk about regarding their 
future goals and what "being a success" means to them. Next I mention some of the 
responses that were less commonly offered, including a discussion of unexpected 
findings in relation to gender. These provide interesting insights into teenagers' 
definitions of success and their goals for the future. 

In an effort to gain a better understanding of what the youth meant by achieving 
their future goals, and what they meant by "being a success," I conducted qualitative 



101 



102 
interviews with those who were active participants in the "small world" of Sonlight. As 
previously mentioned, the number of high school students involved in Sonlight 
fluctuated. At the beginning of the school year the afternoon rehearsals and meetings 
would be literally overflowing with teenagers-filling up the rows of chairs, sitting on the 
floor, packed in the corners, on each others' laps, standing room only. By early spring 
the numbers usually dropped to around 140. As spring progressed and tour 
approached, attendance tapered off to around 125 where it remained. Only 70-90 
members were permitted to tour each summer, and decisions were based on 
evaluations of participation. Musical talent was a consideration, but it weighed less than 
seniority, leadership, and involvement. Thus, the teenagers who would go on tour 
tended to be more involved than other program participants. The interview sample 
consisted of the entire population (n = 70) of program members who went on tour in 
June 1999. Qualitative results from these interviews as well as my observations from 
working with the teenagers involved in the program will be detailed below. 

It is important to keep in mind, as previously mentioned, that the youth I 
interviewed do not fit the statistical "norm" and their responses are not representative of 
the entire population of American high school students. They differ from "average" 
teenagers in that they are all white, come from higher SES families (indicated by their 
father's educational level), and all live in the university town of Gainesville. Their grades 
in school are higher than average (mean GPA = 3.5) and everyone I interviewed 
reported that they both aspire and expect to earn a college degree. This compares with 
about 70% of college-aged Americans who are enrolled in colleges and universities 
(Bureau of Labor Statistics 2001), and just over a quarter of the total population who 
receive their diplomas (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000). Furthermore, I estimated that 
about 1 7 (25%) had divorced parents and only about 1 5% lived in single-parent 



103 
households (two due to the death of their fathers). At least 26 (37%) of the youth had 
parents who were professors or administrators at the University, including a number of 
department chairs, vice presidents, and chiefs of medicine. The vast majority of their 
parents held professional careers, with only a few working blue-collar or lower SES jobs. 
A small minority of the mothers did not work for pay (less than five total); most of the 
teenagers' mothers had careers of their own, ranging from physicians to accountants to 
teachers. These demographic data are provided to underscore the fact that though they 
are more privileged in terms of their socioeconomic status and educational expectations 
than "average" teenagers, the youth I interviewed tended to be similar to the 90% of 
American youth who make it through adolescence without being labeled as "juvenile 
delinquents" or "deviants," and are relatively well-adjusted. Furthermore, this study 
responds to Furstenberg's call for research on the lives of privileged, college-bound 
teenagers (2000). 

After completing the informed consent process with each interview participant, I 
briefly asked them to rate the importance of four future goals using the same wording 
and scale as MTF. These four goals included: graduating from college, being a success, 
making a contribution to society, and having lots of money. It is important to note that I 
left out the phrase "in my line of work" from the second goal ("being a success"). I did so 
in hopes of not restricting the notion of "success" to work and career. The focus of the 
interview process was to glean an understanding of how they defined success, what 
concepts and words they used to explain and describe what "being a success" means, 
and how they personally aspired to achieve their own future goals. Instead of querying 
about how important they rated fourteen separate goals on a numeric scale of 
measurement, I phrased my questions in a manner that attempted to elicit responses 
that illustrated their aspirations and how they envisioned their own futures. Thus, the 



104 
term "success," as used in the interview instrument, encompasses the entire concept of 
fulfilling and attaining their personal goals, whatever they may be. From these 
responses certain themes and patterns emerged. 

In analyzing the data, I selected quotes based on their frequency (those that 
appeared most often), salience (statements that offered rich detail, about which the 
respondent was remarkably passionate, or held deep and profound meaning), as well as 
those that were atypical (the exceptions to the patterns, those that differed from the 
others). In the sections that follow, I begin with an overview of the most frequent or 
"typical" responses, and then proceed with an examination of the emergent themes and 
patterns. 

Overview of Frequent Responses 

Definitions of "Success" 

The first qualitative, open-ended question I asked inquired about the teenagers' 
definitions of success: "what does 'be a success' mean to you?" A frequent response 
included phrases referring to "achieving one's goals" and having a sense of "happiness." 
For example, Christine, a sophomore, explained that success is "being able to do what 
you want to do and achieving the goals that you have, and being happy with what you 
do. And if you set goals for yourself and in your job, then it's accomplishing everything 
you need to and everything you want to." Similarly, Clay, a senior, said, "Be happy with 
what you're doing. Period." Overall, a total of 46 of the 70 teenagers gave definitions of 
"success" similar to Christine, saying that they wanted to achieve their goals and be 
happy with themselves. As many of the youth defined "being a success" as a sort of 
self-realization, "being happy," or "setting goals for myself then achieving them." I 
followed up with open-ended questions such as, "what to do you think of when you hear 
the word 'success,'" or "what images come to mind when you think of this word?" 



105 



Some of the youth emphasized that they way that they define "success" 
contrasts with the definitions of "success" they receive from "society" [their words], their 
teachers and parents. Caitlin, a 17 year old, responded that success means to "be 
happy; to kind of accomplish goals that you have for yourself at whatever speed is right 
for you. It doesn't matter what society says. Whatever makes you feel happy, I think, is 
a success." Though Caitlin did not specify what messages she was receiving from 
"society," her response suggests that her personal definition of "being a success" is 
different from what she perceives to be the commonly held beliefs of success. 

Next I asked two follow-up questions with the intention of further inquiring about 
the ways in which these teenagers defined success. I analyzed their responses from 
these three questions individually as well as holistically, so as to ascertain the patterns 
and themes as they emerged from the responses. After "what does 'be a success' mean 
to you?" I asked the following two questions: "In what ways do you personally hope to be 
successful?" and "Please describe someone (real or made up) who you consider to be 
an extremely successful individual." Below are some of the typical and frequently 
mentioned responses to the three questions. 
Visions of "Being Successful" 

The second free-response question was, "In what ways do you personally hope 
to be successful?" I would offer prompts including: "how do you see yourself as 'being 

'," (I would repeat the adjective they mentioned)? "what does this mean to you?," 

and "what are some of your own goals?" In answering this question the youth spoke of 
their future dreams and plans. Most often, they talked about achieving their own goals, 
again, contrasting them with the expectations that they perceived others to have of 



106 
them. Having money and wealth was addressed by many of the teenagers, and 
interestingly only six (three girls and three guys) indicated that being wealthy was a goal 
they sought. This corresponds to their responses to the quantitative goals, where just 
5% said that "having lots of money" was "extremely important." Instead, a majority of 
those who mentioned financial assets emphasized that they were not important. 

Other typical responses included speaking about the importance of "making a 
difference in the world," and "working to help others." This response was sometimes 
given in contrast to making money. For example, Kelsey said: "It's not about money or 
material things... I hope I can be successful by making a difference in the world and in 
my community." Another frequent response when talking about personal hopes for being 
successful involved work and career issues. Fully 47 out of 70 mentioned their 
professional goals, and about half of those spoke of a specific job or career. They 
tended to generalize about being accomplished in the workplace, as did Linda, who 
said, "I want to have a good job and I want to be happy with what I'm doing. Not work for 
money or whatever, just be happy." From this quote, we should conclude that students 
had not considered or decided what career path to follow, as all but ten named jobs 
when asked directly what they thought they might pursue as a career. Interestingly, 
although the students named occupations, many often mentioned more than one 
possibility or qualified their responses saying that they were not sure. Lastly, many of 
the youth specifically said that they wanted a good family life. For instance, Mike replied, 
"...hopefully getting married, having kids, a nice job, a steady job, making an average 
living. ..having a nice family..." The themes that emerged in response to this question 
parallel trend data which indicate ratings of self-realization and the importance of family 
have remained consistent over the past three decades. 



107 
Models of "Successful" People 

The third open-ended question asked teenagers to identify someone whom they 
personally considered successful. The person could either be real or made-up. The 
examples they described fell into seven categories. The most common response was 
"parents," with fully 22 of the youth mentioning either their mom, dad, or both parents. 
The second most frequent response consisted of people who were philanthropic and 
dedicated to making a difference in the world; eight youth described persons who fit into 
this category. Of these, two said Mother Theresa (one girl and one guy), two described 
a man who runs a homeless shelter in a poverty-stricken urban area of Philadelphia, 
one heralded Madeline Albright for her ambassadorial and diplomatic actions, one 
praised John Graham Pole, an arts-in-medicine physician who is known locally as the 
"real life Patch Adams," one talked about Sister Hazel (not the music group, but rather 
the charitable woman for whom the band is named) who founded a local food pantry, 
and finally one guy said that Rebecca Brown, the director of the youth program, was his 
ideal of a successful person. 

The third most common image of persons considered successful consisted of 
celebrities and wealthy individuals. Six of the youth offered examples of people with 
fame and fortune. Bill Gates, the owner of Microsoft and richest person in the world, was 
mentioned twice. Others included: Michael Jordan, the professional basketball player 
and team owner, Pat Matheny, a jazz musician, Ani DiFranco, an outspoken grassroots 
musician, and one girl described her own grandmother, emphasizing her "cultured" 
lifestyle, her wealth, and popularity as the wife of the executive of a large industrial 
company. 

The final two categories of successful people consisted of other adults with 
whom they interacted; three students mentioned a teacher at school and three students 



108 
mentioned the parents of a friend. The explanations offered for selecting parents of 
friends as "models" of success noted their accomplishments in both professional and 
personal settings, indicating that they admired them for "having it all." For example, 
Tyson, a senior, defined his friend's dad as a success due to the fact that he was "doing 
well in his job while having a happy marriage and kids... yet having time to travel and 
enjoy themselves and making efforts to be generous to those in need." 

Emergent Themes 

I attempted to be as open as possible when looking at the interview data, 
allowing categories to naturally emerge rather than constructing categories to affix to the 
responses, or assigning them preconceived labels. I created the MTF sub-sample with 
the intention of matching certain characteristics of the sample of youth who I observed 
and interviewed. I hypothesized that these demographic traits and characteristics might 
be associated with the importance ratings that young people give to future goals. Yet, 
for the purposes of the qualitative section of the study I relied on inductive reasoning, 
moving from specific observations to broader generalizations and constructing tentative 
theories. This "bottom up" approach was arguably more purposeful in my attempts to 
discover patterns in how the 70 teenagers defined "success" and spoke of the 
importance of various future goals in their lives. It is important to note that although I use 
the phrase "how they define success" the focus is not a discourse or conversation 
analysis of how their constructions of these concepts emerged during our interviews. 
Rather, in this study the focus is more on the whats, meaning the ways in which they 
define "success," what that concept actually means, and the specific future goals they 
mentioned-instead of looking at the process by which this occurs. 

