August 08, 2001 11:00 pm

Ann Landers has been saying it. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America has been saying it. And now teen-agers themselves are saying it. Teens need and want their parents involved in their lives.

The State of Our Nations Youth survey, published annually by the Horatio Alger Association, shows that todays youth are striving and grounded, said Peter Hart, the pollster responsible for this years survey of 1,014 high school students. The results of the survey would come as a surprise to parents who think they need to stay out of their teens lives or that teens are anxious to break family ties.

The survey showed that 84 percent of teens believe that their future success will be defined by whether they have close family relationships. They also want to have a close group of friends, make a contribution to society and have an active spiritual life. They are not inclined to define achievement by how much money they make or whether they become famous, the survey showed.

They are concerned about violence in schools, but not to the extent that we adults would think. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they worry no more than a little about being safe at school. Significantly more minority and urban students do rate school violence as a concern.

But perhaps the most surprising part of the survey is the value teens place on family. As independent as teens strive to be, which is important in their development, they still value interaction with their parents. While they might not be inclined to always pay heed to the things we tell them, they do want to know we care.

We can all do a better job of showing our kids that we care about their well-being and we love them. Delivering that message time and time again will sink in. Kids need to know we care.

A letter writer to Ann Landers this week advised parents to talk to your kids about drugs. Hug them and let them know you love them and are there to help them through the tough decisions every kid has to make. They will hear you. Ann responded by saying that too many parents think it wont matter or that their children arent listening, but they really are. And recent television commercials sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America have been repeating the same message parental involvement is crucial.

The State of Our Nations Youth survey bears out what we should have realized all along. Teens, like all of us, want to be assured that they matter, that those closest to them are concerned about what happens to them, and that they are loved.

Our kids need and deserve that foundation.