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The New Family Values

Jarvis Oxley

What's your deepest wish for your child? Beyond simply being happy? That he shares your religious beliefs, that she values honesty and fidelity, or perhaps that he's tolerant and respectful of others, no matter their differences? Maybe all of the above? 

We live in a warp-speed world, and the information—good, bad, and ugly—that our children are exposed to is vast and unlimited. How do parents control the often uncontrollable? Perhaps by returning to the traditional values that they hope will provide a solid foundation, according to Parenting's recent survey of more than 1,000 moms and dads nationwide. What we discovered: Most of you believe religion is the strongest building block in that foundation; family time really, really matters; and you don't want to raise a quitter, a slacker, or even a teller of little white lies. Your standards for your kids are way high. The challenge is: How to protect them in this wired new world? “We realize that adversity is good for kids, but letting them experience it is hard,” says Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed. Still, it's important to start letting them out into the world, albeit a little at a time. Here's how you're navigating this tricky but oh-so-critical transition:

The New R ‘n’ R: Religion and Rituals

54% of parents belong to an organized religion, but only 27% attend weekly services

31% call themselves spiritual but do not belong to an organized religion

69% say religion is essential to establishing a moral foundation

45% celebrate only religious holidays and important events

71% have regular family traiditons throughout the year

“I know church isn't a necessity for spirituality, but I believe in the fellowship and connections to other people,” says Susan Fudge of Midland, GA, who takes her two kids to a Methodist church nearly every week for Sunday school and services.

Are parents today sending their kids mixed messages by only going to a house of worship during the holidays? Not at all, says Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of Teach Your Children Well. “Kids know what's important to their parents, so if you live your life according to your beliefs and clarify them for your kids, that's another way they learn to identify with your religion,” adds Levine.

Trending Now: Diversity

95% of parents say their families socialize with friends of a different race, religion, or ethnicity

78% of parents make an effort to talk often about diversity and acceptance with their children

27% say same-sex families are just like any other family

27% say same-sex families are different, but everyone's entitled to their own lifestyle

18% say same-sex families is not something they agree with, and they make that clear to their kids

26% don't know any same-sex families and haven't had to deal with this issue

The expert's take:

Wow. “When the vast majority of parents say they socialize with people of different backgrounds and only eighteen percent admit they don't like the idea of same-sex couples, that's real progress,” Levine says, especially among a group of people with otherwise traditional-sounding beliefs.

The parent's take:

“Acceptance is a must in today's world. I am white and Native American, my wife is 100 percent Italian, and our son Andy is white, Native American, and African-American. I am spiritual. My wife is religious, and Andy is still making up his mind about it all.”

—G. Daniel Cole, Smyrna, DE

The Fab Five: Most Desirable Character Traits for Kids

59% Honesty

44% Strong self-esteem

42% Kindness

41% Good manners

31% Strong work ethic

Gen Y-ers often get a bad rap about their work ethic, yet they rated it in the top five most important qualities. Other traits typically associated with millennial parents—spirituality, creativity, eco-consciousness—didn't make the cut. You certainly can't go wrong with universal values that will keep kids grounded in a complicated world. But Tough does caution parents about placing too much importance on self-esteem. Sure, it's great when your child likes herself, but a little goes a long way. A better trait is what he calls “grit,” the confidence your child has in her abilities to solve a problem, make a difference, or change her circumstances. “Grit is sticking to your goals and not letting obstacles get in your way,” he adds.

Who's Raising Spoiled Kids? Not you!

82% of parents say: “Our children's behavior is a reflection of us.”

Of course, once these same parents get in front of their computer screens (or behind the wheel of a car), they can be anything but well-mannered. “You think you are a step removed because of that screen and keyboard, but there is a human being on the other side with soul and feelings,” says Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., author of CyberSafe and an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spokesperson on media. “Parents need to be good role models and understand that just because it's anonymous or semi-anonymous…it could hurt someone. And if you do it, your kids will be more likely to do it because they model their online behavior after you.”

“‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are just the beginning,” says Bridget Anderson, a mom of five who lives in Hesperia, CA. “Children need to understand that having good manners is a way of showing people you care for their feelings, their help, their being.”

Download This: Online Safety

Millennial moms and dads are not terribly worried about what their kids might encounter online—no doubt because they know how valuable it is to be connected themselves.

