No one can deny that our culture is opposed to Christian values, and the influences bombarding our children's moral development can be deadly. But few parents and church leaders realize how critical it is to start developing a child's biblical worldview in the earliest years of life. The problem is complex: parents who themselves did not receive early spiritual training leave their children's training to the church. Yet the church often focuses on older children- not realizing that a child's moral development is set by the age of nine. The answer is for churches to recognize the need to come alongside parents to provide them biblical worldview training, parenting information, etc., that will equip them to help their children become tomorrow's spiritually mature Church.
About the Author
George Barna is the award-winning author of more than 45 books, including bestsellers such as Revolution, The Power of Vision, The Frog in the Kettle and The Seven Faith Tribes. He is also founder of The Barna Group, a leading research firm that specializes in faith-related surveys. In 2009, George initiated Metaformation, a new organization designed to help people maximize their potential. George has led several churches and lives with his family in Southern California.
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TRANSFORMING children into SPIRITUAL CHAMPIONS
By George Barna
RegalCopyright © 2003 George Barna
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe State of American Children
They are more numerous than the entire Hispanic and African-American populations of the nation combined. They have more energy than a nuclear power plant and are as confounding as the federal budget. They have tastes as fluid as the Missouri River and dreams that will redefine the future. They are a marketer's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the most lovable and frustrating beings in the life of every parent. We're talking about America's children. You don't have to look too hard to find them. In 2003, the Census Bureau reported that there were 73 million residents 18 years of age or younger living in the United States. They come in all shapes and various sizes, in many colors, and are distributed indiscriminately across the 50 states. Our children will define the future, which makes them our most significant and enduring legacy. After all, God never told His followers to take over the world through force or intelligence. He simply told us to have children and then raise them to honor God in all they do. Therefore, you might logically conclude that bearing and raising children is not only our most enduring legacy but also one of our greatest personal responsibilities. In this book, I will focus upon understanding and affecting the lives of children in the heart of the youth cohort (i.e., children in the 5- to 12-year-old age range). This group, some 31 million strong, represents nearly half of the under-18-year-olds in the country. That's almost equal to the population of the entire state of California. Why focus on this particular slice of the youth market? Because if you want to shape a person's life-whether you are most concerned about his or her moral, spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional or economic development-it is during these crucial eight years that lifelong habits, values, beliefs and attitudes are formed.
Four Dimensions of Our Children's Well-Being
Everyone's life has challenges, difficulties and hardships en route to adulthood. On balance, though, most American children experience a good life, especially when compared to the quality of life children in many other nations of the world endure.
Educational Achievement and Intellectual Development
Most of America's children spend plenty of time in the classroom-and we pay for it. Public school systems throughout the nation spent more than $380 billion in 2000. More children than ever before get an early educational start-more than half of all three- and four-year olds enroll in school, and nearly two-thirds of five-year-olds enroll in all-day kindergarten programs. But neither school spending nor student attendance is a viable indicator of educational achievement or quality. Studies measuring such factors raise troubling questions. For example, it is estimated that one-third of all school-aged children are at least one grade level behind in their academic performance. Fewer than 3 out of 10 fourth graders read at grade level. Matters do not improve much over time. Just one-third of eighth graders are proficient in reading, and only one-quarter are proficient in writing and math. These findings are particularly alarming given the correlation between poor academic skills and quality of life. Studies by the National Institutes of Health and the National Association for Educational Progress discovered that poor reading skills are a harbinger of teen pregnancy, criminal activity, poor academic achievement and dropping out before high school graduation. Testing among students reveals that when the academic performance of American pupils is compared to that of peers in other nations, American students come up far short. Recent studies of eighth graders in 25 industrialized nations showed that American students ranked tenth in science and twenty-first in mathematics. Interestingly, most parents are pleased with the quality of the schooling their young ones get. Gallup's recent research shows that 7 out of 10 parents are generally satisfied with the educational quality their children receive. Our research found that most parents think their children are well cared for and well taught and have access to adequate facilities and programs. Relatively few parents believe their children are unsafe or exposed to unreasonable social pressures at school. Also interesting, most parents believe that the schools attended by most other children in the nation do not provide a quality education. Exposure to technology in the classroom is increasing in the United States. More than 4 out of 5 children under 13 years of age use a computer at school on a regular basis. Whether or not the integration of technology into the daily academic regimen will enhance students' learning experience remains to be seen.
