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The lip and the laziness, the flack and the attitude, the “acting-out,� the antisocial outbursts. Add them all up and you'll begin to grasp why kids today are getting a flunking grade in conduct on the great report card of public opinion. What's more, many believe parents are at least partly to blame, reveals the latest American Demographics exclusive survey, conducted November 17 to 21, 2003 by Encino, Calif.-based market research firm E-Poll. Kids' behavior is tanking according to almost 70 percent of people who responded to a nationally representative online poll of 1,130 adults when asked whether they thought conduct among children was improving, staying the same or getting worse compared with 10 years ago. Less than one-quarter of Americans (22 percent) say behavior patterns are holding steady, and a mere 6 percent believe they're better than they were. Women tend to be more critical than men: 74 percent of them say children are more badly behaved than in 1993.

The list of childhood improprieties seems to grow longer every day. Edgy entertainment fare, TV and real-life violence, and school incidents seem to feed into the proliferation of ruder, cruder kids. Here's what the majority of adults consider the most objectionable behaviors in children up to 12 years old: cursing, not listening to elders, being too destructive (i.e., breaking toys), acting out in public, throwing a tantrum and interrupting elders. Fewer list kids' making too much noise (26 percent) or being hyperactive (20 percent) as objectionable. Interestingly, respondents' write-in comments seem to express dismay over more than children's lack of self-control. The list of bad behaviors ranged from whining or not getting out of bed to lying, hitting an adult or shooting people.

It's little wonder that many people take offense at the behavior of someone else's child and believe that others should better discipline their offspring. A whopping 88 percent of adults say that they have often or sometimes seen someone else's child misbehaving and felt they should be disciplined. More than one-third of adults (37 percent) say they often see someone else's child misbehaving and think some training or punishment is in order.

As folks become more irritated than ever by kids' shenanigans, they lay at least part of the blame with the little rascals' parents. According to our findings, over one-third of parents (37 percent) say they discipline their kids less than their parents disciplined them as a child, but only 15 percent say they discipline their kids more. Overall, a little less than half (44 percent) say they discipline their kids about the same amount as they were disciplined.

What's striking is that fathers are more likely to be softies than mothers. Forty-two percent of fathers say they discipline their kids less, while only 32 percent of mothers say the same.

Among the 8 percent of respondents who cared enough to write in their own reactions, there was no shortage of approaches to making kids do penance. Some parents impose modern forms of exile by denying their kids access to cell phones and computers. The social ostracism extends to grounding the child or even making him go to bed early. Entertainment options are sometimes restricted: If a child doesn't play well with others, a parent may take toys away.

Demanding parents sometimes make their kids write an essay explaining why the socially unacceptable behavior was wrong. Others take the opportunity to reason with their children by talking about the consequences of actions and choices that could have been made. Some parents force the child to make reparations perhaps by doing work that benefits the person wronged or making them fix whatever they broke. Extra chores also may come into play as leverage.

Of the various methods of punishment mentioned in the survey, the ones a clear majority of adults consider most appropriate for a child of 12 or younger include limiting privileges (92 percent), verbal reprimand (79 percent), sending the child to his room (72 percent) and cool-off time in the corner (60 percent). It's interesting to note that less than half (45 percent) consider spanking an appropriate response. In this world where kinder, gentler forms of discipline are standard, sparing the rod seems to be the rule.

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