Five strong themes emerged, both in terms of frequency and saliency, when 
looking holistically at the definitions of success the teenagers described: self-realization 



109 
("achieving your goals, whatever they may be," "being happy with myself"), money 
(mentioned as both important and not at all important), philanthropy ("making a 
difference in the world," "helping people"), work/career issues ("doing well in my job," 
"having a career that I am good at and that I love"), and connecting with family and 
friends ("having a good marriage," "having a nice family," "being close with my family 
and friends"). After analyzing the qualitative data I went back to the numerical results 
from the MTF data to produce the statistical tables. When looking at the 12 goals about 
which MTF asked its participants, I attempted to place them into a tentative thematic 
order so that the tables would be more accessible to the readers; MTF listed the goals in 
what appears to be a rather "random" order, jumping from the importance of careers to 
families to finances. I began rearranging the goals so that they were listed next to goals 
of similar topics. What resulted was a list of 12 goals which clearly fit into 4 themes: 
career/financial, relationships, self-realization, philanthropy. I was surprised to discover 
that the MTF goals fell into a system of categorization almost identical to what emerged 
from the interviews I conducted. Again, this parallel was not something that I planned 
nor imposed as part of the study design. 

To further bolster this point, the statistics of importance ratings from MTF (both 
the overall and matching samples) indicated that the theme of goals least likely to be 
rated as quite or extremely important were the goals dealing with philanthropy and social 
justice. The goals most likely to be rated extremely important dealt with relationships 
and families, closely followed by careers and finances. This echoes the findings of the 
existing literature on trends, which indicate that "family goals" and "personal self- 
fulfillment" goals have consistently been rated as highly important over the past three 
decades. Yet the importance of "public interest" goals has decreased dramatically while 
"private materialism" has increased to all time highs. Easterlin and Crimmins (1991) 



110 
assigned the 14 MTF goals to four categories (in order to correlate them with a study on 
college students' goals) with different titles, but conceptualizations identical to the 
themes I created for MTF as well as the patterns which emerged from my interviews. 
This leads to speculation that these conceptualizations have some degree of internal 
consistency. 

Each of the five themes that emerged from looking at the interviews, 
observations, and interactions holistically-self-realization, money, philanthropy, 
work/career issues, and connecting with family and friends-is explored below. 
Self-Realization 

Almost every teenager I spoke to mentioned "achieving their own goals" or 
"being happy" as an initial response to both of the questions about defining "success" 
and how they personally hoped to be "successful." As previously mentioned, a total of 
46 of the 70 students gave such definitions of "success," emphasizing personal 
fulfillment and satisfaction. This category of self-realization can further be divided into 
three substantive bins: being happy with yourself, pursuing own personal goals 
regardless of others, and finding a place in life. 

In the first sub-category of self-realization, we can see how Miriam and Chad 

utilized this notion of being happy with yourself: 

I think that to be a success you have to be happy with yourself, 
you're not being a success for somebody else or anybody else, 
you know. Like you have to be really happy at what you're 
doing...l think it mostly just has to do with making yourself happy 
at what you do... (Miriam, junior) 

I think it's probably like more of a personal thing. You have goals 
of your own, and if you fulfill your goals you are a success. (Chad, 
senior) 



111 

Clearly, both Miriam and Chad see success as being happy with yourself and view it as 
an individual achievement. This is evident in the language choice of "personal thing," 
which suggests that success is an accomplishment that can be personally evaluated. 

Pursuing own personal goals regardless of others is the second sub-category of 
self-realization. Andrew and Kimberly defined success in terms of self-realization, giving 
priority to their own opinions and discarding those of others: 

Some of it has to [be] your own personal goals. If you feel fulfilled 
within yourself, if you feel that you're a success, then you're a 
success. If you feel happy with yourself and feel that you have 
done the best you can then that's it. (Andrew, senior) 

I think to be a success is different for everyone. It just 
depends on what you want to do, what your goals are, like 
if you want to help people or if you want to get a lot of 
money... To be a success to me would be to be happy in 
what I do, which could be a lot of different things. 
(Kimberly, junior) 

Like Miriam and Chad in the previous quotes, both Andrew and Kimberly contrast their 

opinions of themselves with what they perceive to be the judgments of others, 

emphasizing that it is their own definitions that take precedence. This factor becomes 

especially salient when we recall that the students being interviewed are in high 

school-a time in which the judgments of others are often powerful influences. 

The final sub-category of self-actualization is finding one's place in life. Lily 
(senior) states that success is "...finding my place in life. Finding out what makes me the 
most happy, and figuring out what my dreams are and then fulfilling them." Unlike the 
previous two sub-categories of self-actualization, Lily is referring to processes of 
discovery as opposed to simply a state of happiness. 
Money 

Having money and wealth was addressed by 36 of the teenagers. Unlike the 
trends from MTF which indicate that fully 63% of all American teenagers, and over half 



112 
of those who are white and privileged consider "having lots of money" quite or extremely 
important, just under one-quarter of the youth I spoke with agreed. Only 5% of that 
group said it was "extremely important" to have lots of money. Moreover, only six of 
those (three girls and three guys) mentioned in the interview that being wealthy was a 

goal they sought. 

Few of the teenagers involved with Sonlight emphasized that being wealthy was 
very important to them. This is contrary to trend data as well as popular stereotypes of 
American youth as being materialistic consumers and rather selfish. Only one of the 
students offered a response that seemed consistent with such images of "superficiality." 
Felicia (senior) stated: 

In my own view being a success means that I could have, not 
whatever I wanted, but almost. Like, the freedom to do what I 
want. So if I wanted to take a trip to this place I could do it, or if I 
wanted to have a house that looked like this kind of thing, I could 
have it. I guess it would be more of a material success. And also, 
like recognition from society... I would rather have [a job] where 
I'm known in the business community that I work in... I think my 
grandmother is very successful... everyone likes her, she's the 
kind of person that you want to get along with... She's just a 
person you wish you were like. She's popular, cultured. 

Again, Felicia is echoing the dominant stereotype that depicts teenagers as being 

materialistic and self-centered. She relies on language that is often associated with 

popular youth culture in a negative way, calling to mind images of superficiality and 

shallowness with her mention of wanting to be "popular." In her response, Felicia is 

associating success with being socially popular. 

Unlike Felicia, a larger proportion, about 20%, said that they would like to have a 

"reasonable amount" of money when they grow up. They used such phrases to define 

"reasonable" as "not rich, but secure." Apparently this is an effort to contrast being 

"stable and happy" with being either extremely wealthy or living in poverty. For example, 

three students commented: 



113 

You know, of course you're going to want money and everything, 
but you want money with the other stuff too, cause then it's not a 
full success... I'd want to live in a big town, with a good paying job 
and, like, a respectable job. I think that would be pretty much a 
success for me... [An example of successful person is] Well, 
probably my neighbors. Because they're very rich, well not very 
rich, but they have good support with money and they go on a lot 
of family trips and they're really close as a family... well they're 
both really good parents and everything and they have nice cars 
and a nice house and stuff like that... (Lauri, sophomore) 

[I'll feel like I'm a success] basically if I'm satisfied with where I'm 
going with stuff, not really as much like if I have a really big house, 
more if I have the basic stuff, I'll feel successful. (Elena, first year) 

[Being a success is] not necessarily monetarily, but to just be 
happy and content with what I have... I think I'll describe 
somebody who is successful... [Friend's father] is very happy, and 
I think that it's because he's not completely tied down with his job. 
He has enough money where he can go and do other stuff like he 
has his boat down in the Keys. (Tyson, senior) 

Above we see these students describing success as attaining "reasonable" but not 
"excessive" standard of living. It's likely that this conceptualization reflects their family's 
socioeconomic status. 

Contrary to both the trend data and comparisons to the entire MTF (representing 
"average" U.S. high school students) and matching MTF (higher SES white students), a 
majority of the youth with whom I spoke that mentioned having lots of money did so 
negatively. That is, they said that having financial assets was not a goal of importance to 
them. Statistically, 22% of the youth indicated that having lots of money was not a goal 
to which they aspired (versus 7.5% of the matching MTF and 5.8% of the overall MTF), 
and fully 23% mentioned that they did not consider having money to be important while 
replying to the open-ended questions about defining success and their own personal 
goals. Two teenagers commented: 

I think a lot of people think success is having money, living in a 
fancy house, but to me it's just to be happy and like what you do 
and feel good about what you're doing... to have something to 



114 

show for what I did, not just like money, but to like to have the 
feeling, like pride. (Heather, senior) 

I think you can be successful and not earn a lot of money. 
(Jessica, senior) 

Similar to Heather and Jessica, Anna and Wesley both assert that their main priority is 

not related to finances. Additionally, Anna and Wesley contend that not only is money 

not the primary focus, but they instead conceptualize success as having quality 

relationships with people. 

I think it means to me being happy. Not letting money, or material 
success is so beyond there. I think that having a good family and 
loving people around me... I want to be someone who is 
successful as far as happiness, and helping others. That's what I 
want to do really badly, is like to do something with missions or 
something. That would be really successful to me, even it's little 
money, it's the stuff you get out of it is so much more important. 
(Anna, first year) 

[Being a success is] to just do as much as you can. Personally? I 
hope to make a contribution to society in some way where I can 
help people out. Wow, that's really vague.... And I mean, when it 
comes down to it what's the world about, it's not about how much 
money you have or anything like that, it's about how you interact 
with people. (Wesley, senior) 

Having outlined the three sub-categories of the financial success theme, it is 
notable that the students de-emphasize money. This is an interesting finding when we 
recall that these students are mostly from affluent backgrounds. Coming from privileged 
positions, this lack of material focus is important because we can speculate that these 
students may be taking for granted their class status. These young people may assume 
that they will achieve the same economic security with which they've grown up. 
Philanthropy ("making a difference in the world") 

I mentioned previously that the second most frequent description of a 
"successful" person (second only to "parents") fell into the category of philanthropists 



115 

and people who dedicate their lives to helping others. Not only did the youth I spoke with 

offer people who work for change as their images of very successful people, 86% of the 

youth interviewed rated "making a contribution to society' as quite or extremely 

important, versus two-thirds of the matching MTF and 63% of the of the representative 

sample of American teenagers. Examining the qualitative interview responses offers 

insight into the ways in which the youth involved in Sonlight discussed and underscored 

the importance of contributing to society. This is evident in the statements by Kelsey and 

Chance. Kelsey (sophomore) remarks, "I hope that I can be successful by making a 

difference in the world and in my community." Similarity, Chance (sophomore) shared, "I 

guess just to be good in the community and to be what you can be. More than like 

having lots of money.. ..[being a success includes] making a contribution." 

