Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Four: The “Curse” That Dooms American Families
by Richard and Linda Eyre

curse (kurs) n. a misfortune that comes in response to something; a scourge

The malignancy and terror of what we benignly call “social problems” is torturing individuals and blackmailing society. It is an economic, political, moral, and personal curse — truly a scourge. And it comes in response to wrong-turned hearts.

Note: In this sixteen-part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Revaluing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: 1. Revaluing the family (part one); 2. The “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); 3. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); 4. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); 5. The “cause” (parts 8 and 9 — the reasons our families are failing); 6. The “culprits” (parts 10 and 11 — how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); 7. The “cure” (parts 12, 13, and 14 — what you as a parent can do about it); and 8. The “case” (parts 15 and 16 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention).

Conditions and Contrasts
Too many kids today can rap but cannot read. Too many know everything about drugs but can’t pass chemistry. Too many have sex but have no love.

In American today, more teenage boys go to jail than join the Boy Scouts.

A generation ago a survey revealed the seven biggest problems in one high school to be: 1. Talking Out of Turn, 2. Chewing Gum, 3. Being Disruptive, Making Noise, 4. Cutting in Line, 5. Running in the Halls, 6. Dress Code Violations, 7. Littering. A recent survey at the same school provides the stark contrast. Today the seven biggest problems are: 1. Alcohol Abuse, 2. Drug Abuse, 3. Robbery, 4. Teen Pregnancy, 5. Assault, 6. Rape, 7. Suicide.

Social problems have placed this nation on the literal brink of demise.

And “social problems” is far too tame a word — too academic, too theoretical, too political. What we need is a word that suggests how dramatic and deep the dangers are. Why search for that word? The scriptural prophecy already gave it to us. It is a curse. A freedom-threatening, economy- threatening, life-threatening curse.

A Nation at Risk
In the 1980s two personal acquaintances of ours, Education Secretary Terrel Bell and University President David Gardner, led a task force that produced a landmark document called, “A Nation at Risk.” The study pointed out the serious declines in American public education and made disturbing connections between those declines and America’s decreasing ability to complete and prosper in the global economy. Many of the education reforms that have come about since then were catalyzed by the study and its disturbing conclusions.

As good and useful as “A Nation at Risk” was, it may have been “over-named.” Less efficient public education is certainly a notable problem with far-reaching ramifications, and it certainly deserves serious attention, but it does not actually threaten the existence of America. Our social problems do!

The mushrooming violence, addictions, absence of personal responsibility, lawlessness, and poverty in America put this country’s survival in jeopardy. Because of our social problems, we are, more than at any time in 200 years, a nation at risk.

In fact, our declining educational achievement is the direct result of the social and family problems that beset us.

Part of the problem (and part of the reason that most Americans don’t fully realize the risk) is that America is so terrifyingly diverse — economically and socially. In this, the most prosperous of all countries, exist pockets of the planet’s most dangerous and devastated neighborhoods. The majesty of macro prosperity is matched by the mercilessness of our micro poverty. Often those who are most prosperous and most safe are more aware of overseas violence and Third World poverty than they are of the violence and poverty that exist closer to home, sometimes just blocks away from their offices.

The anger that seethes in its most violent forms in the jobless hopelessness of center cities is just a deeper concentration of the same frustration, danger, and mushrooming social problem that spreads throughout suburbia and that crosses over all socio-economic divisions.

Oh, we are a nation at risk all right. Everything that has made America great (and safe, and prosperous) is at risk. All of us are at risk because the artificial membranes that now separate rich and poor, safe and violent, stable and volatile, are stretched and thin and cannot, on our present course, last very long.

Discuss the two different uses of “nation at risk.” Which constitutes the greatest risk — educational deficiencies or “social problems?” How are the two related? Which is the most serious threat to your family?

Startling Sample Statistics
In our information age, there are endless statistics that document and dramatize America’s social problems and that can be presented as proof of both the tragic seriousness of our symptoms and the steepness of their recent increase. For our purposes, even a few selected sample statistics from half a dozen sample categories are enough to underscore the huge pain, the overwhelming danger — particularly to those who are young.

