Good News for Youth: At Least 9 in 10 Have Supportive Adults in Their Lives

Posted September 20, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Update youthwithsupportiveadults 2021

Accord­ing to new data in the KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter, 90% of U.S. teens ages 14 to 17 had at least one adult men­tor in the com­mu­ni­ty who could be relied on for advice and guid­ance, and 94% of youth could share ideas or talk about things that mat­ter with par­ents in 20182019. These esti­mates, which have held steady since 20162017, are based on par­ent reports and are the lat­est fig­ures from the Nation­al Sur­vey of Children’s Health.

Youth Need Sup­port­ive Adults to Thrive

This is heart­en­ing news for America’s youth, as sup­port­ive adults at home and in the com­mu­ni­ty play a vital role in fos­ter­ing pos­i­tive out­comes for youth. It is encour­ag­ing, too, that just before the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic hit, the vast major­i­ty of teens ages 14 to 17 were bol­stered by adults whom they could rely on for guid­ance and safe communication.

Ado­les­cence is a crit­i­cal stage of devel­op­ment, when major changes in biol­o­gy and brain func­tion­ing occur. It also is a for­ma­tive tran­si­tion­al phase between child­hood and adult­hood, when young peo­ple need adult sup­port as they nav­i­gate increas­ing auton­o­my, form­ing their iden­ti­ty, forg­ing new rela­tion­ships, gain­ing socioe­mo­tion­al and life skills, obtain­ing edu­ca­tion and train­ing and more. Young adult­hood is a win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty for par­ents, care­givers and adults in the com­mu­ni­ty — as well as for pro­grams, invest­ments and poli­cies — to sup­port youth and help put them on a pos­i­tive path for the future.

Inequities Exist in Access to Sup­port­ive Adults, Par­tic­u­lar­ly Com­mu­ni­ty Mentors

While the find­ings are hope­ful for teens as a whole, the data by state and race and eth­nic­i­ty reveal dis­par­i­ties in access to sup­port­ive adults. For exam­ple, at the state lev­el, esti­mates of youth with at least one adult men­tor in the com­mu­ni­ty ranged from 85% in Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona to 97% in Maine and Ver­mont. Among racial and eth­nic groups at the nation­al lev­el dur­ing 20162019, the great­est need for access to adult men­tors was indi­cat­ed for Lati­no youth, with only 81% hav­ing a com­mu­ni­ty men­tor, com­pared to 95% for white youth. In some states, the per­cent­ages for Lati­no teens were even low­er, includ­ing Texas (73%) and Cal­i­for­nia (79%).

The mea­sure of youth and par­ents being able to talk about issues that mat­ter var­ied less by state (88%-97%) and race and eth­nic­i­ty. But giv­en that par­ents and care­givers play a crit­i­cal role in youth devel­op­ment, every effort should be made to ensure that fam­i­lies have equi­table access to the resources and sup­port they need to help their teens thrive.

In Addi­tion to Sup­port­ive Adults, Youth Need Oppor­tu­ni­ties for Com­mu­ni­ty Engagement

The Nation­al Sur­vey of Children’s Health also found that 56% of youth ages 14 to 17 par­tic­i­pat­ed in com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice or vol­un­teer work at school, church or in the com­mu­ni­ty dur­ing the past year, accord­ing to par­ent reports in 20182019.

This kind of work is impor­tant for youth, not only because they can con­tribute to their com­mu­ni­ties in mean­ing­ful ways, but also because it can help them devel­op a sense of pur­pose and oth­er capa­bil­i­ties, such as crit­i­cal think­ing and socioe­mo­tion­al and lead­er­ship skills. In addi­tion, it serves as a proxy to indi­cate how many chil­dren are in house­holds with the finan­cial resources that allow chil­dren the free time to vol­un­teer, rather than requir­ing them to work or pro­vide child care to help the house­hold make ends meet. How­ev­er, not all young peo­ple have access to pro­grams that offer com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice, vol­un­teer projects or oth­er youth engage­ment opportunities.

Dif­fer­ences at the state lev­el on this mea­sure were espe­cial­ly pro­nounced, rang­ing from 40% of youth in Neva­da par­tic­i­pat­ing in com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice in the past year to 67% in New Jer­sey and Mary­land.

Among racial and eth­nic groups, fig­ures ranged from 46% for Lati­no youth to 67% for Asian and Pacif­ic Islander youth at the nation­al lev­el. These data high­light the need to expand oppor­tu­ni­ties for youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice and engagement.

Ado­les­cence: A Time for Sup­port, Engage­ment and Equity

While ado­les­cence is a time of sig­nif­i­cant cog­ni­tive, bio­log­i­cal and psy­choso­cial trans­for­ma­tion, the future tra­jec­to­ries of young peo­ple are great­ly influ­enced by envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, such as fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty and edu­ca­tion­al sup­port and resources. Today’s youth also face 21st-cen­tu­ry issues like the increas­ing role of social media, the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and recent cul­tur­al move­ments, includ­ing the upris­ing to address police dis­crim­i­na­tion and vio­lence. Giv­en the com­plex­i­ty of the cur­rent envi­ron­ment and long-stand­ing sys­temic inequities lead­ing to more chal­lenges for youth of col­or, young peo­ple need equi­table access to sup­port­ive, car­ing adults and oppor­tu­ni­ties for mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tions and engage­ment now more than ever.

These three indi­ca­tors on com­mu­ni­ty men­tors, talk­ing to par­ents and com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice are part of a new large dataset on the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter describ­ing youth and young adults ages 14 to 24. The dataset cov­ers top­ics includ­ing demo­graph­ics, employ­ment, pover­ty, edu­ca­tion, health, men­tal health and fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty fac­tors. Learn more about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s increas­ing focus on this impor­tant pop­u­la­tion in the Thrive by 25 announce­ment.

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