Readers may recall that one of the teenagers, Wesley, selected the director of 

Sonlight, Brown, as his ideal example of a successful person: 

[I chose Brown as an example of someone who is 
successful] because she is affecting people's lives on a 
daily basis. And what she's doing is she is making a 
profound effect, getting people to open up in their lives and 
getting people to see the beauty in certain things. And 
that's success if anything.. .She's the best person in the 
world I know at doing that kind of stuff. (Senior) 

Further in his interview, it became evident that Wesley viewed Brown as embodying the 

ideal of someone dedicated to positively affecting the lives of others. Not only did some 

of the youth say they thought it was important to better the world, along with other goals, 

but a surprising number stated that they hoped to dedicate their lives to working for 

change. 

To personally achieve those things you believe you can do to 
better the world, depending upon your morals, beliefs, and 
abilities. I want to get to the end of my life and feel like I made a 
difference in the world, even if just in one person's life. I want to 
leave something of myself that is eternal. That would make me a 
success, I believe. (Eden, senior) 



116 

To me, success would be living in a small house amongst like a 
poor neighborhood, and kind of like the Philadelphia thing, leaving 
it open and letting anybody and everybody who wanted to come in 
come in. ...[My example of someone who is successful] is that 
Shawn guy in Philadelphia, who lives in a house with 600 
individuals called the Simple Way and lives to the best of his 
ability how Jesus would live. I think he's successful, not because 
he has money or friends, but because he's helping others and 
he's accepting of everybody. (Paige, senior) 

Eden and Paige articulated their convictions to devote their lives to make a difference. 

There are many ways in which one can engage in philanthropic behaviors, such as 

donating money to charities, volunteering one's time, and sharing one's resources with 

those in need. Research on philanthropy suggests though most Americans engage in 

charitable activities, it is done sporadically (Pew Partnership for Civic Change, 2002). 

Work = Contributing to Society 

Extending the previous sub-category, philanthropy can further be conceptualized 
as a comprehensive commitment to which one's life is dedicated. One of the ways in 
which a person can enact this desire to make a difference is to pursue a career in which 
their primary responsibility involves being engaged in such activities. Recalling that fully 
86% of the youth interviewed stressed the importance of making a contribution to 
society, it may not be surprising that almost one-quarter indicate they plan to pursue a 
career focusing on philanthropic objectives. 

Specifically, six girls and one guy reported aspiring to work in places like urban 
clinics, rural medicine, serve in the Peace Corps, or other community focused careers. 
Approximately one-quarter of the youth expressed an interest in helping others through 
careers in medicine. Additionally, ten percent said they hoped to impact the lives of 
children through teaching. These two students expressed the importance of dedicating 
their life, including their career, to working for change: 



117 

I want to be a teacher and band director. So I hope to make a 
contribution by helping others succeed in their goals. And 
measure my success by the amount of success that they achieve. 
(Clay, senior) 

I want to be a credit to society. I know that I definitely want to do 
something in the health profession... I hope to be successful at 
whatever career I choose to do and be a successful aspect to my 
society by helping make it a better place to live. (Caroline, junior) 

Connecting with Family and Friends 

Over 90% of American teenagers surveyed in MTF assert that future goals 

pertaining to their relationships with others are quite or extremely important. Recall that 

trend data show that over the past three decades students' ratings of making a 

contribution to society have consistently decreased, while their evaluations of having lots 

of money has increased. Unlike these dramatic patterns, young people have 

consistently rated connecting with others as a top priority. Results from the interviews I 

conducted are consistent with the national data. Almost all of the youth with whom I 

spoke expressed a desire to have good relationships with their friends and family. The 

guys were just as likely as the girls to state that they aspire to have strong personal 

relationships. In the following four quotes, we see three guys assert that family is 

important to their conception of success: 

I guess for me I would like to do some good music sometime in 
my life, and maybe invent something or support my family or 
something like that... [someone who] has a nice little family going 
on... (Paul, sophomore) 

I hope to have a nice family and have a nice job that I enjoy 
working at. (Brian, first year) 

[I hope to be successful by] helping my friends and family as 
much as possible... (Brad, sophomore) 

I think I want to have close relationships like I know with my 
brothers, they're older, but I really want to have close relationships 
with my family and stay in contact a lot. Like friendship-wise I'd 



118 

want to make that a success and family-wise, with my own family 
and kids too... (Lauri, sophomore) 

We can see that success is not just about money or careers, as it involves multiple other 

goals: making contributions to society, connecting with others, and making a difference 

in the world. Some of the youth articulated a definition of success that encompassed 

many of the aforementioned goals. As demonstrated throughout this dissertation, 

success cannot be reduced to a singular achievement. In the previous section on the 

differing significance of finances, Tyson expresses his definition of success as someone 

who has it all, in his words, a "Renaissance man." Wendy parallels this view in her 

desire to be successful in many ways: 

[Personally, I hope to be a success by] graduating from 
college and getting a job and making an adequate amount 
of money to support a family, getting married and having a 
family and being successful with that... And probably 
having a really good relationship with my kids when they're 
teenagers.. .I'm not exactly sure how, but I hope to do 
something with my life that reaches people. (Wendy, 
sophomore) 

We have examined five key themes the teenagers expressed of what it means to 

be a success. In review, these five themes are: self-realization ("achieving your goals, 

whatever they may be," "being happy with myself"), money (mentioned as both 

important and not at all important), philanthropy ("making a difference in the world," 

"helping people"), work/career issues ("doing well in my job," "having a career that am 

good at and that I love"), and connecting with family and friends ("having a good 

marriage," "having a nice family," "being close with my family and friends"). This chapter 

will close with an examination of responses that were less frequently mentioned, but 

were said with salience and emphasis, including a discussion of unexpected findings in 

relation to gender. These provide interesting insights as to teenagers' definitions of 

success and their goals for the future. 



119 
Infrequent but Salient Responses 
Nontraditional Gender Aspirations 

Another interesting finding pertaining to gender is that all of the girls who 
participated in the study mentioned their career and work aspirations as being an 
important part of their definition of success and personal future goals. Just a few 
decades ago, young women were only one-quarter as likely to major in math and 
science as were young men (Dey & Hurtaldo, 1999). A surprisingly large amount, 
exactly 50% of the girls in my study, specified their interests as possible career paths in 
medicine, engineering, computers, and other scientific and technological fields. This 
certainly contradicts the existing literature on adolescent girls and self-confidence in 
relation to mathematic and scientific fields (see for example Gilligan, 1990). Not only did 
girls in this study challenge traditional notions of gender roles, 8 of the 17 guys planned 
to pursue "care-taking" jobs and 1 1 said they hoped to have "a nice family." For 
example, Wesley said, "[Success means to me] to be a father. To be a husband and 
good at that too.. .I really do want to be a father and a husband and I want to be able to 
give my family opportunities." This quote from Wesley is linked to the emphasis he 
placed on wanting to better society, as part of his fulfillment of being a husband and 
father. Like Wesley, the guys in the study were not talking about the "good provider 
role," as sociologists traditionally conceptualize it in terms of economic contributions 
(see Bernard 1984). Instead these guys were referring to an expanded role, including 
active involvement in the lives of their own families as well as responsibility for 
humankind. Traditionally, the gender role for men has de-emphasized the value of 
helping and nurturing. 

Similar to the nontraditional aspirations of the guys I interviewed, an interesting 
finding regarding girls' expectations for their roles in the future emerged, specifically, 



120 

their aspirations and plans to be financially independent. For example, three girls explain 

their hopes to someday support themselves: 

I hope to be independent someday. I hope to be able to support 
myself. And have a job that I love, and have hobbies and travel a 
lot... live that kind of lifestyle. (Caitlin, junior) 

I just want to graduate from high school and then graduate from 
college, and have a family, have a good job and not have to 
depend on anyone, like a man or anything like that for money or 
anything like that. (Madeline, sophomore) 

[Personally I hope to be successful by] figuring out what my 
dreams are (and fulfilling them). I also want to have enough 
money to take care of myself financially, so that I won't ever have 
to rely on anyone else (like a husband) to support me. Although I 
DO really, really, really hope I find the right guy to marry 
someday, and have a family. (Lily, senior) 

Gender roles have changed in the past few decades, and many women are 

attaining college educations and even choosing to remain single (Dey & Hurtaldo, 1999). 

When these girls' statements are placed within a context recognizing changing gender 

roles, their comments do not seem so atypical. In one specific case, one girl described 

not only wanting to be independent and empowered, but also to have power and 

influence over someone else. I recognize that this girl's accounts of her future plans are 

not typical, yet it reveals an notable exception. According to Wendy: 

[When I think of success I think of someone who is] making an 
adequate amount of money to support a family, getting married 
and having a family and being successful with that. Personally? I 
guess to... this is a really weird one, but to be richer than my 
husband is a big thing for me. To have the power over him. 
(Wendy, sophomore) 

Aspirations of Gender-Matched Parent 

Fully 22 of the youth interviewed (19 girls and 3 guys) replied that they 
considered their own parents to represent what it means to be "successful." Gender 
seemed to be related to their responses to this question. Nine girls said that their mother 



121 

was the image of success that came to mind. Those girls who selected their mothers 

spoke of how their moms managed both career and family life. For example, Elena, a 

ninth grader in the International Baccalaureate program, said: 

Well actually I think my mom is one of the most successful people 
I know. She used to be an English teacher for high school, and 
she wasn't really happy with it. I guess she was making enough 
money but she wasn't happy. But now she is a doctor because 
she went back to school and she felt like she needed to, like she 
wasn't really happy with what she was doing, and I mean it was 
kind of hard for a while with all the school and always working or 
studying and money was tight and everything. But now we're fine 
and she's content with her work and is a good mom, and is happy 
with my dad, and she's also making money if that matters at all. 
But I think she's one of the most successful people I know. 

An additional four girls mentioned their parents as symbolizing successful 

people. Sophia, whose mother is a professor and director of a research center at UF 

and whose father is a chief physician at the health center, responded that her parents 

are the epitome of being successful. She explains, "I think my parents are both 

extremely successful. They're happy and they like their jobs. They live every day very 

ready to work and stuff. So I guess they're pretty successful." Sophia's description of 

her parents speaks only to their happiness and career achievements. Surprisingly, even 

though the ideal images she offered were her own family members, the importance of 

family involvement was not apparent in her explanation of why she considered them to 

be successful individuals. Six girls and 3 guys offered their fathers as examples of 

successful persons. Max, a ninth grader whose father is chair of a department in the 

medical school, states: 

I'm going to have to go with my dad. He's got a nice solid job, he 
likes what he does, he's got a nice family. He's got three nice 
boys, especially the youngest one [laughing]. He has a sense of 
what he needs and what he wants. He's got a sense of who he is 
and what he needs to do to keep what he likes going. 



