A new Barna survey measured what works for kids and what doesn't and found family experiences outweigh the influence of the Church.
Survey findings revealed the majority of "tweens" – children aged around 8 to 12 years old – have positive impressions of or experiences with family. On the flip side, less than half view faith as important to them.
According to the results, 79 percent of tweens feel safe when they are at home; 69 percent say their family eats dinner together at least five nights a week; and 64 percent say they feel they can always trust their parents to do what is right for the child.
Parents were also found to be more involved in children's lives in terms of guidance. The study found 91 percent of the children get punished by their parents if they are caught using bad language; 74 percent said their parents enforce a strict curfew, and 67 percent noted that the amount of television they are allowed to watch is limited by their parents.
Friendships also play a major positive role in children's lives. More than nine out of ten said they have good friends whom they can trust.
Compared to the bright spots of family and friends, the Church's impact on children is minor, according to the study.
Overall, 38 percent of tweens said that churches have made a positive difference in their life; 34 percent said that prayer is very important to them; and 43 percent rejected the notion that they would rather be popular than do what is morally right.
"One of the more significant outcomes of the study was the challenge to churches," said survey director George Barna in the study. "While most kids in the 8-to-12 age range are involved in a church, relatively few of them consider church experiences to be valuable. That is confirmed by the fact that so few kids consider prayer to be a critical part of their life."
Barna concluded that parents are crucial not only in creating a positive family environment and investing themselves in their relationship with their children, but also in modeling the significance of faith in their lives.
"Parents must take the lead in establishing the centrality of faith experiences and practices for their children," he said. "That begins with parents modeling the significance of faith in their lives. It also highlights the importance of families taking the lead in the spiritual development process, rather than expecting or waiting for a church to produce spiritual growth in adolescents."
Other survey findings showed 56 percent of tweens believe they will have a great life; 57 percent contend that they look forward to spending free time with their family; and 35 percent said they find it easy to talk to parents about everything that is happening in their life these days.
The study noted some of the major factors influencing children's perception. Young people who get mostly "A's" tended to have a much more positive experience and outlook. They were also less likely to be bothered by bullies. The study showed 31 percent of kids are bothered by bullies.
The academic achievers were also more likely than others to trust their parents' choices, to expect to have a great life, to look forward to time spent with family, to be comfortable doing what is morally right rather than popular, and to believe their church has positively affected their life.
Additionally, having both parents in their home was found to help kids feel safe at home, enjoy spending time together as a family, find it easy to speak with parents about their life, choose morality over popularity, and say their church had a positive impact on them.
Born-again Christians also showed more positive findings than others.
A previous Barna study found that as children grow up, they become more distant to their faith. While teens are actively involved in church activities in a typical week, young adults in their 20s were found to have significantly lower levels of church attendance and involvement in spiritual activities.
Barna noted the crucial period of transition for children growing up. "During the 11 to 13 age range, most kids undergo huge changes and challenges related to their self-image and their choices concerning morals, beliefs, relationships and life goals," the researcher said. "It often becomes a difficult time in the relationship between parents and kids, but it is also one of the most critical times for parents to make sure they stay connected and accessible to their kids."
For the most recent report, The Barna Group surveyed 608 children throughout the nation during July 2006.