Poll Analysis: Raising Children in California

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     The Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 1,601 parents in California by telephone April 25 through May 1 which was conducted a couple of days after the school shooting in Littleton, Colorado. The poll wanted to gauge parents' opinions about how children are being raised today in general and how they rate themselves in raising their own children.

     Overall Attitudes About Life Satisfaction and Raising Children in General
     Overall, these parents are feeling pretty satisfied with the way their life is going these days, and are feeling pretty good about how they, personally, are raising their own children. But in looking at the whole picture--children in general--they overwhelmingly see a lack of morality in children and believe children are growing up way too fast compared to how they grew up and that children are not being given the proper amount of discipline. It is the us vs. them syndrome--my child is fine, but the other children have problems. They strongly believe that the breakdown of the family is hurting today's society.
     There is some disconnect in a parent's psyche when thinking about their children and children in general and the disparate feelings about the issue of raising them. They have compartmentalized their feelings into two boxes--one box believing that children in general these days are not well-adjusted, they receive little or no discipline, are growing up too fast and are not being taught right from wrong. The other box contains strong feelings about how they think they are raising their own children. In this box they see themselves as good parents that are attuned to their children's needs. They want to believe with all their heart that they are good parents and the problems associated with parenting does not apply to them. If they didn't feel this way, the guilt would be too overwhelming for them to bear. So, it is not surprising that parents interviewed for this survey give themselves very high marks in raising their children, (just 6% gave themselves a C and no parent gave themselves a D or F), believe they do a better job raising their children than their parents did raising them and also say they spend more time with their kids than their parents did with them. They overwhelming say they eat dinner with their children almost every night and are basically there for them when their children need them, including helping with homework. They also believe their child could and does discuss issues or problems they are having openly with them. Along with discussing problems with their children, parents say raising a well-adjusted child includes listening to what your children tell you, participating in their lives, spending quality time with them and teaching them about values.

     This is a problem parents say they constantly face in trying to raise their children well. This is followed by getting a good education and discipline in general. As national polls found, right after the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado where two high school students killed twelve of their classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School, Americans say that teens/children are not being listened to, or that parents are not intimately involved with their children's lives. Americans are saying that the parents of the shooters--Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold--should have been more aware of what their children were doing. And California parents are no different than all Americans in their opinions on this. Parents around the state are saying that in order to raise a well-adjusted child, you have to be involved in your children's lives, go to events they are participating in (23%) and listen to what they are saying, and try to be open and non-judgmental (21%). Fifteen percent say teaching children good values and 14% say nurture and love them, while 12% say give children religion are also prerequisites in raising a good kid. The top two mentions--listening and being involved--does not change with parents who have kids less than 5 years old to parents who have children 14 to 17 years old, or parents in different ethnic or racial groups, or the less or more affluent parents. These are values that clearly everyone thinks is important in raising "good" kids.
     In addition to parents strongly believing that children are not being raised properly on a lot of fronts, it is not surprising that one causal effect to all of this is that the breakdown of the family is hurting today's society. Nine out of ten parents believe this notion, including almost three-quarters who "strongly" believe this.
     Along with the family breakdown, parents surveyed resoundingly say parents are not teaching their children values. Three-quarters of all parents give a fair or poor rating to parents in teaching their children good values. This includes 31% who say poor and 46% only fair. Not quite a fifth of parents (18%) give good or excellent marks to parents teaching values to their children, including just 2% who say excellent. There is solid agreement among most demographic groups on this result.
     And, 85% of all parents also believe children are given too little discipline. No demographic group disputes this finding. Also, virtually all parents say that kids today are growing up faster than when they were kids.
     Even though parents are feeling pessimistic about raising children in general, they are not rushing to make new mothers and fathers attend mandatory parenting training classes. Fifty-four percent of all parents agree that new parents should take a mandatory parenting class, while 40% disagree. Male parents are divided, although they are slightly leaning away from making new parents attend classes (45%-48%), compared to female parents who think it is a good idea (62%-33%). However, white parents are divided over this issue (47%-47%), compared to black parents (72%-26%) and Latino parents (67%-26%) who are overwhelmingly in favor of this idea. (Asians overall agree as well, 56%-41%.)
     Most parents say they received their parenting skills either from their mother (54%) or father (23%). But 17% say they learned to be a parent by instinct--no one showed them their parenting skills.
     Virtually all parents say they are doing a better job (49%) or the same job (44%) as their parents did raising them. Only 5% say they are doing a worse job. All demographic groups are feeling the same way. And they also say they spend more time with their child each week than their parents did with them. Two-thirds of all parents say they spend more time with their children (including 46% much more time) than their parents, 16% as much time and 17% less time. Slightly more conservative parents say they spend more time with their children (72%) than liberal parents (62%).