122 

Again, Max offers a description of a person valuing both their career and family. When 

comparing the responses of the girls who spoke of their parents (mom, dad, or both) 

and the guys who did the same, the notable difference seems to be in relation to 

gender. Nine girls talked about their mothers (the same gender parent) and 3 guys 

mentioned their fathers. Yet six girls spoke of their fathers (the parent of the other 

gender) but not a single guy reported their mother to be the image of success that came 

to mind. Finally, while four girls mentioned both of their parents (one specified her 

grandparents), not a single guy talked about both of his parents. Again, though 10 girls 

offered their fathers (either alone or in the context of "parents") as the image of success, 

mothers were not spoken of by sons. 

Religion and "Serving Others" 

Concluding this chapter, the last notable exception that emerged from this study 

relates to religion, spirituality, and values. As previously mentioned, the youth 

organization, Sonlight, in which the youth who participated in this study were involved, is 

based at a United Methodist Church. Just over one-half of students who took part in the 

program had families who were members of this Methodist church. Persons not familiar 

with this program might expect a majority or at least at least some of the youth to 

mention references to religion and the importance of spirituality. However, this only 

occurred in three instances. Anna, Jill, and Paige speak to having goals that evoke 

religious notions. For example, Anna (first year) explained that she was not sure what 

she wanted to do with her life, but one of the options she was considering was being a 

missionary: 

I want to be someone who is successful as far as 
happiness, and helping others. That's what I want to do 
really badly, is like to do something with missions or 
something. That would be really successful to me, even 



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it's little money, it's the stuff you get out of it is so much 
more important. 

She talked about doing missions in order to "help others." Similarly, Jill Qunior) said that 

her vision of being a success includes becoming a youth minister. Jill, like Anna, 

focused on the career choice of youth minister as an opportunity to connect with young 

people, as she says, "to help make other people happy." Finally, Paige (junior) 

articulates her goals to serve other people as she responds: 

...right now I'm thinking about maybe going into building and 
construction and doing some type of ministry with that. Like just 
going and getting the knowledge and then I would be able to help. 
There's a lot of people who don't live like in full houses, and not 
just the urban poverty, but rural poverty really needs some help... 
I think being a success to me would mean being happy and 
content with yourself. I think, well, I'm trying to work to be a 
follower of Jesus and so for me I think being a success would be 
someone who, when I'm happy and content with myself, thinking 
that I am following Jesus, when I'm doing what I think he would 
do. And so like, to me success would be living in a small house 
amongst like a poor neighborhood, and kind of like the 
Philadelphia thing [a project called 'Simple Way' that works with 
the homeless in inner-city Philadelphia], leaving it open and letting 
anybody and everybody who wanted to come in come in. 

In the examples above, we can see how these youth talk of their goals of 
dedicating their lives to helping people and evoke careers in churches (working in 
missions, youth minister, and serving impoverished people, "like Jesus") as means of 
making a difference and connecting with others. Not specifically during these interviews, 
but during my conversations and the participant observation portion of this study, it 
became clear that mention of religion and spirituality were all about helping others and 
making a difference in the world. 

Summary 

In the concluding chapter I will discuss the implications of the findings of this 
research, exploring possible explanations for why the youth involved in this study were 



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much more concerned with making a contribution to society than are "average" 
American youth, as indicated by the statistics from MTF. Even when controlling for 
demographic characteristics such as racial identity and socioeconomic status, the 
teenagers involved with Sonlight placed much more emphasis on the importance of 
helping others and working to benefit society while discounting the importance of having 
lots of money, than do students of similar backgrounds. I will close by discussing 
attributes of the youth program in which they participate as a possible explanation for 
this discrepancy; Sonlight as a sort of "values education." 



CHAPTER 7 
CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION 

In this concluding chapter I will discuss the implications of the findings of this 
research, exploring possible explanations for why the youth involved in this study were 
much more concerned with making a contribution to society than are "average" 
American youth, as indicated by the statistics from MTF. Even when controlling for 
demographic characteristics such as racial identity and socioeconomic status, the 
teenagers involved with Sonlight placed much more emphasis on the importance of 
helping others and working to benefit society while discounting the importance of having 
lots of money, than do students of similar backgrounds. I will close by discussing 
attributes of the youth program in which they participated as a possible explanation for 
this discrepancy; Sonlight as a sort of "values education." 

Popular images and stereotypes depict today's teenagers as being focused on 
"making lots of money" and "being a success in their line of work," rather than helping 
others and valuing quality family life. Results from the quantitative portion of this study 
support this notion as survey results from MTF (1999) indicate that over 89% of 
American teenagers considered being a success in their careers quite or extremely 
important, whereas only 22% of those youth said it was important to "make a 
contribution to society." This recent phenomenon is evidenced in an examination of 
trend data which indicated these statistics have "flipped" since the late 1960s, when 
24% of teenagers considered financial goals such as "being a success" extremely 
important, while more than 85% thought it important to "make a contribution to society." 



125 



126 
These numbers paint a picture of young people that I found to be inconsistent 
with the students I came in contact with during my experience working with a local youth 
organization, Sonlight. A possible explanation for the disparity between the results from 
the overall MTF and the youth with whom I worked was that the young persons involved 
in Sonlight were a select group in terms of their demographic characteristics. In order to 
test this, I created a sub-sample of MTF which was restricted to high school students 
who were white, higher SES, and who expected to graduate from college. This 
restriction enabled me to use the probability sample of MTF to approximate the 
demographic characteristics of the Sonlight youth. Results from this matching MTF 
sample showed a narrowing difference between the importance the young people 
placed on various future goals. Specifically, the majority of students in the matching 
MTF sample rated financial and career goals as quite or extremely important, compared 
to just under 25% who indicated that philanthropic goals were important. These students 
were, however, more likely to report that "having lots of money" was not important, and 
less likely to view "making a contribution to society" as not important. 

Results from the interviews I conducted were more like those of the matching 
MTF than the overall MTF. About 80-90% of teenagers in American society (overall 
MTF: 89%, matching MTF: 89%, Sonlight: 83%) indicated that "being a success in their 
line of work" was quite or extremely important. Almost half of the youth I interviewed 
said that "making a contribution to society" was extremely important, and not even one- 
quarter of the youth in a nationally representative sample agreed with this statement. 
Fully 22% of the Sonlight participants stated that "having lots of money" was not 
important, compared with the 8% of young people of matching demographic 
characteristics and just 6% of all American teenagers. Clearly, matching demographics 



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do not necessarily account for the variation between the Sonlight members and a 
probability sample of all American youth. 

These survey results served as a framework, providing the context for the in- 
depth interviews I conducted with 70 local high school students, all members of the 
same youth organization, Sonlight. Although the survey data provide telling 
statistics-that "being a success" is very important to young people-it does not explain 
what they mean by "being a success." In an attempt to explain why the 70 teenagers I 
surveyed were less concerned with material and financial wealth and more concerned 
with making a difference in the world than the average teenager, I asked them to define 
and give examples of "being a success." Five themes emerged: self-realization 
("achieving your goals, whatever they may be," "being happy with myself), money 
(mentioned as both important and not at all important), philanthropy ("making a 
difference in the world," "helping people"), work/career issues ("doing well in my job," 
"having a career that am good at and that I love"), and connecting with family and 
friends ("having a good marriage," "having a nice family," "being close with my family 
and friends"). The images of "being a success" that emerged from the in-depth 
interviews indicate that these youth had future goals and values that were vastly 
different from the norm. This concluding chapter explores the notion that their 
experience in Sonlight affected their future goals and values. 

Sonlight as a Values Education 
Overview of Program 

Sonlight was a rather atypical youth program. From the outside, it would appear 
to be a church-based choir, performing primarily secular songs accompanied by talented 
musicians. People who were present at performances or who heard recordings of 



128 
Sonlight's music insisted it was a group of extraordinarily trained musicians, the best of 
the best from area schools, selected to participate by audition. They were shocked to 
find out that there were no requirements to be a part of the program-any interested high 
school student needed simply to attend a rehearsal in order to join. About half of the 
members were musically inclined and were drawn to the program in hopes of 
performing. The other half were certainly attracted to the music as it was a primary 
feature of the program, but they came for other reasons as well. About 2/3 of the 
students participated in Sonlight because they had grown up in the church. The other 
1/3 did not grow up in the church-some were members of other local churches or 
synagogues, and some did not identify with any religious faith. At the beginning of each 
year, a small number of youth would be "sent" by their parents. However, Brown, the 
director, specifically asked parents not to "force" their sons or daughters to come, as 
she felt it essential that this be something they did by choice. The teenagers came for all 
sorts of reasons: the music, the friends, the summer tour, the service projects. A saying 
emerged among those who were familiar with the program, 'they came for the music 
and the friendships... but they stayed for the Focus. 

People often assumed that Sonlight was merely a youth church choir that 
happened to have more than a hundred talented teenagers as members, due to its 
location at a large Methodist church. From this assumption, it would logically follow that 
any teachings that occurred within the program would be religious (specifically 
Protestant Christian and Methodist) in nature. Although Sonlight was housed at and 
supported by the United Methodist Church, the teachings were in fact pluralistic. The 
young people who participated were not required to take part in any service, nor were 
they even asked to become "Christians." The message was one of interfaith 
spirituality-that "god's stuff" is in everything, from the lyrics of the latest pop song, to the 



129 
books read in literature class. It is important to reiterate that Sonlight emphasized 
spirituality instead of religion. In preparing the content of weekly discussions 
("Focuses"), the director was just as likely to draw from the works of Henry David 
Thoreau, Mother Theresa, Brown Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Ghandi, William 
James, Sting, or Thomas Merton as she was the teachings of John Wesley and Jesus. 
She encouraged critical thinking, as the purpose of these discussions was to not to 
indoctrinate the youth with a set of beliefs; instead she sought to challenge the youth to 
ask questions and seek the answers for themselves. She especially encouraged them to 
question the dominant messages from society's institutions: religion, education, the 
media, and their peers. The director has been quoted as saying,"l believe it is more 
important to teach them how to 'look' than to make Methodists or even Christians of 
them." 