44% do not have any parental controls on their computers

34% believe that sheltering kids from outside influences isn't such a great idea. Still…

23% of parents say they're so concerned about outside influences that they homeschool (or plan to)

Allowing some Internet independence is not a bad thing, says Dr. O'Keeffe: “I don't believe in filters or monitors. We live in a society that's driven by fear, and the first step as a parent is not to act on that fear but to get information. Take a class, talk to an expert.” Homeschooling's not the answer either. It's better for kids, socially and academically, to be away from their parents for part of the day, she adds.

Instead, raise them in a spirit of trust and open conversation so they understand the rules. “It's not so lockdown and not so sheltered,” she notes. “Give kids the tools they need to adapt to society, educate ourselves, and monitor, but don't hover.”

Tough Love

54% insist kids finish an activity they start even if they don't like it

74% of fathers of grade-schoolers say rushing around to extracurricular activities is worth all the hassle

58% of kids have chores, and a third of kids with chores don't get an allowance for them

57% of parents won't deliver forgotten homework to school after the first offense

87% say when their child suffers disappointment, they talk about it, but it's a good lesson

Character boost or bummer? Don't always force your child into continuing something, says Dr. O'Keeffe. “There may be some good reasons to stop. What if he's playing soccer because you talked him into doing it but he really wants to play the violin? Or he's not developmentally ready for the activity?” In other words, while you may value persistence, there are times when knowing when to change course is the more admirable thing. Help your child get the message by having him finish out the season, or the piano lessons you've already paid for, and then allowing him to choose his next activity in exchange for a promise to stick to it for a mutually agreed upon amount of time.

“It was also heartening to see that it wasn't a hundred percent who'd run their kids' forgotten homework to school,” notes Levine. Micromanaging their lives doesn't do them any favors.

“It's important to understand that children already have a real job—they go to school full-time and have to study.” -John Wilkes, Daytona Beach, FL

Dinner Still Rules!

We were amazed! 83% of families eat dinner together most nights

Your job's no excuse: 81% of working moms manage to get a meal on the table most nights vs. 87% of stay-at-home moms. And you can't blame school or extracurricular activities either: Parents of school-age kids eat together as often as moms and dads of little kids—both weighed in at 83%.

Why family dinners are such a priority, says parents:

“It socializes my children and brings them a sense of security.”

“It's the one opportunity to talk about the day so everyone can get a chance to share their ‘highs and lows.’”

“It gives us time to unwind together.”

Liars Never Prosper

Nearly three out of four parents say it's important to always be truthful; only 24% confessed to telling white lies now and then 64% say they'd drive right back to the store to return the wrong change made in their favor (and teach their kids a valuable lesson).

“If you believe white lies are OK, then what your kids someday put up online may not be the truth either,” says Dr. O'Keeffe.

Do Good—Maybe?

1 in 3 parents wish they could do more community service with their kids, but they're too busy to get around to it.

Make it happen: Community service doesn't have to be a big production to have an impact on kids. Andrew Timmins, a dad from Vacaville, CA, gets his 3-year-old involved in helping prepare meals for the homeless and picking toys she can give away.

Socially Speaking

Have you let your child under 13 have a Facebook page? 83% said no

“I don't think they are able to exercise the judgment they need to safely navigate social media until age 13.” -Amy Beth Hair, Decatur, GA

17% said yes

“My eight-year-old just got on Facebook, but we make sure that there are only family members—her grandfather, aunts, uncles—on her friend list. Today, it's easier and faster to text someone or chat with them on Facebook. Plus, it helps her learn to type and spell.” -Elizabeth Essex, West Frankfort, IL

What the experts say:

“Facebook is complicated—the way you post, the ads, the privacy settings—these are issues that are hard for teens to understand,” says Dr. O'Keeffe. Plus: You'd have to lie about her age—and you really don't want to set a precedent for that (hello, fake IDs).

The QT Factor

64% of parents say they spend two hours or more a day having fun with (as opposed to taking care of) their kids

18% of parents think family time trumps extracurricular activities

16% limit their child's commitments to one or two activities

What's the secret to raising a child with a strong sense of self-esteem? Help her feel competent, which in turn will boost her confidence. And one way to do that is to emphasize plenty of PDF—playtime, downtime and family time, says Levine. Just don't confuse sitting in the bleachers every weekend with family time. “Running around to all your child's games isn't necessarily a good thing,” says Levine. “You're sending a message that being an adult means having no time for yourself.”