Health and Physical Development
Advances in medical and health care have substantially reduced infant mortality during the past half-century. With new breakthroughs in medical research and technology, children have greater opportunities than ever before to live long and healthy lives. There are, however, five dominant health-related challenges kids face these days. The most prevalent of these is being overweight. It is estimated that roughly 1 out of every 8 children under 13 is overweight or obese, which is double the figure of two decades ago. The combination of couch-potato behavior, computer games, fear of lack of safety in public places such as playgrounds and gymnasiums, supersized fast-food meals and the demise of school-run athletic programs contribute to the problem. While government agencies posit that only 25 percent of children ages two to five have a consistently healthy diet, that already low percentage shrinks to just 6 percent among teenagers. Indeed, if lifestyle modeling is a significant influence on behavior, then the future looks even bleaker concerning the physical condition of our young people, since a variety of medical professionals have estimated that as many as 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Another serious concern is the increased sexual activity among youngsters. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that almost 1 out of every 10 teenagers had sexual intercourse prior to his or her thirteenth birthday and that the number is steadily rising. Apart from the serious moral, emotional and spiritual consequences of premature sexual activity, such experiences commonly introduce sexually transmitted diseases (STD). CDC has reported that while relatively few adolescents have contracted an STD-fewer than 1 million of the youth under age 14-these young people are at greater risk than older individuals of acquiring one or more of the numerous permanent and incurable diseases, which is a particularly unnerving reality given the increasing sexual activity among children. Substance abuse-tobacco, drugs and alcohol-is a temptation to which millions of young people succumb. Current estimates indicate that about 1 out of every 10 eighth graders smokes daily (the proportion rises to 1 out of 4 by age 17); 1 out of 5 used drugs of some type in the past year (ranging from marijuana to hallucinogens to "club drugs" such as Ecstasy); and more than 1 out of 3 were drunk at least once in the past year, with significant numbers of adolescents reporting regular alcohol use and even binge drinking. For a small but significant percentage of those who abuse these substances, the behavior becomes addictive; and for a larger portion, the temporary impairment of their decision-making abilities produces serious physical consequences. Being the victim of violence is yet another danger that threatens the health and well-being of millions of preteens. Forty-five percent of elementary schools reported one or more incidents of violent crime; the figure balloons to 74 percent, three-quarters, of all middle schools. In a typical year, 4 percent of elementary schools and 19 percent of middle schools report one or more serious violent crimes (e.g., murder, rape, suicide, use of a weapon or robbery). Students are subjected to violence most often in schools where gangs are present, and gangs are known to exist in nearly 3 out of 10 public schools. During a typical school year 1 out of every 14 students is threatened or injured at school with a weapon; 1 out of every 7 students is involved in a serious physical fight on school grounds. One common result, of course, is that millions of parents feel uneasy about their child's safety, and more than 1 million adolescents missed at least one day of school this past year due to fear of physical violence.
Finally, the physical condition of young people is impacted by their medical care. Despite the attention focused on this issue in the past decade, 1 out of every 8 children under 13 has no health insurance and thus lacks adequate access to qualified medical attention. Combined with the skyrocketing cost of medical care, children suffer from medical challenges more widely than many people realize. One recent study noted that about 20 percent of youths in the United States exhibit some signs of psychiatric ailments and that most of those go undiagnosed. One of the most widely discussed conditions is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which afflicts about 7 percent of children in the 6- to 11-year-old age group. Millions of them are treated with Ritalin, antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs; millions more receive no treatment at all. It should be pointed out that both the health of children and their engagement in at-risk behaviors have serious ramifications. A number of studies conducted in the past decade have demonstrated a strong correlation among six at-risk behaviors undertaken by adolescents-sexual intercourse, excessive drinking, smoking, use of illegal drugs, depression and suicide-and their generally negative impact.
