SUBJ: Families Are Struggling Against Odds To Maintain Close Bonds,
Study Finds By Deborah L. Cohen
WASHINGTON--While most Americans say they make "extraordinary efforts to maintain strong and close family ties," they believe that the American family in general is in trouble, according to a national study released last week.
The study, conducted by the National Commission on Children and released at a news conference here, found that "most American families are making heroic efforts"to stay close, said Senator John D. Rockefeller 4th of West Virginia, chairman of the panel.
But it also showed that "too little time, too little money, too many absent parents, and overwhelming fears about children's health and safety are tearing at the seams of family life," he said.
The study comprised two national surveys that queried Americans on their perceptions of family life. The first asked 1,400 adults-some with children and others without--how they think families are faring. The second questioned more than 1,700 parents and 900 children ages 10 to 17 about their family lives.
The surveys were conducted as part of an investigation that led to the publication last June of a massive report from the National Commission on Children--a bipartisan 34- member panel formed by the Congress in 1987--urging a wide range of initiatives to ease family stress. Its centerpiece was a proposal for a $l,000-per-child refundable federal tax credit. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .)
Regardless of their age, race, marital status, and whether or not they are parents, "overwhelming percentages" of the survey respondents appeared pessimistic about the plight of families.
For example, 88 percent said it is harder to be a parent today than it used to be, 81 percent said parents do not spend enough time with their children, 76 percent said parents often do not know where their children are, and 87 percent said parents have a hard time making ends meet. More than half said children are worse off today than 10 years ago in terms of their moral and religious training and parental supervision and discipline. One-third said children get less love and care from parents than a decade ago.
In contrast, most of the parents and children surveyed about their own families "did not share this pessimism" and described their relationships as close and satisfying.
About 70 percent of the parents said their families regularly eat dinner together, and 86 percent of the parents of young children said they read to their children weekly. Virtually all reported knowing most of their children's friends, and 88 percent said they believe they know where there children are "all or most of the time."
Involvement With Schools
Many parents polled also reported regular involvement with their children's school. For example, 70 percent said they have attended P.?.A. Or other school meetings, 57 percent said they have helped out with class projects and trips, and 83 percent said they had talked with their children's teachers at least once in the last year.
Most children polled named one or both parents as special adults in their lives, and more than half said they air concerns with their parents at least weekly. Two-thirds said they discuss religion or values with their parents at least once a month, and many teenagers said they have discussed dating, sex, and drug use with their parents.
One reason for the discrepancy between families' positive characterizations of their own lives and negative views of families in general, said Kristin Moore, director of research of for Child Trends, Inc., the firm that analyzed the survey data, is that people "respond to what they see in the media" as well as the stresses they see in their own communities.
"Even among those families that are successful, loving, and close ... everyone agrees that there are widespread stresses on families," said Diane Colsanto, a senior partner with Princeton Survey Research Associates, which conducted the survey.
More than half of the parents polled said they would like to spend more time with their children, and nearly half said there is "no safe place in their neighborhood" for children to gather other than at home.
While parents shared similar fears, much greater numbers of lowincome urban and minority parents said they wo@wy that their children will use drugs, drop out of school, get shot, get pregnant or get someone pregnant, or get AIDS.
Nearly 40 percent of the poor urban children surveyed said they worry "a lot" that someone on drugs will hurt them, and large numbers of teenagers across income levels said they have friends invovled in "high-risk" activities.
Intact two-parent families generally offered more positive responses to the survey than did single-parent families. For example, single parents surveyed were more likely to worry about their children's safety or about whether their incomes would cover family needs.
Among children living apart from their fathers, only one-third reported seeing them at least once a week, and nearly one in five had not seen their father for five years.
Single copies of "Speaking of Kids: A National Survey of Children and Parents," are available free of charge from the National Commission on Children, 1111 18th St., N.W., Suite 810, Washington, D.C. 20036.