Apr 23, 2007

From the Archives

Virginia Tech Tragedy is a Wake-Up Call to Parents

Researcher and bestselling author George Barna says the current public debate about the implications of the Virginia Tech tragedy is missing the point. “The animated conversations about gun control, campus security, counseling standards, campus communications, drug abuse and mental health funding do not address the core issue raised by this event. This situation is not primarily a challenge to politicians, educators or police. It’s a dramatic wake-up call to parents.”

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Barna indicated that he was sympathetic toward the parents of the college student who murdered 32 classmates and faculty before taking his own life. But he also stated that it sometimes takes a crisis to focus attention on important issues that a society must address.

Citing the Research

Barna’s studies on parenting and child development led him to offer a series of facts and observations related to the Virginia Tech situation.

  1. By the time an American child is 23 years old, as was the killer in Virginia, he will have seen countless murders among the more than 30,000 acts of violence to which he is exposed through television, movies and video games.
  2. By the age of 23, the average American will have viewed thousands of hours of pornographic images, which diminish the dignity and value of human life.
  3. After nearly a quarter century on earth, the typical American will have listened to hundreds of hours of music that fosters anger, hatred, disrespect for authority, selfishness, and radical independence.
  4. The typical worldview of a person in their early twenties promotes self-centeredness, the right to happiness and fulfillment, the importance of personal expression in all forms, the necessity of tolerating aberrant or immoral points of views, allows for disrespect of other people and use of profanity, and advances forms of generic spirituality that dismiss the validity of the Judeo-Christian faith. Largely propelled by postmodern thought, the typical worldview of young people does not facilitate respect for life, acceptance of the rule of law, or the necessity of hard work, personal sacrifice, paying the dues or contributing to the common good. Barna noted that only about 2% of today’s teenagers possess a biblical worldview that acknowledges the existence of God, Satan and sin, the availability of forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ, and the existence of absolute moral principles provided in the Bible.
  5. The average adolescent spends more than 40 hours each week digesting media, and the typical teenager in America absorbs almost 60 hours of media content each week. For better or worse, the messages received from the media represent a series of unfiltered, unchaperoned worldview lessons.
  6. It appears that as many as one out of every five young people is or has been under the influence of mood-altering medications, some of whose long-term side effects are not fully understood by the medical community. Drugging children has become one of the ways in which we have coped with other issues.
  7. Stress levels have been steadily rising among young children over the past couple of decades. A variety of factors have contributed to such stress, including parental acrimony and divorce, household financial troubles, media-fed expectations regarding materialism, overscheduling of children, bullying, physical abuse within the home, and excessive peer pressure.
  8. One-third of the nation’s teenagers report having been in a physical fight at least once in the last year. Nearly one out of every five 9th through 12th grade students has carried a gun, knife or club in the past month.
  9. Education, both in the home and outside of it, provides diminishing emphasis upon the development of character, and increasing emphasis upon meeting academic performance standards, especially through standardized testing.
  10. Growing numbers of children seek to make their way through an increasingly complex life without the traditional safety net comprised of a loving and supportive family, a stable circle of supportive peers, teachers who know and help nurture the child, and a community of faith that assists in giving meaning to life and a sense of belonging.
  11. Most young people admit that they feel as if they do not receive sufficient attention from their parents; do not have enough good friends whom they can count on; are unsettled about their own future; have personal spiritual perspectives but not much of a sense of spiritual community; lack role models; and do not feel that they have intrinsic value.

“Parents have a huge influence on who their children grow up to become,” stated the researcher. “Although parents cannot guarantee that their kids will behave in specific ways, but their parenting style and practices can hugely influence the likelihood of certain behaviors and perspectives.”

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Parents Are Struggling

Raising healthy and confident children in today’s world is not an easy task. Citing recent studies his firm had completed with parents, Barna highlighted some of the struggles that American parents are currently facing.

