BOSTON — For a growing number of teenagers, concentrating on the 3 Rs may be taking second place to worrying about the 2 Gs - guns and gangs.
Ten percent of teens surveyed in a new national poll say they are afraid of being shot or hurt by other teens carrying guns in school. And more than 40 percent say they know other teenagers who are members of gangs.
The survey, commissioned by Children's Institute International, a non-profit organization in Los Angeles, polled 904 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17. Nearly half of these students think their school is getting more violent, and a quarter think their neighborhood is less safe. These perceptions hold true among both girls and boys in all kinds of school settings - inner cities, suburbs, rural areas - and in all regions of the country.
"One of the things we don't know from this kind of survey is the actual level of violence," says Mary Emmons, president of Children's Institute International. "But perception in many ways is reality, because we make decisions based on our perceptions. We gear our lives based on that. We're seeing that kids are reacting to what they perceive to be a more violent world."
Like adults, Ms. Emmons says, children "are adjusting their lives because of their fear of violence. We heard children telling us they will take a longer route to school. They will not involve themselves in certain school activities. They are afraid that if they go to a certain activity or take a certain route to school, they'll end up getting mugged or worse."
Yet blame for violence cannot always be placed on strangers or peers. In one of the most significant findings, 43 percent of the teens say they think violence is learned from parents. In addition, 85 percent believe that drugs and alcohol are important causes of violence within families as well as among young people.
Fourteen percent of teenagers recommend banning or controlling violence in entertainment. And 12 percent suggest banning or controlling weapons by using metal detectors and other devices. But 16 percent say there is no hope.
Emmons refutes that notion. "There are many good things that can be done," she says. She cites a zero-tolerance policy in Michigan, in which students who take a weapon to school are expelled for the first offense.
"If kids know there is sure and swift action, they are willing to turn kids in. But if they're not sure the kids are going to be kicked out of school, they're unwilling to tell, because they're putting themselves in danger."
Parents, educators, and police all need to be "a lot more involved," Emmons adds.
"Kids tell us it makes a big difference if parents are involved in their schools. They also want schools to have strict rules and old-fashioned methods of discipline, to make sure principals and teachers are really in control of their schools."