     Parents spending quality time with their children
     Average percentage of time parents say they spend with their children in an average week is 55%. Along with this time spent with their children, 60% of all parents say they eat dinner with their children every night, 20% say 5-6 times a week, 15% say 3-4 times a week, and 5% say they eat dinner with their children 2 times or less a week. More Latino parents (71%) eat dinner every night with their children than black parents (53%) or white parents (53%). Parents with pre-school children eat dinner more nights with their children (almost 7 out of 10 parents eat dinner every night), while 57% of parents with children 5 to 13 years of age and 52% of parents with children 14-17 years of age eat dinner every night with their children. More than four out of five of the less affluent parent (household income $20,000 or less) say they eat dinner with their children every night, compared to 61% of parents whose household income is between $20,000 and $40,000, 54% of parents whose household income is $40,000 to $60,000 and 49% of those parents with household income more than $60,000.
     Helping with homework is another way parents say they spend time with their children. Nearly two out five parents say they help their children with homework five times a week or more and 30% say they help 4 times a week or less. More than one out of ten parents each say their children do not go to school or they don't help their children with their homework, while only 2% say their children don't need any help. Nearly half of self-described conservative parents help their children with homework five times a week or more, compared to 38% of self-described liberal parents and 31% of self-described moderate parents. More black parents (53%) help their children with homework five times a week or more than Latino parents (43%) or white parents (35%) do.
     Parents also feel that it is easy for their children to talk to them about any issues or problems they have. Almost 9 out of 10 parents (85%) say their kids find it easy to talk to them about anything, including 52% who say it is very easy. All demographic groups feel the same way about this.
     Nearly 2 out of 5 (37%) of all parents say they attend all of their children's school events, such as class plays, or athletic games, or even open-school night, 27% say most (for a combined 64%), 15% some and 3% say they attend none of their children's events at school. (17% say their child doesn't go to school). Parents with older children seem to make all of their children's events than parents with younger children do. A bare majority (51%) of parents with children 18 or over, 46% of parents with children 14-17, 39% of parents with children 5-13 and 34% of parents with children less than 5 years old go to all school events.

     Working Parents
     Looking at working parents, there is some evidence that they are spending less time with their children than non-working parents. For instance, 57% of working parents say they eat dinner with their children every night (compared to 72% of non-working parents), 35% say they help with their children's homework five nights a week or more (while 52% of non-working parents do), and 85% of working parents say it is easy for their children to talk to them, including 51% who say it is very easy, (compared to 85% for non-working parents, including 55% who say very easy).
     While parents overwhelmingly say that women may be committed to their jobs just as much as women without children, there isn't any agreement among overall parents as to whether working outside the home makes the woman a better or a worse mother. There is no black and white answer to this question and parents polled in this survey reflect their confusion about their attitudes toward working and not working. Roughly a fifth each of all parents believe mothers who work outside the home make better mothers, but also worse mothers, while 24% say it makes no difference and 21% say it depends on the circumstances as to how good or bad a mother is. Working parents are just as divided over this issue. Except parents who describe themselves as conservative believe that this makes a woman a worse mother (27%) and not a better mother (15%).

     What Suffers Most in Balancing Work and Family
     There has always been this dilemma in trying to juggle work and family. Will work or family suffer because of it? Many of the parents and subgroups of parents agree that the one thing that suffers the most is not work or family, but their own personal needs. A bare majority of parents (51%) believe that their personal needs are being pushed aside and is the one thing that suffers the most, as do 60% of female parents, 65% of parents with a college degree or more, 66% of affluent parents and 59% of white parents. A quarter of parents believe their children suffer the most in trying to have it all, 17% believe their marriage suffers, 10% think their work suffers and 4% think the juggling act hurts all aspects of their lives.
     It is not an easy decision for women to decide to go to work once their baby is born. It is a heady decision that tugs at them constantly. On one hand, they still believe in the Ozzie-and-Harriet concept of family, but on the other hand, pragmatic reality sets in. Most women have to return to work not because they are bored or it is a luxury, but because they have to help out their family. So when the Times Poll asked whether putting children under the age of four in day care with other other children is better for their development or whether the child is better served with full-time parents, most parents opted for the latter. Roughly a third (35%) of all parents think putting children under the age of four in day care with other children is better for their development than not being in day care, while three in five (59%) think children are better served being with their parents full-time and not being placed in day care before the age of four. Black parents think the reverse. Those parents with children less than 5 years old also believe it is better for the child to be with the parent (53%) rather than in day care (39%). Working mothers and the poorer parents (less than $20K) are somewhat more inclined than their counterparts to prefer day care (42% each, compared to 35% working fathers and 33% of the more affluent parent).

     Who Is Responsible for Taking Care of the Children
     More than half of all parents (54%) say that in their household, the mother and father split the responsibilities of taking care of their children equally, 39% say it is mostly the mother responsible for the children and just 3% say it is mostly the Dad. Who is responsible takes on a different hue when it is seen in the eyes of the male and female parent in the household. Male parents say the responsibility is shared equally in their household (62%) while the female parents say Mom (46%) is primarily responsible or the job is shared equally (48%).
     And when parents were asked if they had to leave their child to someone other than another parent, two-thirds of all parents say that the best situation would be another relative, 22% say they would choose day care and 15% would consider putting their child in a small group setting.

     Stay-at-Home Dads
     It is becoming more acceptable for men to be thought of as the stay-at-home parent and the Family and Medical Leave Act has also helped men with this notion. The poll found that 70% of all parents believe it has become equally acceptable for men to be the stay-at-home parent, while less than 3 in 10 don't think this is acceptable. Two-thirds of fathers and 74% of mothers accept the idea that men can stay at home and take care of their children. White parents (78%) more so than black (57%) or Latino (55%) parents readily accept this concept.
     Even though many parents are getting behind the idea of men staying home to raise their children, 69% of all parents still believe that it is much better for a family if the father works outside the home and the mother takes care of the children. This includes 50% of parents who strongly agree with this statement. An overwhelming majority (83%) of Latino parents agree with this statement, compared with 64% of white parents and 63% of black parents. Still after agreeing to the traditional roles set out by society, most parents don't see any reason why working women cannot have a good relationship with their children. More than 3 out of 5 parents also believe that a working mother can establish as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work outside the home. This also includes 41% who strongly agree with this statement.

     How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 2,021 adults statewide, including 1,601 parents, by telephone April 25 through May 1. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and for parents is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.