Americans vacillate between feeling sorry for children growing up in today’s challenging world and harboring envy over the opportunities and advances that characterize modern life. But the children themselves are pretty clear about what does and does not work in their lives. A new nationwide survey among children ages 8 to 12, conducted by The Barna Group, reveals some of their points of satisfaction and frustration.
What Works for Kids
Family life has changed radically in the past several decades, but most of today’s children give positive marks to aspects of their family experience. For instance, the Barna survey found that eight out of every ten adolescents (79%) feel safe when they are at home; two out of every three (69%) say their family eats dinner together at least five nights a week; and 64% say they feel they can always trust their parents to do what is right for the child.
Contrary to the idea that kids do not receive much guidance from their family these days, the survey discovered that more than nine out of every ten adolescents (91%) get punished by their parents if they are caught using bad language. Three out of four young people (74%) said their parents enforce a strict curfew, and two out of every three (67%) noted that the amount of television they are allowed to watch is limited by their parents.
One of the bright spots in the lives of most kids is their friendships. More than nine out of ten (94%) said they have good friends whom they can trust.
What Doesn’t Work
Among the areas that stood out as not fulfilling the needs and hopes of adolescents was the faith arena. Overall, less than four out of every ten young people (38%) said that churches have made a positive difference in their life. An even smaller number (34%) said that prayer is very important to them. And a minority of pre-teens (43%) rejected the notion that they would rather be popular than do what is morally right.
There are noteworthy lifestyle challenges facing kids, too. A bare majority (56%) believe that they will have a great life. A similarly slim majority (57%) contend that they look forward to spending free time with their family. Just one out of every three pre-teens (35%) said they find it easy to talk to their parents about everything that is happening in their life these days.
The survey also revealed that one out of every three 8-to-12-year olds (31%) is bothered by bullies who threaten or scare them.
Improving the Odds
The survey showed that three specific dimensions enhance the perceived quality of life for “tweens” – that is, for young people living in the gap between the early childhood and teenage years.
Young people who get mostly “A’s” in their schoolwork tended to have a much more positive experience and outlook. Compared to less proficient students, the academic achievers were less likely to be bothered by bullies. They were also more likely than others to trust their parents’ choices, to expect to have a great life, to look forward to time spent with family, to be comfortable doing what is morally right rather than popular, and to believe their church has positively affected their life.
Having both parents in their home also makes a big difference. Kids living with both of their birth parents were more likely than other peers to regularly eat meals as a family, to feel safe at home, to enjoy spending time together as a family, to find it easy to speak with parents about their life, to choose morality over popularity, and to say their church had a positive impact on them.
Born again Christians were also much more likely than non-born again tweens to possess an upbeat life perspective and experience. These young disciples of Christ were more likely than the other two-thirds of their age cohort to feel safe at home, to enjoy spending time together as a family, to find it easy to speak with parents about their life, to choose morality over popularity, to say their church has had a positive impact on them, and to trust their parents. They were also more likely to live with a curfew and with television limitations than were other kids.
The study underscored the importance of age 12 as a transition time for kids. At that point, young people are notably vulnerable to losing trust in their parents, losing interest in family activities, lean more toward popularity than morality, and question their future.
A Time for Strength
The importance of the family in the life of young people was underscored by George Barna, who directed the research. “Much of the stability and security that tweens experience is a result of their family environment and relationships,” he noted. “There are a variety of areas in which that experience is a struggle, but parents must be encouraged to devote themselves to investing themselves in their relationship with their children, and in providing places and opportunities for their children to mature.
“One of the more significant outcomes of the study,” he continued,”was the challenge to churches. While most kids in the 8-to-12 age range are involved in a church, relatively few of them consider church experiences to be valuable. That is confirmed by the fact that so few kids consider prayer to be a critical part of their life. Parents must take the lead in establishing the centrality of faith experiences and practices for their children. That begins with parents modeling the significance of faith in their lives. It also highlights the importance of families taking the lead in the spiritual development process, rather than expecting or waiting for a church to produce spiritual growth in adolescents”
Barna also reinforced the importance of age 12 as a hinge point. “During the 11 to 13 age range, most kids undergo huge changes and challenges related to their self-image and their choices concerning morals, beliefs, relationships and life goals. It often becomes a difficult time in the relationship between parents and kids, but it is also one of the most critical times for parents to make sure they stay connected and accessible to their kids.”
The data in this report are based on interviews drawn from a national survey conducted by The Barna Group with a random sample of children from ages 8 through 12. In total, 608 children were interviewed from throughout the United States during July 2006. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.
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Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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