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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Who's Raising Your Child?

Parents get more information than ever concerning how to do a great job of raising their children, yet studies have revealed few parents have a plan or a strategy for accomplishing the goal. This is a finding from surveys conducted among parents of children under 18 released by The Barna Group, an evangelical Christian polling firm based in Ventura, California. ("Barna Finds Four Mega-Themes in Recent Research," The Barna Group,, December 3 2007)

Barna’s surveys point out that most parents underestimate the influence they can exert on their children. The findings support the need for parents to foster deeper a connection between their children and God, or to enhance the child’s worldview as a critical component of their decision-making skills.

Parents may not employ a solid, proven strategy for raising children. Still, it seems most parents do focus on some primary outcomes and hope for the best. George Barna refers to these as the "five P's of parental hope." They consist of the following:

1. Preparation - placing a child under the tutelage of those who can take them to the next level of proficiency.

2. Performing Well - looking for measures of productivity in children such as good grades, scoring in sports, and performing well in artistic endeavors.

3. Pressure Management - helping offspring manage stress, competition, and disappointments amid stiff academic standards and peer pressure.

4. Protection - offering children security from bullies, kidnapping, drugs, and sexualization.

5. Public Perception -  honing skills in spin control and positioning to put both parents and children in the best possible light.

The Barna findings are interesting to me in that there seems to be a shift from the direct responsibility of the parents to develop a strong, healthy child to the responsibility of the parents to facilitate others (groups and individuals) as primary caregivers. True, parents still focus on protecting their children and helping them manage their problems, but they increasingly count on others to instill important values and to provide role models.

What are the risks of giving over some aspects parental control to others? I imagine in a perfect world all teachers, mentors, and coaches would be first-class, angelic models of behavior. Unfortunately, we all know this isn't true. It is evident that some less-than-desirable adults occupy leadership positions. These individuals can instill more harm than good. Shouldn't parents better instruct their children about the proper roles and influences of their mentors?

And, what about this view? If a child understands that Mom and Dad are mainly protectors and image controllers and not valuable teachers, doesn't that child underestimate the importance of his or her own parents' education and influence? Do many children feel that Mom and Dad are there just to help make the playing field level? To me, there seems to be a difference between "I'm behind you, helping you on your way" and "I'm actively instructing you on the best routes I have found for success." Does the increased reliance on so much social activity indicate a significant weakness in parenting?

I've thought about this a lot, and I do think parents today can easily become so dependent on organized activities that they often underestimate the need for family involvement and misinterpret activities like coaching and instructing physical skills for teaching morals and values. Keeping a child active in organized activities does not necessarily insure that the child is receiving needed character-building instruction.

We know that children who are inadequately supervised by parents who fail to teach them right and wrong; who do not monitor their whereabouts, friends, or activities; and who discipline them erratically and harshly are more likely to become delinquent. ("Family Life, Delinquency, and Crime: A Policymaker's Guide," The Texas Youth Commission,, 2004)

Can parents, through effective socialization, prevent delinquent behavior among their offspring? In addition to affection, three elements appear to characterize positive parenting:

(1) normative regulation, 

(2) monitoring, and 

(3) discipline.

The quality of supervision is consistently and strongly related to delinquency. It helps if parents assist their children in problem solving, negotiate conflict, and model prosocial behavior. Our most important resource is our youth. Everyone knows the cliche "It takes a whole village to raise a child." This may be true, but perhaps educating parents and supplying them with effective strategies for raising children should be the first step toward improving the precious product.

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