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'Connection Gap' Stymies Parents, Kids

March 20, 1998|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Parents are underestimating their preteens' maturity because of a "connection gap" in communication, according to a new survey released Thursday.

Most parents (58%) and almost three-quarters (73%) of the children said they spend less than an hour a day, 6% of their waking hours, talking to each other, according to a national telephone survey of 505 fifth- through eighth-graders and their parents.

As a result, parents often miss what is really important to their children, said San Francisco psychologist Lawrence Kutner, who has written a booklet of communication tips to accompany the survey. "We gave them a list of things and asked what was most important in their lives. Parents said the kids' top priority would be fun, friends and looks. There was zero overlap with what the kids said. The kids said their futures, school work and family matters."

Today's preteens are facing more difficult and complex issues than earlier generations, he said, but few find a willing ear at home. Only 20% of the kids said they find it easy to talk to their parents about issues that really matter. Both parents and children in the survey said they felt they were denied the chance to fully explain themselves.

"Talking" doesn't always mean a sit-down discussion of serious topics, Kutner said. "You need to be talking about the little stuff, too. If you're talking about what pair of socks you like, what's happening in math on Thursday, what's on TV, kids will learn if you are going to argue with them, or if you're open to issues. If you're open, they're more likely to approach you on the things you as a parent worry about, drugs, sex, violence."

The study was conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide for the New Jersey-based Philips Consumer Communications.

The booklet, with advice for kids as well as for parents, is available for free by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Philips "Let's Connect" Family Communication Guide, P.O. Box 7615, Melville, NY 11775-7615, and is also available on the Web at http://www.philipsconsumer.com/letsconnect.

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