What do teens really want?

If they could have anything in the world, what would it be?

If you believe the media’s gender stereotypes, you might assume that most teen girls want to be thinner (like fashion models and pop stars), and boys want to be world-class athletes.

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Well, you’d be wrong.

In fact, researchers asked 110 teen patients receiving care at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital: “If you could have three wishes come true, what would they be?” And they found some interesting results.

Responses were categorized as wishes for self (e.g., “to be a millionaire”); wishes for others (e.g., “world peace”); or wishes that encompassed for both self and others (e.g., “for my family to have what it needs”).

Overall, 85 percent had a wish for self, 32 percent had wishes for others, and 10 percent had a wish for both. Boys tended to be more selfish than girls, and were more likely to wish only for themselves.

The most common wishes were for money (40.9 percent), material items (30.9 percent), wishes for the world (20.0 percent), wishes for family (17.3 percent), school success (17.3 percent), athletic success (15.5 percent), and more wishes/ fantastical powers (such as being able to fly) (13.6 percent).

Contrary to the popular assumptions about teen girls constantly worrying about their weight or appearance, only 8.2 percent of the wishes were about appearance, and just 3.6 percent of the boys and girls wished to be thinner; there was no difference between the genders. In fact, it supports a study of college women earlier this year that found that most women are not that concerned about being thin.

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Overall boys wished more for success, while girls wished more for happiness.

“Most wishes were predictable (i.e., for wealth or athleticism), but occasionally poignant wishes (i.e., “to have papers for my parents to pass the border”) reinforce the value of allowing adolescents a voice,” the researchers concluded.

The results were presented earlier this month at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver.

Photo credit: Corbis