Monday, May 16, 2005

A 21st-century “generation gap” may be developing as more parents say they have difficulty talking to their children, researchers say.Between 2000 and 2004, the number of children ages 8 to 17 who say than can talk to their parents easily about most subjects fell, a Roper Youth Report shows.

Also highlighted in this report, which interviewed 2,000 persons 18 and older and 500 children ages 8 to 17, is a loss in the ease of communication between parents and their children. By and large, baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) reported that they could talk to their children about various subjects more easily and more comfortably than Generation X parents (born between 1965 and 1980).

Several factors may be to blame for what the study calls “the fracture in parent-child communications,” says Cary Silvers, vice president of NOP World, the marketing firm for which the study was conducted.

“Gen-X parents seem to be more uncomfortable,” he says, because “the parents are young and the kids are younger.”

Some observers say the study may not be accurate.

Parents in every generation face challenges when raising their children, says child psychologist Mike Nichols, author of “Stop Arguing with Your Kids.”

“These problems of parents talking to their kids are perennial, and every new generation discovers that it’s become uniquely more difficult,” he says, adding that the statement is based on professional opinion, not scientific research. “Parents have trouble talking to their kids because they have always had trouble talking to their kids. It’s nothing new.”

Technological tools and constant contact with peer groups give children roadblocks to conversations with their parents, he says.

“These kids are much more sophisticated than their previous generations,” says Mr. Silvers. “If you think about the broadening of the Internet, most 8- to 12-year-olds 10 years ago weren’t watching much news. I think the information age plays a big part in just exposing younger and younger audiences.”

But the report warns against blaming the communications gap on the Internet and other technology.

“Chatting with friends online ad nauseam may be supposed to put a kink in parent-child heart-to-hearts. But Internet use by either parents or children does not seem to adversely impact the frequency of parent-child talks,” it says. “In fact, those who go online report ever-so-slightly greater ease with some conversations.”

Technology is “just a convenient scapegoat,” Mr. Nichols said. “We can scorn and criticize adolescents and say they have cell phones growing out of their ears, but a child who has a good relationship with a parent they call their parents on the cell phone and talk to them. Frankly, I think it’s just a bugaboo.”

Ron Taffel, a child and family therapist, said the increasing gap could be blamed on the “second family.”

“Kids are talking to each other all hours of the day and into the evening from earlier ages on. It’s very hard for parents and kids, each of them multitasking, to find time with each other where uninterrupted conversation can happen. It’s not like this [parent] group is afraid to bring up subjects, it’s that kids are spending huge amounts of time connecting with the second family,” he says.

So what is the solution to the communications problem?

“That’s like asking how you make peace in the world,” says Mr. Nichols. “It’s easy to [talk about] but difficult to do it.”

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