"Focus" was the term used for the discussions that took place in rehearsal each 
week, from which the "theme" of the year developed. They were typically about 1 5 
minutes in length. Rather than a "boring lecture," Brown attempted to engage in 
discussion with 120+ teenagers. Focus was an integral part of Sonlight. As previously 
mentioned, an overwhelming majority of the youth indicated that the Focuses were the 
most meaningful aspect of the program. Though they may have initially been attracted 
to Sonlight because of the music and the people, the Focuses were what kept them 
coming. In an effort to reach the youth through as many avenues as possible, Brown 
used a variety of techniques such as illustrations, surveys, props, diagrams, guest 
speakers, panels, debates, and videos. Most Focuses were accompanied by a handout, 
and many members would take extra copies to share with their friends. The reason that 
Focuses were so popular was because they dared to talk about the issues and ask the 
questions in which the youth were most interested. She "spoke their language" and used 



130 
"their media" (popular music, movies, videos, etc.) in order to reach the teenagers, 
challenging them to think about their values, beliefs, priorities, and assumptions about 
the world. In this sense, Focuses were "values curricula." 
Focus as Values Curriculum 

At a time when the dominant values of American culture were largely fueled by 
the mass media, replete with messages equating "success" with individualistic and 
material goals, Sonlight was a unique environment where these values and goals could 
be questioned. As previously mentioned, few if any other legitimate spaces for 
discussing such issues exist in the lives of most young people in America today. During 
Focus time, youth were encouraged to not only think critically, but to consider their place 
in the world from a larger perspective. This method of teaching was a core component 
of Brown's overall approach to working with youth, but was especially salient during 
1999, the year in which I conducted the interviews. Unlike the pedantic methods 
employed in public schools, the Focus time not only allowed but encouraged the youth 
to ask questions-to explore perspectives and experiences other than their own. (It is 
important to reiterate here that the young people involved in Sonlight were privileged, 
white, college-bound students with somewhat homogenous life experiences.) 

The reason this program was effective was because Brown did not preach the 
rejection of all popular media. Instead, she taught young people to search for messages 
which communicated values of altruism, compassion, activism, and service. When 
selecting songs for the choir to perform and resources to utilize during Focus 
discussions, Brown purposely chose those produced by popular musicians and 
celebrities which purported humanistic values and goals. Furthermore, Brown herself 
was recognized by several of the youth interviewed as a model of someone who was 
"making a contribution to society" through her work as director of the program. 



131 

The Focus themes were the core of Sonlight's program each year. The songs 

that the students performed were individually selected for the way in which they related 

to the overall theme. Every week the Focus discussion examined messages in the lyrics 

from the songs that the students were learning, or incorporated other media and 

activities in order to spur discussion. Brown said, 

The music was the vehicle for discussion. There was a 
different theme each year. The youth and graduates of the 
program submitted secular rock songs that reflected the 
theme (many more than could be used). I selected 
twenty-five songs from 200+ submissions-songs that best 
taught the spiritual principles we wanted to explore that 
year. Among the themes we covered: Making faith street 
sensible; the brevity of life; taking the road less traveled; 
bridging gaps of race, nationality, and income; 
understanding AIDS; sexual, physical, and emotional 
abuse in the home; drugs, alcohol, and eating disorders 
and how youth make relationships with substances; 
homosexuality; natural "highs;" how Jesus' teaching gives 
flight to life— not weight; the essence of believing-what is 
it?; communication; change; the power of relationships 
(with self, stranger, family, friends, and God); perspective, 
and how it affects the way we view everything; and taking 
risks. The lyrics would guide us into topics, questions and 
projects. We had special guests that included Vietnam 
veterans, family therapists, high school guidance 
counselors, Dr. Paul Doering (renowned pharmaceutical 
professor-on drugs), educators, activists, 
environmentalists, actors from the Hippodrome State 
Theatre to perform monologues and sketches, panel 
discussions with the elderly, and sometimes with our 
parents. In 1998 we were privileged to meet with Sister 
Helen PreJean (of Dead Man Walking ). These are the 
experiences that so many say they remember (2002). 

Though each year had its own "Focus theme" with corresponding songs, 

activities, and lessons, there were a handful of select Focus lessons that were repeated 

year after year. For example, each Fall, the first rehearsal included a Focus entitled 

Emergency Room Clinic. This Focus consisted of Brown laying basic "ground rules" and 

sharing with the youth her philosophy that the purpose of the program was to be a sort 



132 
of "safe place" or ER; a place where they did not need to pretend that they "had it all 
together." During this discussion she stated that Sonlight was a place where they could 
bring their problems without fear of judgement. This Focus had the effect of 
differentiating Sonlight from most other of the activities in which the youth were involved, 
and Brown from other adults. It was Brown's intention that this Focus establish the 
notion that Sonlight was not like their school classrooms and she was not like their 
parents or teachers, enforcing rules. Also, she encouraged the students to avoid judging 
each other, and instead look at each other with compassion and understanding. This is 
in stark contrast to the typical high school scene, replete with cliques and social castes; 
youth culture is often known for being exclusive, creating much angst and pain. Thus, 
Brown offered the Emergency Room Clinic Focus at the beginning of each year in an 
attempt to establish the "norms" of the program. 

Another Focus that was mentioned each year was entitled "Convictions or Post-it 
Notes" (see Appendix E for this essay written by Brown). This Focus reflected Brown's 
attempt to encourage the youth to think critically about the things with which they 
identified. The demonstration that accompanied this Focus was humorous, and thus 
effective and memorable. A volunteer (usually one of the student officers or Focus 
committee members) would stand in the front of the room, with post-it notes stuck all 
over their clothes and body. Each post-it note read a phrase, such as "good at math," 
"American," "Gator fan," "vote Democrat." Brown explained, "the way I see it, much of 
what we learn about anything merely gets tacked on us like post-it notes... the average 
teenager is a walking "post-it tree." This discussion emphasized that the messages 
teenagers often receive from their parents, teachers, peers, and the media regarding 
the ways in which they "should" behave and the things in which they "should" believe, 
are like post it notes-"stuck" to them as they go through life. Brown asked them to 



133 
examine their own post-it notes and think about why and how they had acquired each 
one, and whether or not they agreed with what it represented. It was not her objective to 
impose her personal convictions upon the youth, in the form of another post-it note, but 
to encourage them to think independently about the things they learned and whether or 
not they chose to "carry" those things with them. 

Many teenagers grow up without being asked to question their assumptions and 
the labels they wear. Like ants marching, they fall into step, fulfilling the expectations of 
others, striving to embody the images of success perpetuated by the media. Sonlight 
was a "small world" in which questioning was not only okay, it was welcomed. As 
previously mentioned, Brown encouraged the students to ask, seek, and risk-to think 
critically about our culture and the "rat race" many are running. And, those youth who 
persisted in valuing money, fame, and power were not chastised-they were just 
encouraged to think critically about their choices. After doing so, many young people 
found that their desire for wealth and celebrity was really about their want for freedom 
and the luxury of leisure time to explore their interests. Related to the emphasis on 
critical thinking was the notion of perspective. 
Focus themes: perspective and risk 

Perspective theme. During the year in which this research was conducted 
(1999), the theme was "Perspective." The songs and activities revolved around various 
aspects of Perspective: defining, explaining, applying, and expounding on the 
importance of recognizing that people's lives are contextualized. According to Brown, in 
order to view a subject/idea/event in perspective one needs to place it in space and 
time. To give something its "relative importance," one measures personal value against 
universal spiritual value. An individual's birth date, birthplace, and upbringing create 



134 
his/her space, time, and value index. Achieving perspective begins by realizing that 
one's point of view is just that.. .a view from one point in space and time. It involves 
seeing one's part as a mere piece of the whole (1999). That summer, the youth traveled 
to Colorado for a "perspective jolt"— to see natural wonders that spanned across time 
and space, incomparable to those found in north central Florida, and to engage in 
activities and share experiences that emphasized a pluralistic point of view. As Brown 
explained, "a time and space perspective can be gained through education, travel, 
experience and variation. But a value perspective is not as easily won, often coming 
through loss or tragedy. Religion teaches us of spiritual truths, seeking to help us 
treasure and value that which transcends our cultural, temporal values. However, in 
much the same way that travel provides the real-life perspective that education cannot, 
so life-altering experiences can bring us to value what religious training can only 
recommend" (1999). The Focus theme of Perspective encouraged the youth to consider 
dominant values that they might take for granted, such as individuality, materialism, and 
competition-to instead try to "step out of their own shoes" and think from a different 
angle, one that views humanity as interconnected, and values such things as simplicity 
and philanthropy. 

Risk theme. The Focus theme of Perspective led into the theme of "Risk" the 
following year; the two were logically connected. Perspective asked the youth to think 
about their identities, roles, experiences, and standpoints, and how they came to hold 
their corresponding beliefs, opinions, and values. Risk was a challenge, a dare, to the 
youth to work to achieve their goals and dreams. According to Brown, "each of us has 
been given the basic capital-the ability to think, love, dream, believe... How do we play 
it? Life. Will we risk love or will we retreat, aghast at the darkness in our world? Will we 
risk a dream, or tell our grandchildren about what 'could have been'?" (2000). 



135 
Arguably, the prevailing images of "being a success" that existed in American 
society in the late 1990s were that of money, technology, and speed. Many believed that 
to keep up with the Joneses they must drive a BMW, wear the latest fashions from the 
Gap, and work their way up the corporate ladder. The corresponding script dictated how 
to achieve these goals: do well in school, be involved in extracurricular activities, display 
leadership qualities, go to college, work hard, land a well-paying job, and have 
relationships with significant others. During the Risk Focus theme, the youth discussed 
their aspirations and hopes for the future. The song "Ants Marching" by Dave Matthews 
Band was performed and the lyrics were examined. The message of this song and the 
corresponding Focus was to challenge the youth to dare to strive for their dreams. 
During this Focus Brown asked questions such as, What do you want to be when you 
grow up? Can you hear the beat of your inner drummer? What bugs you about the 
world? What is your passion? Listen to the voice within yourself, don't just ignore it... Do 
a morality check: Do your dreams step on others? Brown spoke of a "risk quotient," a 
capacity within each individual to "go for it." The next week they spoke about another 
Dave Matthews song, "Dancing Nancies," with the line, "could I have been anything 
other than me?" For many youth today the thought of their future is paralyzing. They are 
so stressed under the expectations that their parents and teachers have of 
them-working to get good grades and high scores on standardized exams. The 
students were encouraged to not give up on their dreams. They talked about famous 
people who had tried and failed, then tried and succeeded. 

