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Results: Parent Opinion Survey

A Lot Easier Said Than Done:

Parents Talk About Raising Children in Today's America
Steve Farkas, Jean Johnson and Ann Duffett with Leslie Wilson and Jackie Vine.

A majority of parents surveyed say American society is an inhospitable climate for raising
children, where parents can never let down their guard in the face of popular culture, drugs
and crime. In fact, nearly half the parents we surveyed said they worry more about
protecting their child from negative social influences than about paying the bills or having
enough family time together. Six in 10 rate their generation "fair" or "poor" in raising children.
Relatively few parents believe they have been successful in teaching their kids the values
they consider "absolutely essential."

Just 34 percent of parents say they have been successful teaching their children self-control
and self-discipline, according to the survey, which shows similar slow progress teaching
"absolutely essential" values ranging from independence to good eating habits. But parents
say their job is complicated by the need to remain ever vigilant against harmful messages
bombarding their kids from today's society. Ninety percent agree that "when it comes to bad
language and adult themes, it seems like TV programs are getting worse every year."

The survey was conducted by Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization that conducts
nonpartisan public opinion research, for State Farm Insurance Companies, with additional
support from the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a group of 40 major national
advertisers. The survey of 1,607 parents of children aged 5 to 17 found that:

• 82 percent believe it is absolutely essential to teach their child to always do their very
best in school, yet only 50 percent say they have succeeded;
• By a 49 percent to 23 percent margin, parents say they worry more about raising a
child who is well behaved and has good values than they do about providing for their
physical needs, while 25 percent say they worry about both equally;
• The rocky economy notwithstanding, parents say they worry more about protecting
their child from negative social influences (47 percent) than about paying the bills (23
percent), or finding enough family time together (27 percent.) Low-income parents,
although by closer margins, also say they worry more about negative societal
influences (42 percent) than household finances (29 percent) or finding enough
family time (25 percent).

The study takes a close look at the impact of TV, the experience of raising teens and the
unique challenges faced by single parents and low-income parents, and includes a special
analysis that identifies four prominent styles of American parents. Titled A Lot Easier Said
Than Done, the study is a follow-up to Public Agenda's acclaimed Kids These Days studies
conducted in 1997 and 1999.
"Parents today are struggling very hard to raise respectful, responsible, well-behaved
children and are remarkably frank in this survey in assessing their own kids' shortcomings,"
said Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda. "But the pervasive concern we heard
from parents about the need to combat negative societal influences raises the question of
how much these problems can be attributed to the environment in which kids are growing

"Honest evaluation of the success and challenges faced by parents is essential if we are to
better prepare our children to be successful, well-balanced members of society," said Kathy
Havens, public affairs manager, State Farm Insurance Companies. "Public Agenda has a
track record as a reliable, independent investigator of the public's views. Their study, based
on parents' own evaluation of their successes and failures in providing their children with
essential values, provides good insight into this important topic."

Scary Out There

Large majorities of parents in the national phone survey -- and echoed by parents in focus
groups -- spoke of the never-ending job protecting their children from the dangers,
temptations and harmful influences in today's society. In a phone survey conducted last
summer, well before the recent wave of sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C. area, parents
expressed high levels of concern for the safety of their children.

Parents in the survey were asked to assess their concern with the following issues:

Worry: "A Lot" "Some"

Protecting their child from drugs and alcohol 55% 24%
Someone physically harming or kidnapping their child 50% 26%
The negative influence of other kids on their child 47% 29%
Low quality public schools 41% 25%
Negative messages in the media 39% 34%
Paying bills and making ends meet 36% 32%
Juggling the demands of work and family 35% 31%
Lack of time to spend together as a family 28% 30%
Getting health insurance and good medical care for their child 33% 17%
A lack of organized activities for their child 14% 22%

"The sad thing is, to protect our children, the only way to do that is lock them up in a room,
and never let them go out in the world," said a mother in a Texas focus group. "We don't
want that for our children."

No Safe Haven

Television got mixed reviews from parents in the survey overall, with 90 percent saying that
TV gets worse by the year in terms of bad language and adult themes. Parents no longer
find the early evening hours a safe haven for family viewing: According to 65 percent of the
parents surveyed, themes that are inappropriate for children often air between 8 p.m. and 10
p.m. "Soon they'll be killing people on the cooking channel," said one father during a focus

Yet, 82 percent say they have seen a TV program in the past year that did impart a good
message to their child. More than nine out of 10 (93 percent) say television is all right for
their child as long as they watch the right shows and in moderation, and 85 percent say they
have no problem with their child relaxing for a while in front of a TV.

The survey also found:

• Parents are evenly divided on viewing habits, with 48 percent saying they worry their
child watches too much TV and 52 percent saying it is not a problem in their house.
• While 71 percent of parents say they had been shocked in the past year by
something they saw on TV, just 13 percent of that group say they contacted the
station or network to complain. And just 22 percent say they have seriously
considered taking the ultimate step of getting rid of their TV.

Mind the Gap

Public Agenda in the survey asked parents how essential it was to teach their children a
series of 11 character values and then to rate their success in imparting those values to their
kids. Public Agenda then charted the "gap" between goals and success. (A breakdown of the
gap is provided on the attached Chart 1.)

Among the key findings:

• A consumerist mentality appears to start early, with 59 percent of parents of children

aged 10 or older saying brand names are at least somewhat important to their child
when shopping for clothing, shoes or sneakers;
• More than a third of parents (37 percent) worry they overindulge their child.

