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Are Teens Afraid of STEM Careers? Are Parents to Blame?

Feb. 26, 2013
46% of teens surveyed said they are afraid to fail or are uncomfortable taking risks to solve problems
While 95% of teens agree that risk-taking is required for innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, careers, 46% say they are afraid to fail or are uncomfortable taking risks to solve problems, according to an ASQ survey conducted by Kelton Global.

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The survey, which was fielded in January in advance of National Engineers Week, Feb. 17-23, reveals that students' pressure to succeed may be driven by parents, of which 81% say they are uncomfortable if their child does not perform well in sports, extracurricular activities or social situations. Of those parents, 73% say they feel uncomfortable when their child gets bad grades.

While nearly half of students are afraid or uncomfortable about failing, Cheryl Birdsong-Dyer, an ASQ member and professional process engineer, said failing—and more importantly, trying again—is a pivotal skill in problem solving.

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"If one does not take risk, they risk not solving the problem," she said. "As educators, professionals and leaders we need to reinforce to teens that every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. Teaching teens that it is okay to take risks and sometimes fail will build their confidence and ultimately their knowledge base of science, technology, engineering and math."

Girls Fear Failure More

According to the survey, 88% of students say they feel the pressure to succeed, of which 71% say failing a class makes them feel they have not succeeded. Seventy-eight percent of girls feel unsuccessful when they fail a class, compared to 64% of boys. When faced with a difficult problem to solve, only 11% of students are happy because they enjoy solving problems, according to the survey results. Fifty-eight percent of girls say they feel uncomfortable or afraid when facing a difficult problem in school. In comparison, only 34% of boys feel uncomfortable or afraid when asked to solve challenging schoolwork.

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ASQ CEO Paul Borawski says, "We need to teach today's students how to take risks and fail, so they feel comfortable when faced with challenging work. If students are going to cure the next deadly disease, solve the energy crisis or end world hunger, they have to be prepared to fail and learn from those failures."

About the Survey

The ASQ STEM survey was conducted Jan. 3-11, 2013, among 511 American youth, ages 12-17, and 391 parents using an email invitation and an online survey. Margin of error was ±5% for the parent sample and ±4.3% for the youth sample.