It is often said that children represent the future of a country. If that is true, then Americans have reason to be concerned about the future of the nation. A new nationwide survey among adults conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI) raises questions about how children are being raised, the conditions they experience these days, and what their future will be like.
Negative Cultural Impact
A slight majority of US adults (51%) believe that our nation’s culture these days has an overall negative influence on the lives of children under 18 years of age.
However, the survey revealed a massive difference of opinion on that matter based on the faith leanings of the respondent. Born again adults were more likely to cite cultural influence as negative rather than positive by a 4-to-1 margin (66% versus 16%). Yet, among adults who are not born again, less than half (45%) said the culture has a generally negative influence on children, with 30% claiming it has a positive impact and one-fifth saying it has no influence.
Similarly, adults who have a biblical worldview had an even harsher assessment of culture’s impact. More than nine out of ten of these people (93%) said culture leaves a negative imprint on children, compared to only half (48%) of those with a secular worldview concurring.
It’s Going to Get Worse
The challenge of raising godly children in American society was further driven home by the fact that six out of ten adults (60%) predicted that ten years from now it will be harder to raise children who know biblical values and want to live in harmony with them. Only 11% said it will be easier, while the remaining three out of ten expect the difficulty to remain unchanged.
Again, faith had a major connection with peoples’ viewpoint on this issue. Three-quarters of born again adults (72%) foresaw bigger challenges compared to just half of the non-born again adults (55%) holding such a view. A bigger gap was found between adults with a biblical worldview (86% of whom predicted it would be harder to raise Bible-centered children a decade from now) and those without one (58%).
Specifically what helps and what hinders a child’s growth? Survey respondents were given a list of 14 things their children could be exposed to and asked about the impact of those experiences. Overall, seven of the items received a net-positive evaluation, one was neutral, and the other six generated net-negative scores. (Note: a net-positive score is when the percentage of “positive” responses exceeds the percentage of “negative” responses, producing a score that identifies how much greater the positive responses are when the negatives are subtracted from them. A net-negative score is produced when the percentage of “negative” responses exceeds that of “positive” responses, the difference between them providing a net-negative score.)
Among the fourteen items tested, by far the most positive experience children can have was thought to be participation in extended-family gatherings. Seventy percent of adults believe such events are helpful to children while just seven percent cited them as having negative effects. That produced a net-positive score of plus-63 percentage points.
Three other activities to which adults awarded very high net-positive scores were attending church services (plus-49 points), going to art exhibits (plus-48 points) and reading the Bible (plus-48 points).
The other three experiences that were well-regarded by adults related to childrens’ development were reading bestselling books (plus-33 points), exposure to professional sports events (plus-23), and receiving a public school education (plus-17).
The experience that was generally seen as neutral – that is, just as likely for adults to evaluate it as leaving a positive imprint as a negative imprint – was watching television news programs.
Strikingly, all six of the experiences to which adults ascribed a net-negative impact on children were media experiences. Those included listening to popular music (a net score of minus-9 percentage points); watching current movies (minus-10 points); exposure to websites and online content (minus-12 points); viewing televised entertainment (minus-14); exposure to social media exchanges (minus-25); and playing video games (minus-26).
One of the interesting patterns in these data was that the parents of children were more likely than non-parents to assign a positive value to each of these activities, with the exception of the top three (family events, church services, and Bible reading).
Also, born again adults were more likely than non-born again adults to give negative assessments to the impact of everything tested except for extended-family gatherings, watching professional sports, attending church services, and reading the Bible. Both groups had similar ratings of the first two of those experiences while the born again respondents were more than twice as likely to give positive ratings to church services and Bible reading.
Satisfaction with Child Experiences and Outcomes
When given 13 unique experiences and outcomes that reflect the condition of U.S. children these days, there was not a single component for which at least half of adults said they are satisfied with the state of children today!
The three conditions with which adults were most likely to be either “very” or “somewhat” satisfied were the physical health of children (46%), the academics and quality of schooling they receive (45%), and their language and communication skills (44%).
Less than four out of every ten adults – between 30% and 38% of adults – expressed an above-average degree of satisfaction with the state of children in relation to each of the remaining ten areas evaluated. Those areas included:
- Ability to thrive independently…… 38%
- Mental health……………………… 37
- Relational skills…………………… 36
- Appreciation of arts and literature… 35
- Morals and values………………… 35
- Overall preparation for the future… 33
- Spiritual development…………….. 33
- Grasp of citizenship responsibilities. 32
- Worldview development………….. 32
- Respect for authority………………. 30
George Barna, the lead researcher on the ACFI project, noted that the aspects of young lives that adults are least satisfied with are those related to character. Among the life dimensions of children that registered the lowest levels of satisfaction in the eyes of adults were childrens’ morals and values, spiritual development, citizenship, worldview, and respect for authority.
Preparation for Success
Only one-third of all adults (33%) and just 28% of born again adults are generally satisfied with how well children under 14 years of age are being prepared to succeed in life. What do adults contend that children need in order to do well in the years to come?
The ACFI survey found that of the 13 types of information, skills, and experiences that children need to have in order to succeed in life in America these days, there were five items listed by more than four out of five adults. Those were reading proficiency at a 10th-grade level or beyond (88%); basic personal money management competency (86%); the ability to accurately solve basic math problems (86%); basic logic and reasoning ability (86%); and solid relational skills (83%).
