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High School Grads 2019 Congrats

Mary McIlrath

In May of 2019, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that high school graduation rates in the U.S. hit a new high in the 2016-2017 school year (most recent year available), up to 85%. To see how graduation varies by cultural background and by state, check out their website. Spoiler alert: if you were a student in Iowa or New Jersey, you had a 91% chance of earning your diploma—the highest in the country. 

This made us at YouthBeat® think about how far these graduating teens have come—we’ve had them in our panels since they were barely able to read. So, we looked back at what they had to say in 2009 and how that compares to what they think now. Because ages at graduation can vary, we looked at the youngest school kids (ages 6-8) back in 2009 and compared them to teens who could be graduating (ages 16-18) in our most recent year of data. Keep in mind that these are all open-ended questions, so the proportion of youth that says the same thing isn’t always high, but it effectively captures what’s on their hearts and minds without us prompting or leading them to specific answers. Below are their #1 responses then, and now. 

What’s the best thing about being your age right now? 

2009, Kids 6-8: Playing (52%) 

2018, Teens 16-18: Freedom (21%) 

Hand in hand with more freedom, another 16% of teens mentioned the ability to drive. While some teens in urban areas have access to public transportation or ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft, the license remains a holy grail for many who enjoy the exhilaration of being in the driver’s seat, and what it symbolizes for the broadening of their horizons. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

2009, Kids 6-8: Teacher (16%) 

2018, Teens 16-18: Doctor (11%)  

Another 6% of teens said nurse and 5% said engineer—it appears that all the emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) education really sank in. We always like to emphasize the “A” in STEAM, representing Art. With this in mind, 7% of teens said they’d like to be an author or writer. Long live the liberal arts! 

What stresses you out? 

2009, Kids 6-8: Nothing (26%), followed by Family Relationships (19%) 

2018, Teens 16-18: College (21%) 

Clearly, childhood agreed with this cohort, if more than a quarter of them didn’t have a care in the world, and the next biggest concern was sibling squabbles. In contrast, walking across the stage to collect a diploma is a very proud moment, though it can also be fraught with stress about what is in store during adulthood. These teens know some of what’s coming—10% of them said the best part of being their age is not having to pay bills, and another 8% said it’s the limited responsibilities. 

OUR POV: If you’re a brand that serves the teen and young adult population, or just an adult with one of these young people in your life, make sure to check in with them and reassure them that you’ve got their back, and you’ll be there to support them as they take the next steps in life. Just like you supported them when they took their first steps in life and into a classroom. Help them revel mindfully in this moment of excitement before they turn a new page. 

Source: YouthBeat® Total Year 2009 and 2018