- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

American parents worry most about whether their children will have good character and values and they see America's popular culture as their adversary, according to a new survey.
"Parents today are struggling very hard to raise respectful, responsible, well-behaved children," said Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda, which yesterday released its parenting survey, "A Lot Easier Said Than Done."
But 76 percent of parents felt their job was "a lot harder" than what their parents faced, said the survey, based on telephone interviews of 1,607 parents of children ages 5 to 17.
The previous generation of parents went through hardships and world wars, "but we did not feel as if our kids were surrounded by hazards of every kind," Mrs. Wadsworth said.
"We felt there were allies institutional allies and the real world reinforced the values that we wanted to teach our kids," she said. "My sense from this study, and it's really painful, is that parents just feel absolutely abandoned they feel as if they are being sabotaged at every turn."
Most of those surveyed loved being parents, Mrs. Wadsworth added, noting that 89 percent strongly agreed with the statement, "Being a parent is wonderful I wouldn't trade it for the world."
But many parents feel cornered by a popular culture that is antithetical to their beliefs and values, she said.
For instance, the survey asked parents to choose their "biggest challenge" out of three choices: protecting their children from "negative societal influences," finding enough time together as a family or keeping up with household expenses.
Nearly half, 47 percent, said they were most concerned about shielding their children from "negative societal influences."
These negative influences included drugs and alcohol, someone seeking to harm their children, anti-social peer groups and media messages.
Television was blamed for its incessant vulgar language, violence and "adult" themes, especially between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
"Soon they'll be killing people on the cooking channel," said a father who attended one of 12 focus groups cited in the survey released by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan public-opinion research firm.
Such findings are of interest to State Farm Insurance Cos., which funded the survey along with the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a group of 40 national advertisers committed to pro-family programming.
"Knowing what parents value most gives us insights into what society values and what we can expect of future generations," said Edward B. Rust Jr., State Farm's chairman and chief executive.
"It's true that parents are fighting a very difficult and often-losing battle, even when they do their best," said Amitai Etzioni, director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, a think tank focusing on issues affecting civil society.
It's also true that popular culture has become coarsened, he said, noting that the Internet, which arrived a decade or so ago, now has pornographic "pop-up" ads that children may see.
Still, parents aren't alone in their battles, Mr. Etzioni said.
"There are some dedicated teachers left. There are churches in which they can park their children. It's not as monolithically one-way" against them as they may think, he said.
The key ingredient of a civil society is its moral infrastructure, he said, adding that America's moral fabric "is frayed" and needs to be restored. As a result, parents may have to work harder to form groups with like-minded peers and align themselves with institutions places of worship, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, YMCAs, even soccer teams that share their values, he said.
Highlights of the Public Agenda survey include:
The top five "absolutely essential" values that parents want for their children are for them to be honest and truthful, respectful of others, self-disciplined, striving for academic excellence, and self-sufficient.
When asked about their success in teaching these values to their children, 50 percent or more of parents said they had done a good job teaching courtesy, honesty and academic excellence. However, only 38 percent said they had been successful in teaching self-sufficiency and 34 percent said they had taught self-control successfully.

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