'90s FAMILY : Parents Don't Make the Grade in Involvement

Compiled from Times staff and news services

Nearly half of all U.S. high school students have parents who don't attend PTA meetings or back-to-school nights, don't go to class plays or science fairs or varsity football games, and don't volunteer at the school or serve on school committees.

Three-fourths of U.S. parents expect their children to graduate from college, and the same proportion are at least moderately involved in school activities when their children are in elementary school.

But a new study released by Child Trends Inc., a private, nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C., shows that parents' school involvement drops off sharply when students reach middle school or junior high--and declines still further in high school. Yet, students whose parents remain involved in school-related activities tend to do better in school and are more active in extracurricular activities.

"Running in Place: How American Families Are Faring in a Changing Economy and an Individualistic Society" also revealed that working mothers are just as active in their children's schools as full-time homemakers. Written by psychologist Nicholas Zill and demographer Christine Windquist Nord, the report was funded by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Nord Family Foundation.

In addition to documenting the withdrawal of parental involvement in post-elementary school activities, "Running in Place" provides a statistical portrait of the time-versus-money quandary that plagues so many parents. Stagnant wages, eroding job benefits, a significant increase in unmarried childbearing and a lack of support by non-residential parents are making it more and more difficult for families to provide for their own basic needs.

In response to economic pressures, this national survey found, parents are working more outside the home. But they have little to show for their increased employment; they are working harder, Zill and Nord report, just to remain in the same place.

Volunteers Sought to Staff Suicide Hot Line

The Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center, a division of Family Services of Los Angeles, needs volunteers to handle some of the more than 14,000 calls that come in annually to the 24-hour crisis line. Director Jay Nagdimon says there are 60 volunteers available to assist these callers, but a minimum of 110 to 115 volunteers is needed.

Volunteers over 28 are needed for six-hour shifts, particularly during early-morning and daytime hours. A 32-hour comprehensive training program is held quarterly.

Training includes interpersonal skills and how to communicate effectively with people in distress. No experience is necessary. Trained staff members are available to volunteers during all shifts, along with debriefing support in crisis calls.

For more information, call Nagdimon at (213) 381-3626.

How to Work With Teachers--and the System

Psychologist Judi Craig offers a primer for parental involvement in the form of her new book, "What Happened at School Today?" (William Morrow & Co., 1994).

Among other issues, the book addresses "How to Be Your Child's Best Advocate," making suggestions on how to establish rapport with teachers, how to prepare for school conferences and how best to work within school systems.

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