About seven out of ten adults listed three additional skills as necessities for success. Those included understanding how the branches of government work (72%); knowing how to perform first aide and CPR (70%); and studying the U.S. Constitution (68%)
Substantially fewer adults – between 55% and 60% – indicated that a few other abilities would set up today’s youngsters for future success. Those less-esteemed skills were: knowing the argument for sexual abstinence (58%); being able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance from memory (58%); knowing the story of the life of Jesus Christ (55%); and having read the Ten Commandments (55%). The only ability rated lower than these was being competent in a foreign language (40%).
Again, the nature of these lower-rated abilities reflected the comparatively lower importance adults attach to moral and spiritual maturity, according to Barna. It also coincides with the outcomes from other recent ACFI studies that have shown most adults invest relatively few personal resources in their own moral and spiritual development, resulting in inconsistencies and ambiguities in their personal beliefs and behavior.
The survey found that born again adults were substantially more likely than the super-majority who are not born again (70%) to believe that children should have substantial training and competence in the moral and spiritual experiences evaluated. While the gap between born again and non-born again adults was statistically significant but not large regarding the ability to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (13 percentage points), the gap was huge in relation to the perceived importance of knowing the story of the life of Jesus Christ (45-point gap), reading the Ten Commandments (39-point gap), and exposure to the argument for sexual abstinence (23-point gap).
In fact, among born again adults, children knowing the Jesus narrative and the substance of the Ten Commandments was deemed to be just as important to future success as any skill or experience other than having the ability to read at a 10th-grade or higher level.
Barna also pointed out one other dramatic difference between born again and non-born again adults: knowing first aide and CPR. The born again adults were 45 percentage points more likely than the non-born again adults to designate life-saving skills as a necessary skill for a successful life. Barna attributed that, in part, to the higher value that disciples of Christ place upon human life, whether that life is born or unborn.
Where Is the Pushback?
Barna, who serves as the Executive Director of ACFI, felt that the survey was very telling about America. “Culture is the inescapable context in which children are raised,” he noted. “But it is adults, including parents, who shape and control that culture. If adults believe our culture is harmful to children – including their own – then why aren’t they changing it? Is it because they don’t love their children? Because the culture doesn’t bother them, personally? Because they think nurturing and protecting their children is someone else’s responsibility? Because they don’t care what the future will be like?
“Think about it,” he continued. “Adults are flat-out predicting that it will be increasingly difficult to raise godly, Bible-compliant children. Yet 70% of adults consider themselves to be Christian, half of all adults believe the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God, and four out of five adults claim they support traditional values. Most adults want America to thrive. How do these elements fit together?”
Barna pointed out that logically if it is becoming harder to raise Bible-centered children then it must also be getting more challenging to live as a Bible-centered adult. “So, can we conclude that most Americans don’t care whether they live consistent with biblical principles? And if we land on that conclusion, can we then realistically proclaim that most Americans, despite their self-descriptions, are not really Christian and need to admit it – to themselves, to others, and to God? On the other hand, if people maintain that they are Christian in more than name, that their beliefs matter, that they support biblical principles, and they want their children to live lives that reflect biblical principles – then where is the movement of such people who are committed to preventing what they currently predict is going to happen? How will things change for the better if we don’t get involved now?”
The data regarding what adults believe to be harmful to childrens development was especially alarming to Barna. “So who is in charge here? If we believe that the media, in its various forms, is actually hurting our children, where is the outcry and the pushback concerning what these profit-driven, unaccountable media conglomerates are doing to our children? If we refuse to stand strong in the face of opposition when our childrens’ lives and future are at stake, what, then, will it take for us to respond?
“Where is the vigorous leadership from parents to limit the media content their children are exposed to? Where is our regulation-happy government, with its mandate to protect the public it serves, in the face of demonstrably harmful conditions and messages? Where are the nation’s churches in what is indisputably a battle for moral standards and decency, a battle for the heart and soul of the nation?”
Citing an eclectic array of data that suggest a movement can sway a culture if it has at least 15% of a population actively on its side, Barna then questioned whether that means the US lacks 15% or more of the population that is genuinely dedicated to being disciples of Christ. “The essence of faith is not merely belief; it is belief resulting in action. The gay population, even now just three percent of the population, proved it was serious by changing the way Americans view homosexuality, family, and marriage. Black Americans, who were only ten percent of the population in the civil rights era, proved it was serious about racism and racial discrimination by sacrificing lives, money, and reputation to change America’s thinking and lifestyle.
“Our recent worldview research found that only ten percent of adults have a biblical worldview. Is that the extent of the true Church in America?
“So I look at the numbers in this survey, and many others regarding peoples’ dissatisfaction with our country, and have to ask: Where is the Church? Where are the disciples of Christ, who are required to be light in the darkness, to be the soul and conscience of the nation? What excuses can we possibly accept for the decrepit state of the nation in which we have influence, or for allowing society to undermine our children and their future? What kind of patriots are we if we stand by and let others destroy what our fathers and forefathers sacrificed so much to build? If this is not the time for the Church to stand up and reintegrate biblical principles and lifestyles into American society, then when will that time be?”