An Interview with Christine French Cully: The State of the Kid

Oct 5, 2018 by

Christine French Cully, editor in chief of Highlights,

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Christine, first of all can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m the editor in chief of Highlights, leading the team that develops all the products and experiences we develop for children. As only the fourth editor in chief in the company’s 72-year history, I play a strategic, ongoing role in the development of the Highlights vision and brand across all markets and channels around the globe. I’m responsible for shaping the editorial direction of all the children’s products the company develops—its magazines, books, and digital offerings. I also help to ensure that every child’s letter that comes through the Highlights door and email inbox gets a thoughtful response, answering many letters myself. At Highlights we believe that “children are the world’s most important people” and that every child’s voice matters.

2) How did you first get involved in Highlights ( a periodical that I truly admire)?

I’m a bit of an anomaly in that I’ve worked in only one industry my whole career and, in so doing, I can honestly say that I am living my childhood dream. You know the question adults often ask children: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was always “I want to be a children’s magazine editor.” I never focused on anything else. After college, I immediately entered the publishing industry and worked for other children’s publications for several years. After teaching writers at a Highlights-sponsored writers’ workshop as guest faculty, I was offered a position at Highlights—which, of course, I seized, because I admired the periodical, too! I also felt very aligned with the Highlights mission to help kids grow to become their best selves–and with the way Highlights focuses on the whole child and thinks about what kids need to grow to become thoughtful, literate citizens of the world.   

3) Now, the “State of the Kid ” survey- how many kids did you ask and what did you ask them about?

Highlights surveyed 2,000 children across the country, ages six to twelve, between March 31 and June 8, 2018, in partnership with C+R Research, a leading market-research firm with expertise in youth and families.   The theme and overarching survey explores “Who and What Influences Kids Today and Do Kids Feel Heard and Empowered?”

Specifically we asked:

  • Other than members of your own family, who is a person you admire and respect? Why do you admire and respect this person?
  • When you need help or have something important to say, who is the person you go to first?
  • What, if anything, do you worry about?
  • Do you think the grown-ups in your life really care about what you have to say?
  • Do you think the world really cares about what kids have to say?
  • If you saw or heard someone doing or saying something to hurt you or another person, what would you do?
  • What do you like best about yourself?
  • What should grown-ups know about being a kid today?
  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and why would you want it?

4) Do you consider it a representative sample?

Yes.  Fifty percent of respondents were boys and 50 percent were girls. Thirty-eight percent were children ages six to eight; 31 percent were ages nine to ten, and 31 percent were ages eleven to twelve. The mostly open-ended survey was taken online, both at home and in the classroom. Gender and age of children were matched to U.S. Census statistics to ensure that results are from a representative sample of children. C+R provided analysis of all data collected.

5) What seemed to be the interesting or surprising results?

We always learn something interesting when we lean in and listen to kids. With this survey, we often start with some initial assumptions, which the survey data may validate or challenge. Almost always, our survey brings something new to light. Our results, collectively, tell a story that only helps parents, grandparents, teachers, and everyone who advocates for kids serve kids better.

Of particular note this year are two key insights. Our results indicate that more than ¾ of kids ages 6-12 worry, and many of their worries are about safety and violence. The second insight I hope we discuss is the increasing admiration and respect children have for their teacher. This is an important data point now, as we are in the midst of an important national conversation about teachers.

6) Many children WORRY a lot- Did you investigate this?

If by ‘investigate’ you mean, did we probe to learn more about how they answered this question, we did.  Of the kids we surveyed, 79% said they worry.  We weren’t necessarily surprised to hear this, but it was revealing to hear what they worry about. They said they worry about everything from family/friends/loved ones, to school work, to violence/safety.  This year’s survey revealed that worrying about schoolwork has decreased since 2009. You can see the actual data in our Media Sheet or at

7) Given the recent surge of school shootings, church shootings, and even library shootings- how worried are children about not being protected by adults?

Of the children who say they worry, 11% say they are worrying about violence/safety.  Of those, 35% say they are worrying specifically about gun violence at schools. Despite this concerning statistic, kids also told us that they feel the grown-ups in their lives care about what they have to say. But it’s not always easy for children to articulate their worries and fears in a way that adults can hear and understand. We often make assumptions that aren’t always accurate, so it’s incumbent upon adults to be intentional about taking the time and making the effort to have a meaningful dialogue with kids. The cornerstone of that meaningful dialogue is active listening. And that’s the main goal of this study—to shine a light on what’s on kids’ minds so that all adults who advocate for kids can be of better support.

Relative to this particular finding about kids’ worries, leaning in and listening may be critical to a child’s long-term mental health.

8) On the other hand, who do they seem to look up to- parents, friends, teachers, coaches? What did you find and was this surprising?

We asked “Other than members of your own family, who is a person you admire and respect?” and 25% of the kids said they admired their teachers (up from 17% in 2009).  Fifteen percent of kids also reported that they admired celebrities (up from 4% in 2009). 

We were gratified to see the increasingly influential role teachers are playing in the lives of kids.  The finding underscores how critically important teachers are as partners with parents working to help kids become their best selves.  In this time of discord with the education system, teacher walk-outs, school funding challenges, student safety, etc., we hope this survey statistic raises more awareness of kids’ view of their teachers and the impact teachers have on their students.

The increasing influence of celebrities on kids was not surprising and likely reflects the increasing exposure kids have to media.  Our advice to parents: Stay close to your kids and know who and what they are watching. Ask questions and show interest, so you can help them be thoughtful and better guide their choices.   

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Here’s a finding that we see as good news: We are raising a generation of upstanders!  Of the kids surveyed, 93% said they would take action if they see someone doing or saying something mean.  And 23% would try to stop it on their own.  We thought that speaks volumes about how our kids today feel empowered to make change and are intent on creating a better tomorrow. This should infuse us all—parents, grandparents, teachers, and the world at large—with hope and optimism about the future.

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