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Raising Responsive and Responsible Children

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Introduction

It becomes apparent that we are facing novel challenges in raising responsive and responsible children. Parents of every generation seem to moan "it wasn't like that when I was growing up" or "when I was your age." That's the good news and the challenging news. The world is a different place now than at the start of the 20th century, and it is sure to change in the next century. With change come both challenges and opportunities. No challenge is more important than helping children become valuable citizens. Children with good values and a sense of responsibility grow up to be valued and responsive human beings. We offer some strategies to help parents prepare their children for changing times.

The Challenge of Time

Over the last several decades parents have had less and less time with their children. Estimates indicate that children in the United States spend 10 to 15 fewer hours of time with their parents than they did in the l960s. In addition, the time we have is more stressed as work responsibilities and pressures have increased, with the result that adults report getting less sleep and less personal time than in many previous eras. As a result they are more frazzled even when they are with their children. Children themselves can feel similar pressures as they strive to do it all and compete with or outdo their peers.

The Challenge of the Media

The media have done a good job of increasing their presence in our lives. With this increase comes easy and ready access to vast amounts of information and entertainment, bringing with it the potential for both positive and negative influences. In the past, before the dawn of cable television and the Internet, parents need only cope with a few television stations, a few prominent magazines and local radio stations, and most programming messages to children respected the role of parents in regard to their children. Families today, however, are confronted by hundreds of media outlets providing information and marketing for a broad array of ideas and products aimed directly at children. In addition, a 1999 study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found television viewers and moviegoers were being exposed to violent scenes every four minutes. Certainly some messages and content are benign but a growing amount reflects disrespectful, antisocial, promiscuous or aggressive behavior, that is at variance with parental values.

The Challenge of Materialism

With a growing economy, low unemployment, and no threat of imminent war, many of today's families do not experience poverty or live threatened by the loss of income. It is likely that we are in a phase of overindulgence with our children, which psychologist William Damon has documented as a major problem for contemporary parents. But there are still many children and families in the United States and in the world who do not benefit from this country's riches. For children living in comfort, parents must make efforts to establish sensitivity for the plight of others who may be less fortunate. And for parents who struggle to provide for their children, they must make efforts to inculcate a sense of pride in their children and motivate them to achieve their dreams.

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