Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB3

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Influences on Teen Decisions


Roger A. Rennekamp
Assistant Extension Professor, 4-H/Youth Development
University of Kentucky-Lexington

Today's youth are faced with the challenge of coping with an ever-broadening spectrum of influences on decision making and behavior. Many of these influences have potentially negative effects on growth and development. For example, social environments have been associated with participation in potentially "at-risk" behaviors such as use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.1 Consequently, 4-H and Extension must be aware of the sources and magnitude of these influences and create environments where positive influences dominate.

A study conducted at the University of Kentucky assessed the magnitude of various sources of influence on the decisions made by a select group of Kentucky teens about contemporary youth development issues.2


During the Summer of 1988, a written questionnaire was developed to collect information from teens attending the 1988 Senior 4-H Conference on the University of Kentucky campus. The questionnaire was reviewed for content validity by a panel of experts in the field of youth development. On the second day of the conference, the questionnaire was administered to the 453 teen delegates by county Extension agents in attendance. A total of 384 completed questionnaires were returned and usable. Several items on the questionnaire focused specifically on sources of influence on teen decision making.


Respondents were predominantly rural (35%), female (72%), and from families where a natural mother and father lived at home (83%). Seventy-three percent of the respondents were 14-16 years of age.

When asked if parents or friends had the greater influence on decision making, 51% of the respondents indicated friends had greater influence, while the remaining 49% cited parents as having more.

Half the respondents said that what they learned at home had more influence on their decisions than school or church. School was cited as most influential by 31.5%, while church was cited by only 19%.

Of media sources, television was cited as having the most influence, with 58% citing it as the source of greatest influence on decision making. What was read in print was second with 27%, while 15% indicated that radio was most influential.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the respondents said they had someone they considered a role model. Of those who said they had role models, 27% said their role model was a friend, 15% said a parent, while 12% said an athlete. Other role models cited included actors, other family members, doctors, lawyers, 4-H agents, leaders, ministers, politicians, and musicians.

How effective Cooperative Extension is in affecting the growth and development of youth may hinge on how well it aligns itself with sources of influence on the decision-making process.


1. John D. Hundleby and G. William Mercer, "Family and Friends as Social Environments and Their Relationship to Young Adolescents' Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Marijuana," Journal of Marriage and the Family, XLIX (February 1987), 151-64.

2. Roger A. Rennekamp and others, "A Profile of Teen Attitudes Toward Contemporary Youth Issues" (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1988).