Parenting -- American Style

As part of the new study, Public Agenda built a series of questions into the survey regarding
parents' experiences and philosophies in raising children and identified four archetype
parenting styles. (The attached Chart 2 describes the parenting styles based on the survey

Several "universal truths of parenting" were identified in the survey based on large majorities
who say they either "strongly" or "somewhat" agree with various philosophies, such as:

• Sometimes you have to let kids make mistakes and deal with the consequences on
their own (95 percent);
• Children do best when parents set limits and enforce them (94 percent);
• Parents have to pick their battles -- you can't fight your child over everything (85
• Being too strict can backfire because kids will do things behind your back (82
• It's much harder for families to do a good job raising kids when both parents have to
work (77 percent).

On the issue of spanking, 63 percent say they have resorted to spanking; 37 percent say
they never do. And 43 percent say they do not believe that "parents who never spank can do
as good a job disciplining children as parents who do spank."
Mind the Gap (Chart One)

Public Agenda asked parents in the survey how essential each of the following character
values were to teach their children, and whether they have succeeded. This chart shows the
resulting "gap" between goal and performance.

Absolutely Have
Essential Succeeded Gap
To have self-control and self-discipline 83% 34% 49
To save money and spend it carefully 70% 28% 42
To be honest and truthful 91% 55% 36
To be independent and do for themselves 74% 38% 36
To always do their very best in school 82% 50% 32
To have good nutrition and eating habits 68% 40% 28
To be courteous and polite 84% 62% 22
To have strong religious faith 61% 53% 8
To help those who are less fortunate 62% 55% 7
To exercise and to be physically fit 51% 53% -2
To enjoy art and literature 33% 51% -18

Parenting-American Style (Chart 2)

During its focus group research for the study, Public Agenda found some parents have
distinctive mindsets in their philosophy to raising children. A series of questions were built
into the survey to identify archetypes and the following four prominent ones emerged. (Not
every parent falls into a specific type, nor does belonging to one type mean a parent cannot
hold attitudes of another group.)

The Overwhelmed
17% of sample

100% of these parents say:

• I can see how my child has picked up some bad habits from me
• Children are born with their own personality -- as a parent there's only so much I can
• There's so much stress in my life that being a parent can be overwhelming

These parents are more likely to say their kids:

• Talk back, use bad language

• Wear clothes that are too sloppy or revealing
• Are growing up too fast
• Listen to kids who are a bad influence
• Aren't pushed hard enough on school work

The Softies
17% of sample
100% of these parents say:

• I'm sometimes too tired to be firm with my child even when I know I should
• I sometimes let too many things go
• I sometimes give in too quickly

These parents are more likely to say their kids:

• Spend too much money shopping

• Are overindulged
• Listen to music with bad language
• Wear clothes that are too sloppy or revealing
• Are too rude or talks back

Parents in Chief
18% of sample

100% of these parents agree:

• When I say something I expect my child to listen -- not to question me

• I can sometimes be too over-protective


• I have never dared to say to my parents some of the things that my child says to me

These parents are more likely to say their kids:

• Never spend too much money shopping

• Never talks back
• Never uses bad language
• Never listens to music with bad language

Best Buddies
8% of sample

100% of these parents say:

• I try very hard to be a different kind of parent than my own parents were
• I sometimes feel more like my child's best friend than their parent
• I sometimes do too much explaining
These parents are more likely to say:

• They are doing a better job than their parents did

A Lot Easier Said Than Done was prepared by Steve Farkas, Jean Johnson and Ann
Duffett, with Leslie Wilson and Jackie Vine. Copies of the full report can be downloaded free
of charge until November 27 from Public Agenda’s Web site (www.publicagenda.org). The
site also includes a summary of the findings, data charts, a "Compare Yourself" feature and
other information related to the report. A print copy of the report is available from Public
Agenda for $10, plus $2 shipping and handling.

Methodology: A Lot Easier Said Than Done is based on telephone interviews conducted
between July 31 and August 15, 2002 with a national random sample of 1,607 parents or
guardians of children aged 5 to 17. The survey was preceded by 12 focus groups conducted
in various sites across the country. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three
percentage points; the margin of error is higher when comparing percentages across

Public Agenda is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research organization,

located in New York City, and is well respected for its influential public opinion polls and its
balanced citizen education materials. Founded in 1975 by Cyrus R. Vance, the former U.S.
secretary of state, and Daniel Yankelovich, the social scientist and author, its mission is to
inform leaders about the public’s views and to inform citizens about government policy.

State Farm Insurance Companies: Founded more than 80 years ago, State Farm has
been the nation's largest insurer of cars since 1942 and the largest insurer of homes since
1964. It is also among the country's largest life insurers. State Farm Bank opened for
business in 1999 and already has $3 billion in deposits. State Farm began offering a family
of mutual funds last year. Education, safety and community development are key
components of State Farm's efforts to help build strong, safe and well-educated

Family Friendly Programming Forum: The Family Friendly Programming Forum is a

group of over 40 major national advertisers, all members of the Association of National
Advertisers, who are taking positive steps to increase family friendly programming choices
on television. The Forum is proof that many influential national advertisers are deeply
interested in family programming, and that these companies are ready to devote time,
energy and financial resources to back their commitment to family programming. The Forum
pursues its goals through a number of different initiatives, including The Family Television
Awards, which recognize outstanding family television; a script development fund; and a
scholarship program for students who work on family friendly projects.

( Reprinted by Permission of Public Agenda Copyright © 2003)