Americans are deeply concerned about moral rootlessness among their children, according to a recent survey. The findings should be pondered along with other survey results - specifically, polls indicating that Americans continue to be an extraordinarily religious people for whom values are important.
Why, then, do millions of them patronize entertainment that glorifies violence and exploitative sexuality? Why do they allow youngsters to soak up books, films, TV programs, and computer games more likely to scare or instill aggressiveness than to inspire?
Such questions are impelled by the study, "Kids These Days: What Americans Really Think About the Next Generation." The 2,000 adults surveyed by the Public Agenda research organization generally characterized teenagers and younger children as "irresponsible," "rude," and "lazy." Those, of course, are scarcely new attitudes toward youth, especially teens. What seems different is the depth of concern across all economic or ethnic lines, and the extension of that concern even to preteen youngsters.
Moreover, people described themselves as determined to do something about the lack of strong moral values among today's youth. Deborah Wadsworth, the executive director of Public Agenda, observed: "Adults are not confused and they're not ambivalent. Instead, they're virtually riveted by the need to teach kids integrity, ethical behavior, respect, civility, compas-sion, They're focused like a laser beam on the question of character...."
And that focus isn't exclusively an American phenomenon. Recent news reports have mentioned, for instance, the concern of Japanese parents about moral drift among their children - especially following a highly publicized murder case involving a young teen.
Such concerns among adults can be the seeds of helpful action: more community activities for kids, school programs that explore moral responsibility, more attention to the trends in children's thought by parents, churches moved to fill their role as agents of moral instruction.
Religion, in fact, is indispensable. If Americans are as committed to the worship of God, and as open to recognizing His power in their lives, as surveys have indicated over many years, they have at hand a prime means of acting on their desires to reinforce character in the young. The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote in answer to the question of how to raise a child without resort to corporal punishment, "If you make clear to the child's thought the right motives for action, and cause him to love them, they will lead him aright."
Those right motives are, according to religion, a love for others and a love of God. It may seem hard for children, or adults, to establish those motives when today's culture often glorifies opposite tendencies. But to allow children to live without them is hardest of all, on everyone.
Tomorrow: a look at how adults and children can join in an effort to close racial divisions in society.