During the past three decades, the economic state of children has actually improved. The federal government has expanded its support for children, currently funding more than 150 child-targeted programs to the tune of more than $50 billion annually. While an unacceptably high proportion of young people (33 percent) will live in poverty before they reach adulthood, just half as many (17 percent) are mired in it at any given time. (Realize that while the percentage is small, the human suffering is enormous-nearly 7 million American adolescents are plagued by poverty on any given day.) Most kids live in relatively suitable circumstances, and 8 out of 10 adolescents even report receiving spending money from their parents or extended family members. On average, adolescents are given an allowance of slightly more than $20 per week.
Emotional and Behavioral Development
Much of the emotional stability and maturity of children stems from their relationship with their family. Even though most parents feel they are doing a good job of raising their kids-and there is little doubt that most parents take their responsibility seriously-there is an abundance of evidence that suggests many overestimate their performance. The effects of cohabitation, divorce, births to unmarried parents, and working mothers are taking a significant toll on a growing body of children-an impacted group that now numbers in the millions. One out of every 3 children born in the United States each year is born to an unmarried woman. One out of every 4 children presently lives with a single parent, and about half find themselves in that situation before they celebrate their eighteenth birthday. Three out of every 5 mothers of infants are in the labor force-roughly twice the proportion from just a quarter-century ago. The confluence of isolating factors has led a majority of parents of adolescents to admit that they do not spend enough meaningful time with their young ones. Among kids 8 to 12 years old, one-third say they want to spend more time with their mother, in spite of the fact that today's preteens spend 31 hours per week with their mom, a jump of about six hours each week from two decades ago. Adolescents spend less time with their fathers-an average of 23 hours weekly-which is also an increase compared to the early '80s. However, a substantial amount of the increases in parent-child time are attributable to an escalation in the amount of time spent driving to and from various activities, which is an endeavor not normally deemed a meaningful moment or quality time. The good news is the slow rise in the percentage of kids who live with both biological parents (up from the 1 out of 2 a decade ago to nearly 6 out of 10 today). These families tend to be more financially and relationally stable, live in safer and more well-to-do areas and enroll their kids in higher-quality schools. In spite of-or, maybe, thanks to-the changes in family realities, how are the kids turning out? There are many aspects to consider, but here are a few factors to ponder:
Most adolescents consider themselves to be happy, loved, safe and optimistic about their future. However, we have found that most of them believe that adults generally consider young people to be rude, arrogant, lazy and sloppy. Kids ages 2 to 7 average nearly 25 hours per week of mass media intake; the figure balloons to almost 48 hours each week among those ages 8 to 13. Evidence of the changing times and the new generation in place is the favorite medium of all, the Internet, according to 54 percent of kids under 8 and 73 percent of kids 8 to 12 years old.
Adolescents have become highly proficient at multitasking-the ability to juggle several activities simultaneously without losing ground in any of the areas.
Young people admit to being highly influenced by their role models and to be actively seeking more such examples, but nearly half of all preteens (44 percent) admit that they don't have any role models. While parents are the most commonly named role models, it is revealing that when children are asked to identify the three most important people in the world to them, only one-third name their mother or father. Even so, the vast majority of young kids-more than 9 out of 10-say they get along well with their parents, and most have no desire to have their parents eliminated from their lives.
Excerpted from TRANSFORMING children into SPIRITUAL CHAMPIONS by George Barna Copyright © 2003 by George Barna. Excerpted by permission.
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