Children today watch more television than their parents did, according to a survey released Tuesday, a fact that may be closely linked to lower self-esteem among modern youngsters, experts involved in the study said.
The survey reinforces the belief held by some child development experts that television has assumed a dangerously important role in family life and that it may indirectly contribute to a host of domestic ills ranging from low self-esteem and passivity to child and drug abuse.
The poll also indicates that most parents spend more time with their children than their parents did, but found that parents still need help in communicating effectively with their kids. Parents also say they are less strict with their children. Possibly as a result, their children do not pitch in with household chores as much as they did, the poll found.
Still, 80% of parents see themselves as generally more "effective" in bringing up their children than were their own parents, according to the survey. Nearly four out of five said they are more helpful with their children's homework than their parents were.
The survey, which polled 600 parents in Los Angeles, Detroit and Baton Rouge, La., was commissioned by the Independent Order of Foresters, a not-for-profit fraternal benefit society whose marketing arm is based in Solana Beach.
The survey's release was timed to help publicize a series of free "effective parenting " seminars that the organization will sponsor this spring in conjunction with elementary schools and PTAs in Detroit, Baton Rouge and Los Angeles, spokeswoman Dorie Arneel said Tuesday.
With 30,000 members in San Diego County and 800,000 members nationwide, the organization has an "ongoing commitment to effective parenting and child abuse prevention," according to a statement announcing the results of the survey.
The seminars will be conducted by Robert and Dorothy De Bolt of El Cajon, a husband and wife team who speak frequently on parenting topics. The De Bolts were the subject of an Emmy Award-winning television documentary on their upbringing of 20 children, 14 of them adopted and with multiple handicaps.
All 20 children now lead "independent and productive lives," and Dorothy De Bolt said the absence of television from the De Bolt household was partly responsible for that.
"The tendency is for parents to feel that, if they are watching TV with their kids, they are spending some good time together," De Bolt said Tuesday. "These parents see TV as something they are sharing, but in fact they are passive objects sitting there with this boob tube entertaining them.
"Children and parents (watching television together) aren't sharing any conversation, any values, any concerns or talking about goals and how they could help one another achieve those goals, which is the essence of what the family is all about," she said.
Instead, the children absorb the values of situation comedies, De Bolt said, "which is a total disservice to any family communication because each sitcom has its exaggerated portrayal."
The De Bolts' approach to parenting is to promote self-esteem by assigning the children responsibilities so they see themselves as assets to the household rather than liabilities. Communication among family members is another goal, she said.
Yolanda Thomas, spokeswoman for the county's Department of Social Services, which operates the Child Abuse Hotline and other child protection services, said she agrees with the De Bolts' view that too much television is at the root of many families' problems.
"TV is replacing parents" as the communicator of values to children, Thomas said, and the result is reduced family interaction.
"Any time the children and parents don't interact you are going to have some problems. You need communication and you can only do that by doing things together," Thomas said. "When you allow the TV to become the parent, the TV will be teaching (children) the values that they will have throughout their lives."
Independent Order of Foresters spokeswoman Arneel said the seminars scheduled for the spring represent a departure of sorts for the organization, which until now has has concentrated its efforts specifically on child abuse prevention.
"In 1974, we made a commitment to make people aware that child abuse exists and how to report it," Arneel said. Toward that goal, the group has produced several films and videos on the subject at its Solana Beach studios, some featuring narration by celebrities Bill Cosby, Michael Caine and others.
"The trend now is to prevent child abuse before it happens, which is to teach people how to parent, one of the most important jobs we have in our lifetime and for which we never receive training," Arneel said.