WASHINGTON -- Parents are taking a more active role in raising their children than they did a decade ago, setting greater restrictions on TV watching and reading more to youngsters, the government reported Wednesday.
Teenagers are participating in more extracurricular activities that focus on education, at the expense of sports, according to the study.
The findings suggest that adults are reacting to a more dangerous world, while both parents and students are dealing with increased competition to get into good colleges, experts said.
"Whether it's a realistic panic or not, things like school shootings or child abductions or pedophile predators, that has a certain group of American parents pretty worried," said Angela Hattery, a sociology professor at Wake Forest University.
The report is from the Census Bureau's 2004 survey of income and program participation, which had a sample of 46,500 households. The results were compared with answers from the same survey questions in 1994.
In 2004, about 47 percent of teenagers had multiple TV restrictions, including limits on program types, the time of day they could watch and how much they could see. That compares with 40 percent in 1994.
Nearly 71 percent of children age 6 to 11 had such limits in 2004, compared with 60 percent a decade earlier.
"All you have to do is own a TV," said Hattery, a parent. "I'm shocked at what you can see at 8 o'clock."
Parents also are feeling peer pressure to spend more time with their children, and guilt when they do not, said Elizabeth Cooksey, a sociology professor at Ohio State University.
"We've really moved into this cultural expectation that this is what good parents do," Cooksey said. "It's more a cultural consensus, that if we are going to be parents, we are going to have to put time into it."
More parents read to their children in 2004 than a decade earlier. Wealthier, better educated parents were more likely to do so than parents with lower incomes and less education.
Overall, 51 percent of parents with children age 3 to 5 said they had read to them at least seven times a week in 2004, compared with about 47 percent in 1994.
Students are also feeling pressure at school, with increased testing at all grade levels and tougher requirements to get into college.
It is no wonder: About 85 percent of parents said in 2004 that they expected their children to graduate from college.
To help, there were significant increases in students taking classes outside the regular school day, including lessons in music, dance, languages, computers and religion.
About 29 percent of teenagers took such classes in 2004, compared with 19 percent in 1994.
The share of teens who played sports dropped slightly during the decade, from 42 percent to 39 percent.
In addition to improving a college application, extracurricular activities help students feel accepted among their peers, said Ellen deLara, an assistant professor of social work at Syracuse University who works with adolescents.
"The notion of being in activities that are worthy, whether it is community service or the band, that is extremely important to them," deLara said. "Adolescents who don't have the opportunity for that may feel alienated at school or in society in general."
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