The Importance of Sonlight as a Values Education Program 
As previously mentioned, Sonlight was an atypical youth program. From the 
outside, it appeared to be a church youth choir, performing primarily secular songs 
accompanied by talented musicians. This, however, was not considered the prevailing 



136 
feature by those who were involved with the program. Former members (as well as their 
parents and family) recall with great import the effect this program had on their lives; 
moreover, they often boast about being privileged to have had such a significant (and 
for many, life changing) experience. 
Case Studies Exemplifying the Effectiveness of Sonlight as a Values Education 

Sonlight was a positive experience in the lives of those who participated, but 
there also seems to be evidence that it has had a lasting effect beyond graduation from 
the program. Although I did not specifically gather data to measure this, I can provide 
some telling examples of how the values education experience in Sonlight contributed to 
the life path of many young people. Through my continued involvement with the 
program and with those who have graduated, I know of quite a few young adults who 
attest to the significant impact that participating in Sonlight had on their lives. It would 
not be presumptuous to assert that over the course of its 20 years, Sonlight touched the 
lives of at least 1000 young people in this community. Brown designed and coordinated 
the program in such a way that the youth were leaders, taking the initiative to shape 
each years' Focus theme and corresponding songs and activities. This resulted in a 
program where the students were empowered as leaders and felt a sense of ownership 
and pride. Sonlight gave young people the opportunity to Sonlight not only as talented 
musicians and performers, but also as leaders. Operating under her philosophy of the 
importance giving of "unconditional love" to young people, Brown established Sonlight 
as a "safe place," and in doing so, helped youth find the confidence they needed to 
believe in their own abilities and attempt risking their dreams. 

During the time in which this study was conducted, the themes of the program 
were directly related to future goals and values. There is evidence that Sonlight 



137 
operated as a sort of "values education" experience in the lives of many of the youth 
who participated, and in the following section I will offer a few examples to illustrate. 
These examples are significant, but certainly it would be irresponsible to claim that they 
are statistically significant and represent the experiences of every youth who was 
involved in Sonlight. I am not asserting that being a member of Sonlight necessarily 
changed the life of each young person that took part in the program. Nor is there any 
proof that being exposed to the values education offered in Sonlight is the only factor 
that affected the goals and outcomes of these youth. Arguably the goals and values of 
young people are effected by a multitude of factors, including but not limited to: their 
early childhood experiences, family setting, ascribed attributes such as race/ethnicity, 
socioeconomic status, education, religious traditions, relationships with friends, 
exposure to culture, involvement in activities, etc. (and it is quite possible that some 
young people joined Sonlight because they were attracted to the perspective on values 
and goals that it offered). Consistent with the constructivist and interactionist 
perspectives mentioned earlier, young people are constantly in the process of 
becoming-affected by all they encounter, actively constructing and mediating the self 
they live by (Holstein & Gubrium, 2000). Thus, I mention the following examples with the 
knowledge that they are not definitive. 

Many of the youth involved in Sonlight indicated that their definitions of success 
pertained to philanthropic and self-realizing goals, consistent with the values discussed 
during Focuses. Through my continued involvement with some of the graduates, I am 
aware of quite a few who have made life choices consistent with those goals and values, 
and would specifically attest to their experience in Sonlight as having affected those 
decisions (by reinforcing goals and values they had tentatively considered, asking them 
to think critically about goals and values they took for granted, or exposing them to them 



138 
to new goals and values). For example, during our interview, Leslie said she wanted to 
dedicate her life to helping other people, mentioning Madeline Albright as her model of 
success. Leslie reported that she wanted to be head of the United Nations Human 
Rights Committee. Today, she is about to complete a degree in International Relations 
at Barnard College and is pursuing a path consistent with her goals and values. Another 
graduate, Aaron, just completed a year with Americorps and has plans to serve with the 
Peacecorps next year, along with his wife who was also a Sonlight member and is in a 
master's program in the health field. Joy, Miriam, Wendy, and Lara are all former 
Sonlight members who are pursuing their love for the arts and have chosen to forego 
more financially lucrative careers in order to dedicate their lives to their passion. Another 
instance of someone who has chosen to follow his heart instead of a more normative 
path is Ric. After completing his AA degree, he worked for a semester, saving money to 
enable him to travel for six months in Europe with only a bicycle and backpack. Many 
youth have chosen career paths that are specifically human or service oriented, desiring 
to help people in need. For example, Kelsey and Evan are both teaching special 
education, and Hope and Kimberly are both practicing occupational therapy. 

The young people mentioned above are just a purposeful sample that I 
informally created by looking at a list of graduates. Though I am not able to quantify with 
numbers the proportion of young people who report having changed their future 
trajectory because of their experience in Sonlight, I can share the stories of a few salient 
examples: Bart (senior), Max (ninth grader), and Paige Qunior). 

Bart was the younger brother of a former Sonlight president. He was anxious to 
join the program as he had a love for music and friends who were involved. Bart had a 
natural talent for singing and enjoyed the spotlight as a soloist, performing in Sonlight 
many songs that were by his favorite artists. Though he had regular attendance and was 



139 
involved musically during his first two years in the program, it was not until his junior and 
senior years of high school that Bart took on more responsibility by being a student 
leader. His senior year he was elected president of the choir and as such, he played a 
major role in all aspects of the activities. I spoke with Bart just after his graduation from 
high school. At that time, he was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. He had 
been admitted to the University of Florida and had earned a Bright Futures Scholarship. 
Bart said that he was majoring in computers, though he was not quite sure what he was 
going to do with his degree-possibly something in technology or maybe computer 
engineering. Bart explained that to him, being a success was being "happy" and fulfilling 
his goals-though he was not quite certain what those goals were. After pursuing this 
degree for two years, Bart realized he was not happy-he knew he did not like his major, 
but he was not sure what alternative might suit him better. He spent the summer 
working as a staff member for a service project, and upon his return decided to take a 
semester off of school. He began coaching high school baseball and football and found 
great satisfaction and fulfillment in this experience. Bart has now returned to school and 
is double majoring in physical education and math so that he can coach at the high 
school level, while earning a living teaching. Bart reports being much happier now. He 
realizes that though he is not likely to earn as much money with these future goals, he 
has found something that he truly enjoys doing. Bart has come to realize the effect that 
his experience in Sonlight had on his life- the value of being a positive figure in the lives 
of young people. Bart has chosen to forego financial success as a computer engineer in 
order to be a mentor to youth-encouraging, inspiring, and challenging them both on the 
field and in the classroom. 

I spoke with Max during his first year in both high school and the program. 
Though he had a love for music and hoped to be an instrumentalist, his lack of seniority 



140 
relegated him to minor percussion and back-up parts until the following year when he 
took over the drum set. As the principle drummer for the choir, he provided the rhythmic 
foundation for the music they performed; this required a time commitment above and 
beyond that of a typical member. Max attended the international baccalaureate program, 
an academically accelerated environment. He also played varsity soccer and was in the 
drum corps of the school band. At the time of our interview, Max emphasized the 
importance of career and financial goals. He jokingly responded that he wanted to be a 
fireman when he grew up, but then seriously stated that he aspired to be a businessman 
or doctor. Max also stressed the value of having a good family life, being a husband and 
father. He indicated that he desired to be judged positively by others, considering 
recognition and respect necessary to be successful, according to his definition. During 
Max's tenure in Sonlight, the Focus themes included perspective, risk, and connecting 
with nature. Thus, he was encouraged to think critically with an open mind, risk his 
dreams, and to be aware of the physical world around him, appreciating its fragility and 
beauty. Max is now a first year student at Virginia Tech University. Based on his 
responses during our interview, one might assume that his major was business or pre- 
med. However, Max has since decided that he values spending time in nature more than 
financial success and the validation of others. He has chosen to major in International 
Relations, with a focus on the environment. He is also nurturing his passion for 
photography. As this dissertation nears completion, Max has just returned from New 
Mexico, where was selected to shadow a National Geographic photographer. Influenced 
by his experience in Sonlight, learning to think critically about what he values, Max has 
decided to listen to the beat of his own inner drummer. 

Paige's family were members of Trinity UMC. She recalls that she waited with 
great anticipation as a child in elementary and middle school for the day that she could 



141 
join Sonlight. In ninth grade, she was finally eligible to become a member. From her first 
day at rehearsal, it was clear that Paige was excited to be a part of the program. During 
her four years in Sonlight, Paige was a member of many of the groups and teams, 
culminating with her senior year, 2000, when she was selected by the other students to 
be their president. As previously mentioned, on the surface, Sonlight appears to be 
primarily a music program of talented young singers. Paige was not a musician. She did 
not play any musical instrument, nor could she carry a tune. However, like many 
teenagers, she had a love of music. She enjoyed listening to and participating in the 
production and performance of some of her favorite songs. Furthermore, Paige took 
advantage of the non-musical aspects of Sonlight: the fellowship with friends, 
involvement in activities, and leadership opportunities. Paige often appeared stressed as 
if she was constantly running. She was captain of the varsity soccer team at her school 
and was in the honors program. During our interview, Paige said that she often felt 
significant pressure from her mother and teachers, moreover, she said she felt pressure 
from the expectations of others as well as her self. She indicated that she was working 
as hard as she could in order to be accepted into college. At the time of our interview, 
Paige said being a success meant being happy and content with herself. She continued 
and explained that her future goals involved helping other people. Though she was not 
sure what she wanted to do with her life, as far as a career was concerned, she was 
certain she wanted to get a college education-not so much for professional preparation, 
but in order to learn about people and to be well rounded. She emphasized the value of 
being open-minded, sensitive to others, continually learning, and having "soft clay" (a 
phrase from a Focus given that year). Since graduating from high school in 2000, Paige 
has worked for Appalachia Service Project building and repairing houses for the 
impoverished. Currently Paige is in school, majoring in Building Construction. She has 



142 
dedicated her life to serving others. The following poem was written by Paige (1999) 
during the summer before her senior year of high school, not long after Sonlight's Focus 
theme of Perspective, while preparing for the new year's theme of Risk. She was 
experiencing stress and feeling pressure to strive to attain certain goals and 
expectations about which she had begun to think critically. Her participation in the "small 
world" of Sonlight encouraged her to measure her worth by more than her school 
performance and achievements, and instead to value her abilities and talents serving 
others and making a contribution to society. 

I am More 

I am more than my SAT score, than my GPA. 

I am more than my dress or social status at school, in my 

community. 

I am more than my skills on the soccer field, 

more than any rumor, 

more than a clean room and washed dishes. 
I am more than a pretty face, 

more than a tongue piercing. 
I am more than a rejection letter to college. 
My name is not 3.6, 1050 - my name is not bad student, 
lazy, worthless. 
My brother is more than... 

Premarital sex, he is no sexual predator 

and no sinner worse than anyone else. 
He is a father, a part of a beautiful little girl 

that is showered with love.. 
He is a hand in the next generation. 

He is the future. 
I am the future. 
I am an individual, I am an outcast, I am separate from my 

classmates. I am lively, I am friendly, funny, 

intelligent. I am of worth, I am still nowhere near 

the pinnacle of my ability, strength, and talents. I 

am a student. I am an aunt, a sister, a daughter. I 

am a servant. I am a teacher. 
I am loving, I am an object to be loved. 
I am not worthless. I am not worthless. 

I am strong enough to push through this - 

determined enough to make a difference, to show I 

have meaning. 
I am more than they see, more than they can know, more 
than I am. 



