America's oft-maligned teen-agers are, in fact, tuned in to the nation's problems, eager to help solve them and ready to make sacrifices to assist their parents in surviving hard economic times.
These are some of the findings of a new study on the family released today by the American Board of Family Practice, representing the nation's second-largest medical specialty. The study was commissioned, board officials said, to determine the impact of social and psychological factors on the health of America's families.
According to the board, the survey of 1,050 adults and 400 teens is the first to look at how adults and adolescents are coping with economic and social pressures of the '90s.
"This turns the image of the selfish teen on its head," said John Pollock, a New Jersey social scientist whose firm prepared the study.
"They are as concerned as adults -- or more concerned -- about every issue. And they are very clearly willing to shoulder responsibility to help their families survive economic challenges."
The study, which put the same questions to adults and teens, found that the two groups view the same issues as paramount. Both worry about:
* The deterioration of the environment, with its health-threatening consequences (72 percent of adults; 78 percent of the teens).
* The poor education being offered children (62 percent of adults; 75 percent of teens).
* A family member's becoming a crime victim (61 percent of adults; 75 percent of teens).
* A family member's getting acquired immune deficiency syndrome (58 percent of adults; 74 percent of teens).
* The national economy's worsening into a depression (58 percent of adults; 70 percent of teens).
The vast majority of those surveyed (84 percent of the adults and 79 percent of the teens) believe that drinking and drunken driving are the most serious problems facing teens. Abuse at the hands of parents, teen suicide, the temptation to use drugs, the fear of pregnancy and the pressure to have sex at an early age are other top concerns of both groups.
The study concludes that the most pressing problems facing today's teens are "not those of finding satisfying activities or relationships with friends . . . Rather, teen-agers and adults agree that the danger lies in the possibility of self-abuse or the tolerance of abuse by others."
Dr. John Hayes, an Indianapolis psychiatrist who serves as a director of the Board of Family Practice, said the fact that teens and adults voice the same concerns suggests that Americans are communicating better across the generation gap.
Pollock said: "Teens are our major resource for revitalizing the American family. Still, we need to make it clear that we're not throwing all of the responsibility of the world on their shoulders."