- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

There has been much talk lately about what and who has the greatest influence on our children. Some point to the Internet. Others identify celebrities, teachers, television and movies. According to a new poll, however, the answer lies closer to home: Most respondents believe parents still have the greatest influence on the character and future success of our children.

A national survey of black American registered voters by Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC) placed parents at the top of the pyramid, ahead of athletes, performing artists, politicians, clergy and everyone else. In addition, 61 percent of the respondents said parents bear the most responsibility for seeing that their children are properly educated.

The fact that parents rank so high among black Americans really should come as no surprise. That’s the way it’s always been. My parents provided the encouragement, love and stern discipline that helped shape my character. The same can be said by countless other black American baby boomers raised in the 1950s and 1960s in traditional two-parent families.

In some ways, it was easier back then before reality TV, explicit videos, the coast-to-coast drug culture and the sexual revolution. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, today’s children are bombarded with images, ideas and information that clash with the notions of wrong and right being taught by their parents.

Today’s children will leave their homes in the morning and will likely be assaulted by the latest “gangsta” rap song before they reach the bus stop. When they arrive at school, they’ll be exposed to profanity and pressured by their peers to do things they shouldn’t. After school, they will turn on their televisions and choose between afternoon “soaps,” the “reality” talk shows, MTV, BET and VH1 — all of which offer choices that clash with the values their parents are attempting to impart. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the Internet, which offers both the best and worst society has to offer.

In addition to competing with these influences, today’s parents also face another challenge: the prospect of raising their children alone. According to U.S. Census data, nearly two-thirds of black American households are led by single parents, usually a single mother.

Since we continue to hold parents responsible for shaping the characters of our future leaders, it is important to understand the challenges parents face. And it is equally important to provide a prudent helping hand when we can.

For example, states need to make child support laws more stringent so single parents have the resources they need to raise their children. All too often this money squeeze forces single parents to work multiple jobs, limiting the time they have to spend with their children, leaving the children more susceptible to destructive outside influences.

Employers have a role to play as well. In many cases, parents are torn between their duties at work and obligations at home. Policies and practices such as flextime, telecommuting and on-the-job day care can ease this burden, enabling them to be both better parents and more productive workers.

When we support parents, we enable them to devote the time and energy that is necessary to counteract the negative influences surrounding their children.

Although times have changed drastically since the days when the nuclear family was the norm, the influence of parents has not changed. It was crucial then and it’s crucial today.

Sure, the Internet, athletes, music artists, movies and television send our children mixed signals, if the not the wrong message altogether. But mom and dad still matter most.

Alvin Williams is president and chief executive officer of Black America’s Political Action Committee.

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