143 
As illustrated in the poem above, the pressure experienced by Paige and many 
young people today can be overwhelming. They indicate being under quite a bit of 
stress, trying to live up to the expectations of their parents, teachers, peers, and 
"society" portrayed and promoted in the media (Hoover 2002, Pope 2001 , Who's Who 
1996). Though the prevailing notion in American culture defines adolescence as a 
period in which a young person is free from the burdens and responsibilities of 
adulthood, being a teenager today, even one of privilege, is not without difficulties. The 
image of "success" that most young people are given requires that they attain a college 
education. Attending college is a more normative experience in recent years than it was 
in the past, with 60-70% of high school students in the U.S. going on to attend college 
(Gray 1995, U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics 2002, American Council on Education 
2002). As college enrollment has increased, more young people compete for 
acceptance, and space is limited. In high school, not only must they have excellent 
grade point averages, they must score well on standardized exams in addition to being 
involved in numerous extracurricular activities and displaying extraordinary leadership 
qualities. The relationship between a college major and a career path is not always 
articulated. Additionally, questions about how young peoples' education and career 
paths are influenced by their interests and goals are ignored. Students today may be 
asked what they want to be when they grow up, but they are rarely asked what they 
consider to be important-to think critically about their own values and goals. 

Discussion 
The significance of Sonlight is that it was effectively a "values education 
program." As such, I assert the difference between the students I interviewed and those 
with matching demographics in the MTF sample was a result of their experience in this 



144 
youth program. Participating in Sonlight and taking part in the Focus lessons had a 
dramatic and lasting impact on the young people. Data in both the quantitative and 
qualitative chapters of this study suggest that the students I interviewed held distinctively 
different definitions of "being a success" than a probability sample of American 
teenagers with matching demographics. The ways in which they conceptualized the 
notion of success reflect their values and goals, emphasizing the importance of 
philanthropy ("making a contribution to society") and minimizing goals related to careers 

and finances. 

Clearly, the findings of this study indicate that Sonlight was a "small world" in 
which particular definitions of success were constructed, future goals were examined, 
and values were emphasized. The teenagers who participated in Sonlight were 
substantially more likely than the youth in the MTF sample with matching demographics 
to hold philanthropic values and to discount the importance of financial success. The 
Focus lessons in Sonlight functioned as a "values curriculum," and when combined with 
Brown's innovative leadership approach (empowering the youth as leaders), created an 
environment that allowed young people to explore their future goals and values. Since 
teenagers today have few, if any, other locations in which to explicitly discuss and 
examine their goals and values, their experience in Sonlight was particularly valuable 3 . 

This research offers contributions to social science research, theory, and 



Though there is always concern when doing social research about responses and 
observations being influenced by social desirability and the Hawthorne effect 
(participants giving responses that are consistent with their perceptions of what the 
researcher wants to hear), this did not prove to be a major issue in this study. If these 
issues had significantly affected their responses, there would have been very little 
variation in their response; for example, they would have all mentioned the director, 
Brown, as their model of a successful person, when in actuality, only one of the youth I 
interviewed shared this response. 



145 
practice. This study responds to Furstenberg's call for research that utilizes both 
quantitative and qualitative data, and that addresses the experiences and competencies 
of youth. Through combining both constructive and interactive approaches, I articulate 
and apply the notion of "small worlds" to the sociological study of youth, thus adding to 
the realm of social psychological theory. Future research might investigate the 
construction of goals and values that takes place in the many other "small worlds" in 
which young people live and interact. Future research might explore whether a values 
education program like Sonlight might be able to impact the goals and values of youth of 
a more diverse and representative population. Finally, the results of this study have 
practical implications for those who work in applied settings. The field of Youth 
Development within the discipline of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences is one 
such potential venue. Coincidentally, the most recent edition of a key journal in the field 
of Postitive Youth Development features an article entitled, "From Assets to Agents of 
Change: Social justice, organizing, and youth development" (Ginwright & James 2002). 
The authors propose a theoretical model for creating youth programs and organizations 
that promote the value of social justice. The figure below shows the principles, practices, 
and outcomes potentially offered by such Social Justice Youth Development programs. 



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Interestingly, Sonlight shared the same five principles (thought articulated a bit 
differently by the director, Brown, in her own principles statement), and utilized similar 
practices, leading to many of the same positive outcomes outlined in the table above. 
Though this dissertation is not a program evaluation of Sonlight, its findings attest to the 
effectiveness of this youth program to encourage young people to think critically about 
their values. Sonlight was based on principles that viewed teenagers as active agents 
and utilized youth culture media (such as popular music) to reach and attract young 
people. Sonlight's programs were based on a curriculum that specifically challenged 
dominant notions of "success," instead supporting ideals of making a contribution to 
society and connecting with others, and it produced outcomes that are consistent with 
those proposed by the Positive Youth Development scholars. Researchers, educators, 
and those who work in applied fields might benefit from applying the principles and a 
similar values curriculum of Sonlight to their own programs. 



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APPENDIX A 
INTERVIEW 

Thank you for agreeing to complete this interview of high-school youth. 

I remind you that you do not have to answer any question you do not want to answer. 

You may discontinue your participation at any point. 

Please rate the following four future goals as to their importance in your life as: 
not important- somewhat important- quite important- extremely important. 

1 . Graduate from college 

2. Be a success 

3. Make a contribution to society 

4. Have lots of money 

For the following questions, please do not feel limited to one-sentence responses, share 
as much as you'd like: 

5. What does "be a success" mean to you? 

6. In what ways do you personally hope to be successful? 

7. Please describe someone (real or made up) who you consider to be an extremely 
successful individual. 

8. Do you feel pressure to be a success? If so, in what ways? pressure from where? 

9. How do the expectations of other people affect you? Please give a few examples. 

10. Do you think there is a lot of competition in highschool? (Academic, athletics, 
socially) 

11.1s there anything else about the pressure to succeed that you'd like to share? 

12. Do you think the experiences of youth today are different from past generations? In 
what ways? 

13. After the Littleton shootings, the newsmedia declared that teenagers today are 
"morally bankrupt" meaning that you have no values. Do you agree? If not, how would 
you describe the situation differently? 

14. Remember when we were at Columbine Park and Rebecca asked, "Listen, what do 
you hear from the world you know?" I'm asking you, what do YOU hear from the world 
YOU know? 



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15. Is there anything else about being a teenager in America today that you would like to 
share? 

I'll close with some general questions about your background: 

16. What is your name? 

17. What is your gender? 

1 8. How old are you? 

19. What school do you attend and what grade did you just complete? 

20. What is your GPA? 

21 . Do you expect to graduate from college? 

22. What do you want to be when you grow up? 

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME! If you are interested in the results of this 
study, they will be available in August. Feel free to contact me if you have any 
questions or concerns. 



APPENDIX B 
ORGANIZATION AND LEADERSHIP OF SONLIGHT 

The Organization of this Unconventional Youth Program 

•Sonlight is open to any 9-12 grader in the local area. 
-There are no auditions or requirements, nor dues or fees to join. 
-About 1 / 2 of Sonlight members grew up at Trinity UMC or in a church- that means the 
other half have little or no exposure to church, or come from a different belief system 
(Jewish, Buddhist, Agnostic, etc.). Many of these young people have no personal 
religious affiliation, yet they often express a yearning for a spiritual connection. 

•Rehearsals are held every Sunday afternoon (3:30-5:00). 
-About one hour is spent on teaching the music (usually 4-6 songs are covered). 
-The remainder of the time is spent on the Focus message and announcements. 

•Three Sundays a month Sonlight provides the music at the 9:40 service at Trinity. 
-The songs are introduced with a Focus by a student, explaining the God-truths we are 
learning. 

•Every fall there is a weekend retreat to Camp Kulaqua and there are two Planning 
Retreats 

•If interested, a youth may do a "Play-in" or "Sing-in" with Rebecca to evaluate their way 
to contribute to the choir as a singer, soloist, or instrumentalist. 
-The sound is entirely student produced- every singer, guitarist, violinist, pianist, 
drummer, etc. are local high school students... our Sound Techs are even youth! 
-Solos and Ensembles for Tour are auditioned, as are most solos throughout the year. 

•Youth may choose to participate in a team as an additional way to be involved. 
-Many youth are not musically talented, but are gifted in other ways. These Teams 
provide an opportunity for them to explore their varied talents and interests. 
-Officers are selected by each team as their leader. 
-The choir elects a President and Vice President each year to represent them. 

•The President & Vice President along with the other 10 Team Leaders, are referred to 
as Officers and they are the core leadership of the choir. 

-There are also about 8 youth selected by the Officers to serve as Section Leaders 
who help with attendance in their section (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass). 

•Each year there is a Tour (to destinations such as Boston, New York, New Orleans, 
Colorado). -90 members are selected based on their Tour Evaluation which is a score 
made-up of their attendance at rehearsals, level of participation, and seniority. 

-Musical talent is not a factor in selecting Tour Participants. 

-A "Send Off" Concert is performed to an audience of over 1500 friends, parents, grads, 

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and fans which commences each Tour. All choir members are welcome to participate, 
whether or not they are Tour candidates. 

•The sound is mixed by the Tech Crew and a professional recording is made of each 
year's Send Off Concert. 

-CDs (and tapes) of this concert are tediously mixed and produced resulting in a high 
quality CD and tape that is shared with fans all over the country. 

Leadership of the Program 

•Staff consists of Rebecca Brown (Director, full-time) with the assistance of a Grad 
Team 

-The staff are all former Sonlight members (thus called Grad Team) who are currently 
college students, including 2 secretaries (part time), a musical assistant, and 4 interns. 

MEMBERSHIP TEAM 

•Cares for the needs of choir members, highlights talents & accomplishments, and 

helps new members feel welcome. 

FOCUS TEAM 

•Helps with creative ways to make the Focus (or message) of a song more meaningful 
to the choir and to the listeners. 

•Prepares statements used to introduce songs during performances. 

ACTIVITIES TEAM 

•Organizes all in-house events and promotes these activities to choir members. 

SERVICE TEAM 

•Presents viable opportunities for choir members to volunteer and serve the community 

at local non-profit organizations and missions. 

TALENT TEAM 

•Utilizes the talents of choir members to enhance understanding of the theme through 

art, speeches, and writing. 

CONCERT TEAM 

•Organizes the big performance events of the year like Celebrate Me Home and Send 

Off Concert. This includes all logistical needs - roadies, tech, and riser crew. 

PUBLICITY TEAM 

•Organizes all publicity to the community and beyond for Sonlight activities and 
performances. 

•Works to bring about a closer relationship and understanding between the community 
and Sonlight. 

ADMINISTRATIVE CREATIONS TEAM 

•Known to less imaginative human beings as "the Office Team." 

•Organizes the Sonlight Office, all music, handouts, files and information- weekly. 



