In a study released Jan. 3, the Barna Group reported that Americans overwhelmingly focus on themselves when making resolutions at the start of a new year, and many are discouraged by their past lack of success in reaching similar goals.
The top pledges for 2011, Barna found, relate to weight, diet and health (30 percent); money, debt and finances (15 percent); personal improvement (13 percent); addiction (12 percent); job and career (5 percent); spiritual or church-related (5 percent); and educational (4 percent).
Barna also found that younger adults are more likely than older adults to make resolutions, perhaps because they are less affected by past failed resolutions, and disengaged adults do not bother with resolutions. Such adults include those who are non-voters, unchurched adults, atheists and agnostics and those never married, Barna said.
Most people who make New Year's resolutions don't plan on having accountability or a support system in place to help them keep their commitments.
"While people concentrate on themselves when making priorities for the New Year, it is telling that so few Americans say they want to improve relationships with others," the Barna study stated. "There were virtually no mentions of volunteering or serving others; only a handful of comments about marriage or parenting; almost no responses focusing on being a better friend; and only a small fraction of people mentioned improving their connection with God."
Kinnaman, Barna's president, noted that only nine out of 1,000 survey respondents listed as one of their goals getting closer to God in 2011. In the rare instances when people mentioned spiritual goals, he said, usually the goals pertained to activity undertaken for God rather than a personal pursuit of God.
"Americans maintain a love-hate relationship with New Year's resolutions: millions of people make them, but they rarely report success as a result," Kinnaman said. "This research underscores that most humans want to experience some sort of personal change in their lives, but achieving such objectives is both difficult and uncommon.
"Maybe most problematic, Americans hinge their efforts at personal change by focusing almost exclusively on themselves, rather than realizing that lasting change often comes by serving and sacrificing for others," Kinnaman said.
"Churches and faith communities have a significant opportunity to help people identify what makes for transformational change and how best to achieve those objectives -- especially by relying on goals and resources beyond their individualism."
HOLLYWOOD FOCUSES ON SEXUALIZING TEENAGE GIRLS -- The Parents Television Council is warning that Hollywood's latest strategy for gaining viewers is to sexualize girls from ages 12 to 17, based on content analysis of the most popular primetime broadcast shows.
"PTC found that when underage female characters appear on screen: more sexual content is depicted; the teen girls show next to no negative response to being sexualized; more sexual incidents occur outside of any form of a committed relationship; and there is less accuracy in the TV content rating," the watchdog group said in a December news release.
The danger in this, they said, is that real teenagers are led to believe that their sole value comes from their sexuality, and a generation of young girls are being shown that this is how society expects them to behave. Such messages can lead to body dissatisfaction, depression and all sorts of misbehaviors, the group said.
"The TV networks really stick it to families by leaving off the 'S' descriptor to warn them about this type of sexual content a shocking 75 percent of the time," Parents Television Council said. "But parents and the PTC aren't just asking for more warning, we are asking the entertainment industry to take immediate steps to reverse this trend."
Among the major findings of the report, titled "Tinseltown's New Target: A study of Teen Female Sexualization on Primetime TV":
-- Underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adults (47 percent to 29 percent).
-- Of all the sexualized female characters depicted in the underage and young adult category for the entire database, 86 percent were presented as only being of high school age.
-- The data show that 73 percent of the underage sexualized incidents were presented in a humorous manner or as a punch line to a joke.
"PTC intends for this report to speak from a place of passionate concern for young girls everywhere who are affected by media sexualization," the report said. "It is our firm belief that this issue is bigger than one organization. Our hope is to ignite a national dialogue that will not only unite people but will result in real change."
BRITAIN CONSIDERS BLOCKING PORNOGRAPHIC WEBSITES -- A new proposal by the British government would require Internet Service Providers to block household computers from all pornographic websites unless customers specifically request the ability to view such sites.
The proposal, which is still in its early stages, is meant to protect children from accessing pornography online.
"This is a very serious matter," British culture minister Ed Vaizey said, according to the New York Daily News. "I think it's very important that it's the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children. I'm hoping they will get their acts together so that we don't have to legislate, but we are keeping an eye on the situation and we will have a new communications bill in the next couple of years."
ISPs in Britain have said they support the idea, but some believe it's not technically possible to completely block such websites. Filtering systems are imperfect, one provider said, and a giant pornography filter would block access to sites that do not host the material.
The secretary general of Britain's trade association for ISPs said online safety is a priority issue but the responsibility of monitoring what children view online should fall to parents.
In the United States, Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, said it is unrealistic to depend solely on parents to keep their children from finding such material.
"Parental use of filtering technology on computers under their control should be the first line of defense when it comes to protecting children from Internet pornography. But many parents are unable to use such technology or are unwilling to do so."
Many parents are unable to afford the technology, are technologically challenged, are unable to read the printed instructions, are overburdened and exhausted, are fearful of being too strict or upsetting their children or are indifferent, neglectful or abusive, Peters said.
"If the British government is serious about protecting children from Internet pornography, it must be concerned about children accessing pornography both inside and outside the home and must impose obligations not only on ISPs but also on Internet distributors of pornography," Peters said.
"Like the U.S. government, the British government should also begin vigorously enforcing its obscenity laws against Internet distributors of obscene materials. Encouraging all responsible nations to do the same will go a long way towards protecting not only children but also society."
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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