Kids love the USA, but don’t necessarily feel safe here

October 29, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

A study released by Highlights magazine this month indicates that children feel patriotic about our country, but fewer feel they are safer than their parents were growing up.

It’s an interesting survey to read in light of a recent wave of violence in schools, including the school shooting in Nevada and the murder of a beloved Massachusetts teacher. In today’s highly technological world, it can be hard to shield our children from every incident – whether it’s violence in schools or weather devastation. While the survey results were collected in spring 2013, they make us think about how much of an effect awareness of world events can have on our children.

Evidence shows that children growing up in the United States are safer today than at any other time in history. Yet whether they feel safe is an interesting question.

According to the survey, a significant percentage of all children surveyed (68 percent) felt that it is safer to be a kid today than when their parents were growing up. Older children (ages 11-14) were pretty evenly split on this issue, with 51 percent saying they felt it was safer to be a kid today.

While kids generally believe today’s world is safer compared to previous generations, only 7.6 percent thought it was safer to play “outside” while 49.9 percent of the survey participants said it was safer to play “inside.”

Kids today spend half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago, which raises a question about whether kids are being raised to fear the outdoors.

More than three quarters of the children surveyed (77.9 percent ) said they believe the U.S. is the best country. Younger kids (ages 4-8) were more likely than older kids (ages 11-14) to favor the U.S. above all other countries. The most frequent response among children of all ages as to why they thought the U.S. was the best: “freedom” (21.3 percent).

While kids are optimistic about our country, they’re also aware of the challenges facing our society. When asked what one new law they would create if they had the chance, their answers included laws about children’s rights and safety (12.4 percent), education (11.6 percent), weapons (6.6 percent) and smoking (6.3 percent).

“I believe this year’s survey reveals that kids are optimists who see good in the world around them. If we let them, kids can help us curb our own cynicism and invigorate our efforts to make the future brighter for them,” said Christine French Cully, editor in chief of Highlights magazine, in a statement.

How to help a child feel safe

It is possible to help a child feel safe without false promises of safety. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Children are observant, and they are sponges. They will absorb their parents’ attitudes and emotions, so it’s important to be aware of our reaction and the words we use when discussing an event in front of them.

Limit young children’s exposure to news coverage that could be scary or worrisome. Research has shown that young children can have heightened anxiety when repeatedly exposed to news coverage of a natural disaster or violent event.

The odds of any individual family being affected by a disaster or act of violence/terror may be extremely low, but don’t offer false assurances. Instead of, “This could never happen here,” remind children that the media thrives on shocking stories, and the excessive coverage of a single event can make it seem more important than the everyday events the media does not cover.

Discuss traumatic events with your child in an age-appropriate manner. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers guidelines broken down by age in Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event. Remember younger children may confuse facts with their own fears and imagination. Remind them of stories of optimism, resilience, human strength and love in troubling times.

This is the fifth year Highlights has conducted the annual State of the Kid survey, which asks kids ages 4-14 to share their thoughts on specific issues. A total of 1,409 kids completed the 2013 survey. The complete 2013 State of the Kid report, including additional data and verbatim responses from the kids can be found at


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