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TECHNOLOGY TEAM 

•Maintains the Sonlight web page and sends e-mail messages to the choir at large as 

needed. 

TECH CREW 

•Produces Sonlight's sound at all performances and rehearsals. 

•Maintains the sound equipment and trains other interested Techies. 

FUTURE TEAM 

•Explores the possibilities of a Sonlight-type program in the community. 



APPENDIX C 
ARTICLES ABOUT SONLIGHT FROM THE GAINESVILLE SUN 

Parting Ways- May 26, 2001 
http://www.sunone.com/DAYBREAK/articles/2001-05-26son.shtml 

http://www.toseethestar.org/portfolio/Partingways_RBPF.pdf 

Sonlight Director to Leave Position- January 17, 2001 
http://www.sunone.com/articles/2001 -01 -1 7f .shtml 

A Shining Light for Teens- December 15, 2000 
http://www.sunone.com/DAYBREAK/articles/20000-1 2-1 7son.html 
http://www.toseethestar.org/portfolio/Shininglight_RBPF.pdf 

Musicians Celebrate Return to Gainesville- December 20, 1999 
http://www.sunone.com/news/articles/12-20-99f.shtml 

Lessons from Littleton- June 26, 1 999 
http://www.sunone.com/daybreak/articles/06-26-99dba.shtml 

Taking in Columbine: Gainesville Youth Choir Visits Columbine- June 22, 1999 
http://www.sunone.com/news/articles/06-22-99v.shtml 



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APPENDIX D 
ACTIVITIES OF SONLIGHT: 1 984 - 2001 

Bridge building 

International: 1993 & 1994, the choir raised the money to bring over two Russian 
students from Novorosiisk to tour with us. Developed a pen pal relationship with a high 
school class there, and recorded the rock tune "Wind of Change" (the entire choir 
learned it in Russian) and mailed it to this class as a gesture of friendship and support. 

Racial: 1992-1995 the choir worked on joint projects with the youth from Mt Pleasant 
UMC (an African American church in town.) Included sleepovers, sports events and a 
bull session with a former Black Panther turned minister. 

Persons living with AIDS: 1993 produced the recording "from Sonlight, With Love" for 
families of those suffering with AIDS. Songs of love support and understanding. These 
tapes went out in Christmas baskets to families that Christmas. 

Cancer support: In 1992 one of our choir members, Kim Flaitz, was diagnosed with 
cancer. The choir at that time supported her through letters, journals and visits. Each 
choir that followed thereafter (92-98) supported her in different ways through 6 more 
years. Members organized a hospital support group for others like Kim who were 
teenagers with cancer. Kim died in 98 and the choir was honored to sing at her 
memorial service. It was an incredible journey for all of us and one which none of us will 
ever forget. 

Community: Organized "Celebrate Me Home", a holiday community event on the 
Downtown Plaza.. Local rock bands played for 5 hours and Sonlight closed with an hour 
of holiday and inspirational music (all rock & roll). This event was effective in merging 
the church with the street and the street with the church. It was a huge success, playing 
to more than a thousand people on a December Sunday afternoon. 

Community - Media: The local newspaper, the Gainesville Sun, did over twenty articles 
on the choir over the years. Local radio stations KTK and Rock 104 have played 
Sonlight on the air. The choir performed with local bands like Sister hazel, House of 
Dreams, and Big Sky and have had their members join us in church on some 
performance occasions. 

Peer Support: We produced a booklet called "the Glow of Something Bright" for 
distribution in the local high schools after a suicide attempt by a prominent youth. We 
also reached out to members of Columbine High school through calls and letters of 
support and concern. We conducted our own candle light memorial after our in-depth 
focus on pain in our own high schools. At various times over the years a peer hot line 
was formed, called "Just say Help". Members could request a call by a peer during the 
week. 



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Educational _ D 

Racial: visiting African American speakers and discussions. Intense focus on Dr Brown 
Luther King Jr ON tour we arranged for the reenactment of his "I have a dream speech 
on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We followed with a prayer of repentance for the 
church's slowness to act during the Civil Rights movement. 

Native Americans: Study, discussion on Native American spirituality, participation in 
pow-wows created a medicine wheel with spiritual elder, visited a reservation twice. 
Many projects- building dream catchers and spirit bags, etc. We also studied the two 
battles at Wounded Knee. 

Interfaith: Visited the Rocky Mountain Shambalah Center in 1999 with 120 youth. Group 
instruction in meditation. Discussion with our own members of other faiths. Focus 
sources from scriptures of other wisdom traditions (Hindu, Sufi, Taoist, Islam, Native 
American.) 

Literature: Authors like Thoreau, and poets like Emily Dickinson were frequently used as 
focus sources. 

War: In particular the Vietnam War. Focus developed around Billy Joel's song "Good 
night Saigon", and discussion with Nam vets. 

Heritage/History: We learned our individual immigration stories and visited Ellis Island 
during our Risk a Dream focus. 

Nature/Environment: numerous themes touched on the ecological concerns of our 
times. More than once we planned a walk down a country road for the tranquility and 
perspective it yielded. Two years have been devoted exclusively to a Nature theme (96 
&2001) 

Christian Service: the choir regularly engaged in service projects but we also learned by 
visiting and learning from people in ministry. We have met & worked with the homeless 
shelters in town. On the 2000 tour we visited college students living in community in 
inner-city Philadelphia to work with the poor there. We sought to understand why 8 
college students with college degrees would choose this for a career - and learned... 

Thematic: There was a library reading list on the year's theme for those who wanted to 
explore it further. The focus team created a library for choir members who wanted to 
check-out books related to the theme. Each focus was an education for all of us as we 
explored a theme in depth for a year. 

Service 

Members worked on regular local needs as they were known- from painting a house, to 
singing in a nursing home or a Juvenile Detention center or passing out sandwiches in 
Central Park. Some members developed an after-school tutoring program. Other 
worked regularly with the local AIDS network. Each year there was a "Service Team" for 
those who wanted to take service to a higher level. 



APPENDIX E - A SONLIGHT FOCUS 
Convictions or Post-it Notes? (By Rebecca Brown) 

It is interesting to ponder how it is we learn. There is this emphasis lately on hands-on 
learning, and I think it is because we realize that a lot of what we are taught does not 
really stick with us. I took French in high school and German in college, but Norwegian 
is all I can remember - and I learned that by accident during a month's stay in Norway 
with a friend. To really absorb something, we seem to need to experience it. It's like the 
difference between reading the Cliff's Notes to Farewell to Arms and truly experiencing 
Hemingway. The Cliff's Notes can tell me he meets the nurse and falls in love, but the 
words of Hemingway actually put me in the room with them. 

It only gets more confusing when you think about how we learn faith. In some ways, 
religious education is like reading the Cliff Notes on what is innately internal and 
personal. Sting says, "Let your soul be your pilot," and "Take me to the pilot of your 
soul," calls Elton John. How then could we expect something as weighty as the soul to 
be piloted by Cliff's Notes? 

The way I see it, much of what we learn about anything merely gets tacked on us like 
post-it notes: Jesus died for my sins. He rose again on the third day. I will love the 
Gators. We vote Republican. The average teenager is a walking "post-it tree." Of 
course, some of us feel like raging intellectuals because we've ripped off the yellow 
post-it to put on a pink one, and actually pride ourselves on our individuality! When I 
turned 18, 1 registered Democrat because my dad was a Republican. It took me eight 
more years figure out what either meant. Pink or yellow, it's still just a post-it. 

We parents are proud of the training we've given our kids. When it's time to let them go, 
we spin them around three times, point them in the right direction and hope they read 
their post-it notes. But the first good wind in college blows most of them off - but not all. 
There are always a few notes that were unknowingly sewn in to the fiber of their soul. 
These post-its may have come from you, mom and dad, but not the stitches. 

Sometimes you've got to lost your "post-it faith" to find the internal convictions that won't 
fly off in the wind. It may be oh so small - one lonely, little piece of faith sewn into your 
heart - but it's yours. It might be the size of a mustard seed, but you start with that 
because what you grow from there will be real and will stick with you. 

Adolescence and young adulthood is the natural time to inventory your post-its. If you've 
been raised to "believe," you need to question it. It you've been raised agnostic or 
atheist, you need to question that. Post-it notes get very comfortable. There is some 
security in wearing them. They make us feel as if we know what we think. I've watched 
many a youth dash off to college, post-its flying off in the wind, only to see them again in 
ten years with all of them tacked back neatly in place. They are a lot easier to own then 
convictions. Convictions involve a needle and thread and sometimes pain. I think there 

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is nothing sadder than to meet an adult clutching their post-it notes against the wind of 
time and change. 

Integral to faith is doubt. Integral to learning is experience. Look, touch wonder. Henry 
David Thoreau said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." He said that he went to 
the woods because he didn't want to get to the end of his life and realize he had never 
lived... or that the only convictions he ever owned were post-it notes? 



BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 

Kristin E. Joos is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and the 
Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research at the University of Florida. Her 
major areas of focus are Social Psychology and Families and Gender. She received a 
Master of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of Florida in 1999 and a Bachelor 
of Science with a major of Psychology and minors of Sociology, Women's and Gender 
Studies, and Religion from the University of Florida in 1998. 

Kristin was born and grew up in Gainesville. She likes the youth and progressive 
culture of this college town and loves living in the duckpond neighborhood where she 
can leave her windows open nine months a year, as long as temperatures are over 86 

degrees. 

Kristin enjoys playing many roles: daughter, sister, friend, graduate student, 
college instructor, researcher, tutor, certified pilates instructor, activist, feminist, pluralist, 

and human being. 

Her research interests center around youth, issues of identity, and social 
change. She is not yet certain "what she wants to be when she grows up," nor how she 
defines "success." If she was forced to articulate a definition she would say something 
like this quote, often incorrectly attributed to Emerson: 

To laugh often and much; 

to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; 

to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the 

betrayal of false friends; 

to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; 

to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a 

garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; 

to know even one life has breathed easier because you 

have lived. 

This is to have succeeded. 

168 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable 
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation 
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Constance L. Shehan, Chair 
Professor of Sociology 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable 
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation 
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 





jer F. Gubrium 
Professor of Sociology 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable 
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation 
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Barbara A. Zsembik U 
Associate Professor of Sociology 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable 
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation 
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 





Richard C. Hollinger 

Associate Professor of Sociology 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable 
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation 
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 




ArrfdTd A. Hegges 
Chester C. Holloway Professor of Finance, 
Insurance, and Real Estate 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable 
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation 
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Mary Ann Clark 

Assistant Professor of Counselor Education 



This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the department of Sociology in 
the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was accepted in partial 
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



May 2003 



Dean, Graduate School 



LD 
1780 

20 M 



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UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 



3 1262 08555 0365