The American Family Survey, published on November 17, shows that America remains divided on many issues, but when it comes to parenting, they are united on one front: American kids need more discipline.
In fact, the concern over a lack of discipline, or a lack of proper discipline techniques, was overwhelming. When faced with choosing three concerns, from such topics as economic-related issues like the inability to find a job or the rising cost of living, to cultural issues such as the increasing incidents of alcohol or drug use in kids, more than half the respondents in the study stated that “parents not teaching or disciplining their children sufficiently” is one of the most important problems with which families are dealing. The other concerns did not even come close to the concern Americans have over today’s children not being disciplined, the study stated.
“Far and away the most popular problem selected was parents ‘not teaching or disciplining their children’ sufficiently. Over 50 [percent] of respondents selected it as one of their three items, while no other item was selected more than 30 [percent] of the time. In fact, all demographic breakdowns suggest that every major demographic group selected discipline as the single most important problem. Essentially respondents appeared to be suggesting that problems with families are the fault of parents who do not take enough trouble to impose boundaries and limitations. After this belief that discipline is the most serious problem, respondents generally split across multiple categories, with no clear second place.”
Coming in behind concerns in discipline, which rated a response of 53 percent, is the widespread availability and use of alcohol, at 27 percent. Behind that came the cost of raising a family at 26 percent, the increase of children being raised in single-parent households at 25 percent, the decline in religious faith and church attendance at 23 percent, and high work demand as well as the difficulty in spending quality time with family in the digital age, at 21 percent.
And when it comes to what drives the concern in discipline for America’s youth, it seems as though some believe that parents, as a whole, have become “too sensitive” to their children, especially in regards to discipline.
“For a number of years, society has encouraged parents to be sensitive to their children’s psychological and physical needs, always encouraging and never speaking or doing anything which might damage a child’s self-esteem. But in doing so, have many parents allowed the weeds to get out of hand, and unwittingly encouraged their children to be demanding, self-centered individuals? Do we need to encourage parents to once again be more vigilant about weeding out the faults in their children’s lives through appropriate discipline and careful training?”
Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy and director of the Hopkins Population Center at Johns Hopkins University, was surprised, however, at how many Americans agreed what sort of discipline was needed.
In fact, a whopping 54 percent of those surveyed agreed that it’s “sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking.” It’s an idea that experts in child development find horrifying, since, as Cherlin explains, “kids thrive with encouragement, love and modest discipline. It’s the ‘modest’ that seems to not come through here. I would think that ‘good hard spanking’ would be much lower. Last year, we saw an NFL player suspended for the season because he gave his child a good, hard switch.”
Cherlin says there is nothing surprising — or new — about the fact that American adults believe that parents need to focus more on discipline in parenting. Because, of course, it’s not their own parenting that they believe needs improvement — it’s everyone else’s.
“Each generation has bemoaned lack of discipline and profligate sexual behavior among the young, and I suppose they’ve all been right,” Cherlin said. “It’s not a new complaint.”
Richard Reeves, co-director of the Center on Children and Family at Brookings Institution and a consultant on the survey, agreed. “It’s quite lazy in a way,” he said. “But what about you? ‘No. My family’s fine.’ ”
The study was conducted by YouGov, an international, Internet-based research firm. The survey was conducted in August and consisted of 3,099 respondents who were eventually narrowed down to an even 3,000, selected to closely match the demographics in the United States. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
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