Sentence Completion to Assess Children’s Views about Aging
Purpose: Sentence completion exercises require students to give open-ended responses to prompts. The first purpose of this article is to describe the method of sentence completion to assess middle-school children’s attitudes and beliefs about aging. The second purpose is to describe the patterns of characteristics that children associate with aging. Design and Methods: Two middle schools in San Antonio, TX agreed to have their students participate in the sentence completion exercises at the beginning of the 1998-1999 school year. Teachers asked students to write responses to the following prompts: “Old is …,” “You know you are old when …,” “You know your parents are old when …,” “When I am old, I …,” and “Old people ….” We coded the responses for their characteristics and whether they were positive, negative, or neutral. Results: Of the 2,476 students, 1,874 (75.6%) wrote responses to at least one prompt. Overall, we collected 3,700 responses and coded 9,438 characteristics (2.6 characteristics per response). The most common characteristics of aging were having wrinkles (21.1%), having gray hair or being bald (20.0%), and being less active (17.5%). Students had a much more positive view of their future (55.4%) compared with their view of aging elicited by the other prompts (range of 4.9-25.7% positive responses). Students infrequently associated old age with specific conditions; only 4.6% mentioned diseases, 6.0% mentioned being ill or taking medications, and 5.7% mentioned sensory problems. Implications: Middle-school students view their futures much more positively than the changes they observe in their parents and other elders. Students infrequently identified specific diseases or impairments as responsible for the changes they observe with aging. These observed responses provide a starting point for educators to develop and deliver gerontologically based materials that teach about healthful habits to maintain independence across a life span.