Busy parents feel unable to shield kids from harm

February 15, 2000|By Susan Reimer

OUT OF SIGHT is not out of mind for parents. The more time we spend away from our children, the more we worry. And we worry most about violence.

According to a national poll released by Parents magazine and Rob Reiner's I Am Your Child Foundation, nine out of 10 parents, regardless of gender, age, socioeconomic status or race, are worried about violence. This concern tops all others, including education, drug use, other social pressures and health.

And parents aren't just reacting to the evening news. More than 20 percent said they know a child who has been a victim of violence, and 30 percent said they know a child who they think is capable of a violent act.

The parents told pollsters they feel less able to protect their children from this violence because they are spending more and more time away from them. Two out of three are unhappy about that separation, and 72 percent -- both moms and dads -- say they would rather stay home to raise their kids than work.

"Parents fear they are losing control over their own children," says Sally Lee, editor in chief of Parents. "They have confidence in their ability to raise their kids, but their answers to a whole series of questions show they believe they're just not spending enough time with them."

At a press conference last week at an elementary school in Washington, pollster Joel Benenson reported that parents are working 640 hours more each year than they were in the 1970s. Mom and Dad, he said, are cramming 14 months of work into a year.

This comes at a time when parents feel increasingly threatened by television, music videos, video games and the Internet, a time when drugs and violence appear to have penetrated the most pleasant neighborhoods and their schools.

Fifty-two percent of the parents surveyed spend five or more hours with their children each day and feel pretty comfortable with that number. However, as the amount of shared time drops below five hours to less than three hours, the fear of violence increases.

"The readers of Parents tell me that the threat of violence colors almost every parenting decision they make, whether or not they should let their child walk the two blocks to the park by herself, whether wearing designer sneakers to school makes him a target for crime," said Lee.

The most alarming finding in this survey? Twenty-seven percent of us believe our own child could commit a violent act. Not just a playground fistfight, but a significantly violent act.

We are such a wreck about the violence around us that we don't even trust our own kids.

Reiner, an actor and director, has three young children. He founded the I Am Your Child Foundation to put into practice his long-held instinct, since confirmed by much research, that a child who is securely and lovingly attached to an adult in the first three years of life is unlikely to grow up to be violent.

"Hollywood, video games, the availability of guns," said Reiner, "all of these things are contributors to violence. But the fact is, they don't create a violent person. The most important [preventive] factor is parental involvement."

The survey also demonstrated that parents largely ignore or dismiss as impractical the advice of so-called experts. They rely instead on the collected wisdom of their families.

Lee said parents aren't paying attention when experts or medical journals issue bulletins about placement of infant car seats, the use of booster car seats, the dangers of SIDs for babies who sleep on their tummies, the threat of suffocation to a child taken into the parents' bed or the impact of too much television on toddlers.

"They find the advice unrealistic when they try to apply it to their everyday life, so they end up ignoring it," she said.

This survey is not a headline-grabber, but its results come together in ways that make it bad news for families.

We believe we are sensible enough to care for our children without the impractical advice of experts. But we worry that we are not home enough to do it right.

And just when our children need us most to shield them from a complex and uncertain world, we are working late.

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