3.6 million high school students are physically assaulted at school each year. (1)

Violent crime among fifteen-year-old American boys has increased 264 percent (2) over the last four years. (3)

It is estimated that five percent of America’s secondary school children carry a gun. (4)

Between the mid-’80s and mid-’90s, arrests of fourteen-seventeen-year-olds for murder increased 172 percent. Rape, robbery, and aggravated assault arrests went up by 46 percent. (As these same rates were falling for adults.) (5)

Gun violence takes a child’s life in the U. S. every three hours. (6)

Child homicide rates have quadrupled since the mid-1980s. (7)

A child is twenty-five times more likely to be killed in New York than in Paris or Bonn and seventy times as likely to be killed in Dallas than Tokyo. (8)

Teen Promiscuity/Pregnancy
Every minute of every day an American teenager has a baby. (9)

Ten thousand babies a year are born in the U. S. to girls age fifteen or under. (10)

Twenty-five percent of American girls and 33 percent of boys have intercourse by age fifteen. (11)

Two out of every three out-of-wedlock births are to teenage mothers. (12)

Six million children under five live with mothers who were adolescents when they gave birth and who have no job skills or family support. (13)

Twenty-five percent of African American kids have had sexual intercourse prior to their 12th birthday. (14)

Substance Abuse
Every nine minutes a child is arrested in the U. S. for a drug or alcohol offense. (15)

Junior- and senior-high school students drink 35 percent of the wine coolers sold in the U. S. (16)

Despite declining tobacco use, 41.2 percent of junior – and senior-high students report use of tobacco in some form. (17)

The 1991 surgeon general’s report shows that sixteen percent of junior- and senior-high students drink alcohol weekly. (18)

Between 1992 and 1995 use of marijuana by high school seniors increased by 63 percent, and the use of inhalants like glue and solvents increased 28 percent among eighth graders. (19)

In 1990 the AMA reported that sixteen percent of U. S. teenage boys and nineteen percent of teen girls suffer from clinical depression. (20)

A Gallup Poll from the same year reports that fifteen percent of teens say they have considered suicide and six percent have actually attempted it. (21)

A more recent study reports that one-third of adolescents have contemplated suicide. (22)

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among American youth. (23)

Since 1971, the number of adolescents admitted to private psychiatric hospitals has increased fifteen fold. (24)

Every twenty-six seconds an American child runs away from home (serious runaways). (25)

Teen suicide rates have doubled since the mid-1980s. (26)

The suicide rate among black males ages ten to fourteen went up 240 percent between 1980 and 1995 (27) and continues to climb.

Scholastic Decline
There has been a 70 point drop in the U. S. average S.A.T. score over the last thirty years. (28)

We are approaching a national high school dropout rate of 25 percent. (29)

Only 69.7 percent of American students who enter ninth grade earn a high school diploma four years later (down by 7 percent from the seventies). (30)

Two and one-half million children in the U. S. have no permanent home. (31)

Women with children under three are the fastest growing sector of the U. S. labor force. (32)

20.5 percent of children in the U. S. live below the poverty line — a 36 percent increase since 1970 (twice as high as Canada, five times as high as Germany, ten times as high as Japan). (33)

Two-thirds of single U. S. moms with preschoolers are employed full-time and depend on day care that is hard to afford and often substandard. (34)

Impressions and Costs
Two-thirds of Americans now see teenagers as “rude, irresponsible and wild.” (35)

Criminal justice costs are huge: One violent young person is estimated to cost taxpayers $1.5 million. (36)

Twenty billion dollars of public funds are spent annually on teen pregnancy. (37)

Although the U. S. ranks second worldwide in per capita income, this country does not even make it into the top ten on any significant indicator of child welfare. (38)

If you have become a regular reader of this column, think about and discuss these statistics. Which do you find most shocking? How do they affect your family even if you’re not a statistical part of them? Which of the problems do you and your kids confront most directly?

In the next column, episode 5, we will project these same statistics (this same “curse”) into the future.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.