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Teens Talk: Are Adolescents Willing and Able to Answer Survey Questions?

Jennifer Hess, Jennifer Rothgeb, Andy Zukerberg, US Bureau of the Census
Kerry Richter, Population Services International
Suzanne Le Menestrel, Kristin Moore, Elizabeth Terry, Child Trends, Inc.

KEY WORDS: Survey of Program Dynamics, Adolescent Questionnaire, Cognitive Interviews, Field Pretest


The Survey of Program Dynamics is a longitudinal survey designed to measure the impact of welfare reform. One component of the survey is a self-administered questionnaire for adolescents ages 12 to 17. The adolescent component is designed to be self-administered through an audiocassette player. In a collaborative effort, staff at Child Trends, Inc. and the Census Bureau developed a survey with topics areas on family routines, parent/child relationships, parental control, contact with outside parents, delinquent behaviors, substance use, attitudes and knowledge of welfare reform, dating, sexual intercourse, contraception, and childbearing. Several issues concerned staff in various areas of the Census Bureau. Would the adolescents be willing to answer questions on these topics and, more importantly, would their parents agree to the child being interviewed? Would the adolescents, particularly the younger ones, understand the questions and be able to perform the task? Would the interview hold the adolescents' attention for the 20 - 30 minute survey administration? Would the adolescents have privacy concerns and would they be comfortable answering the questions? To address these concerns, two tests were conducted. First, a series of one-on-one, think aloud cognitive interviews were conducted in which respondent comprehension and task difficulty were explored. Second, a small field pretest was conducted in which interviews were obtained from 60 adolescents. As part of the pretest, a series of respondent debriefing questions were included at the end of the instrument to address the issues of privacy concerns, adolescents' comfort level with the subject matter, their interest level, and their ability to concentrate on the survey task. Additionally, information was obtained regarding parental cooperation. In this paper, we will discuss results from the two tests and the associated modifications made to the survey instrument.

CITATION: 1998, Proceedings of the Section on Survey Research Methods, Alexandria, VA: American Statistical Association, pp. 000-000.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010