Chicago Parents Identify the Top 10 Social Issues Affecting Youth in the City

In the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) teamed up to learn more about child health in the city. Individuals were asked which social issues are "big problems" for children and adolescents in the city—not just their own kids. Here we list the Top 10 social issues for children and adolescents in Chicago, as seen by parents in Chicago. 

Key Findings:

  • Chicago parents identified gun violence, bullying, and poverty as the biggest social issues facing youth in the city.
  • Younger parents were more concerned about school violence than older parents.
  • Parents with older children were more concerned about social media use than parents with younger children. 

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Information You Can Use

1. Gun Violence | 87%

The number one social concern that parents had for youth in Chicago was gun-related violence in neighborhoods, with 87% of parents considering this a big problem. Gun violence emerged as the top concern for parents of all ages, and for parents of children of all ages.

Many community organizations in Chicago are working on reducing neighborhood gun violence and crime. For instance, Becoming a Man, is a program that uses mentorship to teach young men how to navigate difficult circumstances, and has been shown to reduce violent crime arrests by 50% among program participants.[1] Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY), a collaborative convened by Lurie Children's, provides training, support and evidence-based strategies for violence prevention. 

2. Bully and Cyberbullying | 76%

Bullying and cyberbullying emerged as the second biggest concern among parents in our survey, with 76% of parents considering this a big problem.

The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which surveyed high school students in Chicago and across the United States, found that 15% of Chicago high school students were bullied on school property within the last year, and 12% were electronically bullied. Other research indicates that rates of cyberbullying among teens may be even higher (59%).

Parents can learn more about bullying and cyberbullying at There are also suggestions for how to report cyberbullying.


3. Poverty | 74%

The third most common social concern was child poverty. In 2017, 27% of children in Chicago and 17% of children in Illinois were living below the poverty threshold. 

Individuals and families in need of assistance can find more information about assistance from the Illinois Department of Human Services.



4. Lack of Adult Supervision and Involvement | 73%

Lack of adult supervision and involvement was the fourth biggest social concern for parents in our sample. Younger parents tended to be more concerned about this issue than older parents.

One issue connected to lack of adult supervision is access to quality childcare and early childhood education. The City of Chicago is working to implement a universal, full-day pre-kindergarten for four-year-old children.

The ACT Now Coalition works to ensure young people have access to quality, affordable afterschool and youth development programs. They maintain a map of afterschool programs in Illinois.

For children who are 14 years old or older, parents can help prepare their children to stay alone. In Illinois, state law prohibits parents from leaving children home alone if they are under 14 years old.

5. Racism and Discrimination | 70%

The fifth biggest social concern Chicago parents had for youth in the city was racism and discrimination. Experiencing discrimination is associated with lower academic performance and self-esteem, and higher levels of depression, anxiety, distress, physical complaints, and delinquency.[2],[3],[4]

It can be helpful for parents to talk to their children about racism. Additionally, individuals can learn more about filing discrimination complaints in the City of Chicago.



6. Racial Disparities in Child and Adolescent Health | 69%

Over two thirds of Chicago parents considered worse health for children of color than for white children to be a big problem for Chicago youth.

In the United States, racial disparities in child health continue to adversely affect children of color.[5] One of the goals of Healthy Chicago 2.0, the city’s public health plan, is to reduce health disparities in Chicago.


7. Violence at Schools | 68%

Violence at schools was another major concern among Chicago parents. Younger parents tended to be more concerned about this issue than older parents. A 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association found that school violence is also a major concern for adolescents and young adults.

Know the Signs is a collection of research-based programs and practices to help protect children from gun violence. 



8. Social Media | 65%

The eighth biggest social concern that parents had for youth in Chicago was social media. Parents with older children were more likely to be concerned about social media than parents of young children.

Parents can learn more about being digitally aware to protect their children from harmful online behavior. There are also resources to learn more about the social media apps and sites commonly used by children and teens, and how to report cyberbullying.


9. Not Enough Job Opportunities for Parents | 65%

Parents were also concerned that limited job opportunities for parents was a major social problem affecting youth in Chicago. In 2016, 36% of youth in Chicago were living in families in which no parent had regular, full-time employment.

The City of Chicago has a list of resources for job seekers.



10. Unsafe Housing | 62%

The tenth social issue that parents in Chicago were concerned about was unsafe housing.

Parents can help to create safe environments for their children by taking steps to prevent lead poisoning, prevent window falls, and ensure home fire safety. Additionally, unstable living conditions such as family homelessness are associated with worse youth health. 



[1] Thinking, Fast and Slow? Some Field Experiments to Reduce Crime and Dropout in Chicago. Heller, S.B., Shah, A.K., Guryan, J., Ludwig, J., Mullainathan, S., & Pollack, H.A. NBER Working Paper No. 21178. May 2015, Revised June 2016. 

[2] Huynh, V. W., & Fuligni, A. J. (2010). Discrimination hurts: The academic, psychological, and physical well-being of adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20(4), 916-941.

[3] Martin MJ, McCarthy B, Conger RD, et al. The Enduring Significance of Racism: Discrimination and Delinquency Among Black American Youth. J Res Adolesc. 2011;21(3):662-676. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00699.x 

[4] Priest N, Paradies Y, Trenerry B, et al. A systematic review of studies examining the relationship between reported racism and health and wellbeing for children and young people. Soc Sci & Med. 2013;95:115-127.

[5] Flores G, Tomany-Korman SC. Racial and ethnic disparities in medical and dental health, access to care, and use of services in US children. Pediatrics. 2008;121(2):286-298. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-1243