  1. A majority of parents feel overly busy, stressed out or are buckling under the pressure of mounting financial debt.
  2. Most adults are dissatisfied with their job, even though it consumes a majority of their waking hours.
  3. American parents tend to blame other parents for the problems evident among today’s young people while excusing themselves from any blame. A large share of parents, however, do express worry about the future that their children will inherit and how prepared their children are to deal with the challenges of that future.
  4. Fewer than one out of every ten families have parents who pray together, study the Bible together and lead the family in regular explorations of their faith.
  5. The standards that parents have established for evaluating their own performance as a parent are innocuous. If their children have avoided publicly recognized problems – such as physical or substance abuse, gang involvement, satanic activity, pregnancy, or physical aggression – and continue to get passing grades in school and stay relatively healthy, the parents believe they are doing an acceptable job.
  6. Few parents are aware of the dramatic effect the media have upon people’s behavior and values. Just 9% of parents believe that the media are the most significant influence on their children’s lives, and only one out of every three parents of kids under 13 impose any significant restrictions or limitations on how much or what type of media their children are exposed to. Shockingly few parents have discussions with their children about the content of the media they have digested.

Wake-Up Call?

Barna explained that his studies of parents over the past several years highlight the importance of parental guidance and involvement in shaping a child’s values and behavior. He noted that the moral and spiritual development of people is largely determined by the time someone reaches age 13, and that fundamental changes are minimal after that point.

The author of 39 books on cultural and spiritual conditions offered some guidance for parents.

“In our most recent work, we have focused on the parenting practices of those who raised children who are now grown and living an exemplary life. By studying these parents and their children we learned that there are some critical child-rearing habits they all shared.

“One such habit,” Barna noted, “was that the parents believed that raising children was the most important job they were doing – even more important than their occupation that pays the bills. They relied upon schools, their church and other entities to support them in that endeavor, but they accepted the primary responsibility for the task and the outcomes.

“A second common outlook,” he continued, “was approaching the job of parenting with a plan. These were parents who had thought through what they were trying to accomplish and how they intended to pursue those outcomes. While they were constantly revising that plan and tinkering with different strategies, they were very strategic and intentional in their efforts. They left as little to chance as possible, and tried to stay a step ahead of their children’s needs and the challenges thrown at them by society.”

The California-based researcher pointed out that a crucial factor was consistency. “The grown children as well as the parents themselves agreed that perhaps the single, most important element in their success was remaining consistent in the principles and overall standards and values they implemented. These parents set their expectations high and did not relax those expectations. Children rarely exceed their parents’ expectations, so the level at which those standards are set determines the heights to which a child will rise.”

The issue of media management was also evident in the families Barna studied. “An overwhelming majority of these successful parents believed that the media have a significant influence on the lives of children. Consequently, they limited, monitored and mediated the media content to which their children were exposed. They often refused to give permission to the kids to watch particular programs or to listen to certain music, and regularly had discussions with their children about the content of the media they consumed. Those discussions were not always comfortable or pleasant, but were deemed to be very important in making standards real for their children.”

The spiritual side of life is another of the central factors addressed by successful parents. “These were parents who took the development of their child’s worldview seriously, and invested enormous amounts of time and energy laying a spiritual foundation that has proven to serve the children well throughout their life. Besides teaching spiritual beliefs and moral principles, these parents shared religious experiences with their children and prayed for them daily. The view of such parents is that their children are a gift from God and they therefore had an intense responsibility to raise a child that pleased God.”

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Revolutionary Parenting, a 176-page hardcover book published by Tyndale House Publishers, is the 39th book written by George Barna. Based on three years of research among parents and children, the book describes the six critical dimensions that were common to effective parents. Those dimensions, each of which included a variety of practices and perspectives, related to the priorities in the life of the parent; the mental entry points for parenting; the non-negotiable boundaries established for children; the importance of behaving like a parent; the critical values and beliefs needed by children; and the transformational goals identified and pursued.

Additional Resources and Reading

  • To purchase a copy of Revolutionary Parenting, click here

About Barna

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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