'State of the Kid' survey finds U.S. children feel patriotic yet unsafe

For the past five years, the children’s magazine Highlights has provided a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up in the 21st century with its annual State of the Kid survey.

The results of the 2013 edition, which will be released Wednesday, portray the next generation as patriotic, but perhaps worried about their own safety.

The theme of the survey changes each year; in previous questionnaires, the publication has quizzed kids about reading, bullying, and gender roles, among other hot topics. The survey, which questioned 1,400 Highlights readers online, is not nationally representative.

“Kids are always honest and they often surprise us,” said Christine French Cully, editor-in-chief of Highlights. “The survey gives us a platform to listen to them.”

Cully told that this year’s focus on patriotism was an effort to understand whether or not children are as proud as their parents to be from the U.S. – and indeed they are. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they considered America to be the best country in the world.

Children may also have a complicated relationship with their sense of safety, according to the survey. More than two-thirds said they were likely safer than their parents growing up, but most kids said it is safer to play inside than outside.

“That made us wonder what kind of messages we might be sending to children,” Cully said.

A question about whether it’s better to be honest or kind was inspired in part by the many letters Highlights received about children who’ve experienced unkind behavior or regret being mean to someone.

Children between the ages of four and 10 favored honesty over kindness by a large margin, but older kids expressed a more balanced view.

“Obviously the answer wasn’t black and white and they are intertwined,” Cully said. Picking between the two, she added, comes into play in scenarios like when a child is opening a present from grandma and it’s the dreaded hand-knit sweater. “Do we teach our children to be honest or kind?”

In that case, grandma might want to avoid asking younger gift recipients of their opinion lest she get an honest answer.

Other questions hinted at gender differences that have shown up in previous surveys. When asked what children would do as grown-ups for one day, more girls said they would shop whereas boys overwhelmingly said they would play. On the other hand, more girls than boys said they would try to change the world.

Overall, kids seem to long for the independence of adulthood: The top two choices to that question were to get a job and drive.

Though the survey offers only a limited perspective on what it’s like to be young, Cully said it contains reminders about the importance of listening to kids.

Doing so, she said, sends the message that: “You’re interesting and it’s important for me to know how you think. It’s really one of the most nurturing things to do for children.”