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

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Working Paper Number SM98-08 and SPD98-1

This paper was presented during a poster session at the Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, May 14-17, 1998, St. Louis, Missouri.


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, which asks about potentially sensitive behaviors. 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: a series of one-on-one, think aloud, and a small field pretest. In this paper, we will discuss results from the two tests and the associated modifications made to the survey instrument.

Page Last Revised - January 3, 2023
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