May 23, 2007

Growing Up With the News

Most Parents Encourage their Kids to Follow the News

Summary of Findings

In an era where the news is often dominated by war, tragedy and scandal, America’s parents are more likely to encourage their children to follow the news than they are to shield them from it. Among parents with school-aged children (kindergarten through 12th grade), six-in-ten (61%) say they often or sometimes encourage their children to follow the news. Fewer parents (47%) often or sometimes try to shield their kids from the news, while nearly four-in-ten (38%) say they never do so.

Even so, most school-aged children are not regular news consumers. According to their parents, only 6% of today’s kids follow news about national and international issues very closely and 23% follow the news fairly closely. The vast majority don’t follow the news too closely or at all.

The news sources children rely on are almost identical to the sources adults use, with television the dominant medium. Among those parents who say that their school-aged children pay at least some attention to national or international news, a 31% plurality say their kids’ main news source is network television news, while 24% say their kids rely mainly on cable TV news. Some 18% say their kids’ main news source is the internet. Only 10% of kids rely on newspapers and 9% tune into radio news. Adults rely on the same set of news sources with network and cable TV news clearly dominating.

Not surprisingly, parents’ own news interests have an impact on whether or not they encourage their children to follow the news. Parents who are disengaged from the news of the day are less likely than other parents to encourage their offspring to follow the news. Among those parents who paid the least attention to the major political stories of the past two weeks — the war in Iraq, the Iraq policy debate and the 2008 presidential campaign — only 43% often or sometimes encourage their children to watch the news. Fully 39% never encourage their kids to do so. Among those who were moderately or highly interested in these stories, more than 70% often or sometimes encourage their children to watch the news.

Also as expected, parents of older children, particularly teenagers, are much more likely to encourage their kids to follow the news than are parents of young children. Among those parents who have children ages 12-17 living in their household, fully 71% often or sometimes encourage their kids to follow the news. This compares with 62% of parents with kids between the ages of 6 and 11 and only 50% of parents with kids under age 6.

By the same token, young children are more often shielded from reports of today’s happenings on the local, national and international scenes. Among those parents with children under age 12 living in their household, more than half often or sometimes shield their kids from the news. This compares with only 34% of parents with children ages 12-17 in the household. Half of these parents (49%) say they never shield their children from the news.

In spite of the fact that Republicans are generally much more critical of the news media than are Democrats, Republican parents are just as likely as Democratic parents to encourage their children to watch the news (65% vs. 62%, respectively). Independents are slightly less likely to encourage their kids to watch the news. When it comes to shielding children from the news, again there are no major party differences — 48% of Republican parents and 50% of Democratic parents often or sometimes shield their children from the news.

These findings are based on the most recent installment of the weekly News Interest Index, an ongoing project of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. This week’s report is based, in part, on interviews with 435 parents of school-aged children conducted during the first two weekends of May, 2007. The News Interest Index, building on the Center’s longstanding research into public attentiveness to major news stories, examines news interest as it relates to the news media’s agenda. The weekly survey is conducted in conjunction with The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, which monitors the news reported by major newspaper, television, radio and online news outlets on an ongoing basis.

About the News Interest Index

The News Interest Index is a weekly survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press aimed at gauging the public’s interest in and reaction to major news events.

This project has been undertaken in conjunction with the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, an ongoing content analysis of the news. The News Coverage Index catalogues the news from top news organizations across five major sectors of the media: newspapers, network television, cable television, radio and the internet. Each week (from Sunday through Friday) PEJ will compile this data to identify the top stories for the week. The News Interest Index survey will collect data from Friday through Monday to gauge public interest in the most covered stories of the week.

Results for the weekly surveys are based on telephone interviews among a nationwide sample of approximately 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older, conducted under the direction of ORC (Opinion Research Corporation). For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls, and that results based on subgroups will have larger margins of error.

For more information about the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, go to www.journalism.org.