April 9, 2008

“It is easier and better to build boys than to repair men.”

Children at-risk

The last forty years has witnessed the eclipse of the traditional family.  In 1960, only one child in ten lived in a home without both biological parents. By 2006, due to a soaring divorce rate and nanny-state programs that rendered obsolete the need for active fathers, it was one in three.

The meteoric rise in single-parent homes is alarming to anyone concerned with the welfare of children. Studies show that, when compared against homes with both biological parents, children reared in single-parent homes exhibit, among other things: 

  • Five times the risk of growing up in poverty
  • Three times the incidence of emotional and behavioral problems
  • Five times the risk of becoming teen parents
  • Three times the likelihood of joining a gang
  • Twice the incidence of dropping out of school
  • And up to 10 times the involvement in criminal behavior

The reasons are clear. Children in non-traditional homes have significantly less parental supervision and involvement. More often than not, the parent is a single mother holding down one or two jobs, who entrusts child care to female relatives or professionals. For older juveniles and adolescents, after-school supervision is often absent.

Reduced contact with biological parents means less opportunity for nurturing, monitoring and mentoring from emotionally-invested, genetically-linked adults. It is a void all too readily filled by peer groups, as evidenced by the near ten-fold increase in gangs from 1970 to 1998.

To a lesser degree, children in traditional, two-parent homes have experienced some of the same problems. 

Risks in traditional families

In 1960, few mothers with children under the age of six worked outside of the home; in 2006, 65 percent did so.  Even for families with both biological parents, workplace demands divert precious time and energy from that needed to be effectively engaged in the lives of children.

In a bygone day, children came home from school to a glass of milk and plate of cookies baked by a mom with a ready ear and an encouraging word. Today they are left to surf the internet or roam the streets foraging for affirmation and advice from their peers. This tectonic shift has not come without significant social costs.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, juvenile courts processed 4500 cases per day in 2004, compared to 1100 cases in 1960. Thus, during the same period that the number of children in non-traditional families increased by a factor of three, the number of juvenile offenders increased by a factor of four. In some areas of the country, this has had tragic consequences.

Meredith May of the San Francisco Chronicle writes of Oakland, California: “There are entire blocks without a single two-parent family, where drug dealers have become the predominant male role models, and children fend for themselves in crowded, chaotic homes where they are routinely exposed to drugs, sex and guns.”