We worry about our children's physical health, but what about their moral health? Raising children of good character might be a bit tricky in today's society. Malia Jacobson with ParentMap discusses this issue more.

Are today's families experiencing a moral crisis?

Many people think so. A recent Gallup poll showed that 7 out of 10 Americans feel that the moral state of our country is declining.

Certainly, it seems clear that today's parents are facing some significant moral challenges with their children. Some things that authors and child development experts point to:

• Increases in peer cruelty. Government reports show that a third of students have been bullied.
• Increases in cheating. In a 2010 study, nearly 90 percent of students admitted to cheating, and nearly half (47 percent) didn't believe that cheating is wrong.

What are some of the factors contributing to this problem?

First, there's been a decline in family time, which many experts chalk up to increased media use. Kid's media use has increased over 20 percent in the past 5 years to around 7 and a half hours a day for kids 8-18. The more time kids plugged into a device or looking at a screen, the less time they're spending in the high-quality face to face interactions that build empathy. —"You can't learn empathy from a screen."

Second, fewer families are attending religious services regularly. Church attendance has dropped 16.9 percent over the past 10 years—fewer parents are benefiting from the support of a values-based community.

Finally, research suggests that parents' focus has shifted—to happiness. Research has shown that today, parents tend to prioritize happiness over goodness. Now, we're seeing that has big implications for a child's character.

That sounds a bit backwards. How does focusing on happiness hurt moral development?

When parents prioritize happiness over basic human traits like kindness and compassion, children grow up with a skewed worldview and lowered empathy for others.

These are the statements we hear (or say) all the time:
• "Pass the ball to her, and she'll pass it to you."
• "Invite him to your party, and he'll invite you to his"

The underlying message in all of these statements is that our actions should be motivated by personal gain, not by what's right.

So it's not difficult to see why almost all kids are participating in academic cheating and that many don't see it as wrong—when everything is a child's life is framed in terms of their own happiness, then they think that anything that advances their own personal interest must be OK.

How can parents reverse this trend and build character in their children?

Build empathy from birth. Children are born with an innate sense of empathy that needs to be stretched and nurtured. Talk with young children about how their actions affect others. Communicate ethical and moral issues in terms of right and wrong, not in terms of a child's own personal happiness.

Spend unstructured face-to-face time with children. Spending time together encourages kids to ask questions and gives parents an opportunity to share their values, which experts agree is critical to moral growth.

Teach self-control. When talking about moral traits, self-control is a virtue that's often overlooked. Children can know the right choice, but they need the self-control to actually carry out the right action. Parents should communicate to children the value of self-control. They can do this by creating a family self-control motto and putting it in a prominent location, or by making family rules relating to self-control.

Set a moral example. All of the authors and experts I interviewed for this month's ParentMap cover story agreed: Parents are a child's most important moral influence. Every day, we have opportunities to impart values to our children when we make day-to-day decisions about right and wrong. "When kids 12 and under get a discount, and your child just turned 13, do you pay the higher rate without complaining?" "When you go to the movies, do you sneak snacks in your purse?" If parents want their children to develop strong values, they need to make the right decisions, because those little eyes are always watching.

For more information, go to ParentMap website.