ZERO TO THREE: National Parent Survey Overview

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Kelly Sikkema

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Kelly Sikkema

ZERO TO THREE conducted ten in-depth discussion groups, with parents of young children, from diverse backgrounds, in Chicago and Dallas in the summer of 2015, out of which they developed a 50-question internet survey, available in English and Spanish, which was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,200 parents of children birth to 5 years.

The key findings of the survey were:

1. When it comes to attitudes, aspirations and parenting challenges, there is more that unites than divides parents: 91% of parents surveyed state that parenting is their greatest joy, but three-quarters of the parents also stated that it is their greatest challenge. The majority feel they are doing a good job as parents, but are looking for opportunities to improve their parenting skills.

2. Parents universally believe that parenting can be learned and that if they had more positive parenting strategies they would use them: The survey notes that, across demographic segments, parents consistently want to improve their parenting and believe that parenting skills can be learnt. There is an awareness of the importance to a child of the first 5 years of life, which elicits both motivation and worry in parents.

3. Dads are more than babysitters: 90% of dads indicated that being a parent is their greatest joy, and 73% that their lives began when they became a dad. The survey found that the vast majority of dads, across all demographic segments, are passionate about the positive role that fatherhood plays in their lives. However, nearly half reported feeling that their parenting partner attempts to restrict and control their involvement in parenting their child.

4. There is a “missing” first year: The survey found that parents overall consistently underestimate just how early children can be affected by some critical experiences. A third of parents stated that they thought the time of most rapid brain growth for children is 3 to 5 years, and did not realize that the time of most rapid brain development occurs during the first 3 years. “While parents have a general understanding that what happens in a child’s early years can last a lifetime, many don’t realize at what age babies and toddlers can begin to feel complex emotions. Parents also don’t realize how deeply they can be affected by the way parents interact with them in the first months of life.”

5. There is an expectation gap when it comes to understanding children’s capabilities: The survey found that “about half of parents believe that children are capable of self-control and other developmental milestones much earlier than they actually are.”

6. Parents face a discipline dilemma: Half of the parents surveyed struggle with figuring out the most effective way to use discipline, which was seen by parents surveyed as equally a way to nurture their children as much as a way to stop bad behaviour. Interestingly, parents, including those who regularly use harsh discipline strategies such as spanking and yelling, recognize that these are not the most effective methods of discipline.

7. Parents are drawing a new roadmap: Whilst the survey found that “the overwhelming majority of parents – 9 in 10 – report that the way they were raised is a key influence on their own parenting, and 6 out of 10 say that what they learned from their parents is useful…still, roughly half of all millennial and Generation X parents [surveyed] see themselves as being more positive and present, and using less harsh disciplinary strategies with their own children that they recall their own parents using with them.”

8. There is a trust gap: Parents surveyed indicated that they are overwhelmed by sources of help and “underwhelmed by the quality of what they’re getting. Just because parent turn to a particular resource for guidance doesn’t mean it’s useful. For example, 84% turn to articles specifically aimed at helping parents, but only 49% find them helpful.” 58% of parents said that there is so much parenting information available that it’s hard to know what to trust, and 63% said, “I am skeptical of people who give parenting advice and recommendations if they don’t know my child and my situation specifically.” Half of parents surveyed said that they don’t know where to find information they can trust.

9. Almost all parents feel judged, almost all the time: The survey found that, “Moms are more likely to feel judged than dads are, with one important exception: Dads feel more judged by their co-parents than moms do.”

10. Half of parents aren’t getting the support they need when they feel overwhelmed or stressed – the time when help is most important: The survey findings indicated that almost half (48%) of parents overall, and more than half (57% of single parents who have no other co-parent involved in their child’s care) feel that are not getting the support they need when they feel stressed, and 8% overall stated that they get no support at all. The survey notes that decades of research have demonstrated that, when parents feel supported during times of stress, they are better able to provide a caring and healthy environment for their children, who then fare better on a variety of academic and social well-being measures in the long-term.

11. Parents want more from the media: The survey indicated a significant impact from parenting models demonstrated in portrayals of parenting on TV, and found that the majority of parents indicated that they want TV shows to provide guidance and role-modeling. Two-thirds of parents surveyed stated that they want to see more TV shows portraying the realities of parenting young children. More than half of parents surveyed also wanted to access information from websites or blogs from child development experts, with a third expressing a desire to have this information delivered directly to them via email or in apps.