Re-valuing the Family, Part Six: The Crisis That Exists for Families Today

by Richard and Linda Eyre

crisis (kri’ses) n. 1. an exceedingly serious situation; 2. a critical or decisive point or situation, a turning point, as in a story where a conflict reaches its highest tension and must be resolved.

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. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part one); B. The “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8 and 9 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 10 and 11 — how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 12, 13, and 14 — what you as a parent can do about it); and H. The “case” (parts 15 and 16 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention).

The symptoms are the social problems. . . .

The illness is the breakdown of the family.

We’ve called the first the curse, we call the second the crisis.

Recognizing Crisis
Once Americans recognize crisis, we seem to be able to do something about it.

When war and tyranny twice engulfed Europe, we changed from a militarily weak nation to the most powerful force on earth and ended two world wars.

When polio and other diseases reached epidemic proportions, we discovered safeguards, preventions, and cures.

When our auto or electronics industries were ravaged by superior, more efficient foreign competition, we re-invented, redesigned.

When our education and test scores dipped to their lowest levels, we recognized that we were a “nation at risk” and began a slow turn around and an educational resurgence.

America has a legacy of comebacks. We sometimes don’t get it until we are into or on the verge of crisis. But once we see it clearly — once we understand the causes and effects of what is happening to us, we rally, we attack the problem at its roots, we rebound and recover.

Sometimes we’re a little slow to recognize the scope of a problem, to separate causes from effects and to get a stronghold on the roots. It took us a while to get past European diplomacy and the theories of isolation and focus on the real evil of Hitler; to get past leg braces and focus on the polio virus; to get past tail fins and chrome and focus on efficiency and competitiveness, to get past trying to justify our inferior schools and start really fixing them. But once we get it, once we wake up, once we see and understand the crisis, there has been no one better than Americans.

The Real Crisis
The biggest crisis, the one that has taken the longest to develop, the “cause” of the most far-reaching an devastating “effects,” and the one we are finally on the verge of understanding, is the decline and breakdown of the American family and the accompanying deterioration of our basic personal values.

There has been no shortage of comment and speculation about “family decline” and “values deterioration” in recent years, but two things have been wrong (or at least inadequate) in most of what has been written and spoken.

First, most of the dialogue is too theoretical and academic. The statistics about divorce, latchkey children, decreasing parent-child communication and time spent together are academic parts of sociology courses. Increases in violence, gangs, substance abuse, teen promiscuity and pregnancy, crime, teen suicide, gang violence, school dropout rate, and AIDS (all worse in America than in any other developed country) are daily headlines, nightly news, and the subjects of all kinds of popular discussion and the targets of all kinds of proposed “solutions” . . . but are rarely connected clearly to their real cause — the breakdown of the families and values. Common sense tells us of the connection, of the cause and effect, yet we keep talking about, worrying about, and working on the symptoms and the effects and pretty much ignoring the cause.

Second, when we do hear someone say, in essence, “Families and values breakdown is the direct root cause of all this country’s serious social problems,” that someone is often a member of the extreme religious or political right whose tone is so shrill and strident and self-righteous that most mainstream Americans have a hard time identifying with or accepting that spokesperson as credible. At the same time, advocates and the “spokes-vehicles” for family indifference and anything-goes morality are smooth as silk and use the manipulation of movies, media, and music to masquerade as the majority.

This column is neither a scream of frustration nor another shrill and strident call to repentance. It is being written at a time when America’s true values and family-driven majority is beginning to reassert itself and resist the masquerade — at a time when “old” terms like values and virtues are becoming buzzwords (and names of national best-sellers) — at a time when the self-gratification and greed of the late twentieth century is giving way to a longing for commitments, for quality relationships and stricter personal standards which may become the hallmark of the early twenty-first century.

The Crisis that Curses Us
Social problems like guns and violence, irresponsible sex and teen pregnancy, depression and suicide, declining education, substance abuse, gangs and crime are clearly not starting points — nor are they simply the results of economic conditions. These “curses” are results . . . tragic results. But what, exactly, are they the results of?

Because we are so oriented to money and economics, it’s natural to look for an economic scapegoat — to say “poverty is the cause.” Violence happens more in the poor inner city — as does educational decline, as do drugs and gangs and teen pregnancy. So the next question is what causes the poverty, and then we debate government policies or urban design and we get back into expensive band aids and the treating of symptoms. The prescriptions don’t work because we’ve misdiagnosed the cause. We’ve mis-reasoned ourselves away from the real source and ended up at a dead end. We try to get out of the maze by saying, “Maybe we’ve got it backwards, maybe it’s the drugs or the crime or the teen pregnancy that causes the poverty.” We go into analysis paralysis, we’re debating whether the stress causes the pain or the pain causes the stress. We still haven’t addressed the real cause. Where and what is the root?

It’s only recently that sophisticated academic statistical analysis has begun to take us toward where common sense has pointed all along: The cause of our social problems is the breakdown of our most basis social institution — the family.

Proof of this premise requires only two things: 1. Evidence showing how much and in what ways American families have declined; 2. Evidence showing clear causal connections between that decline of families and the rise of social (and economic) problems. With census and other recent (and vast) increases of available data, there are more than enough reliable statistics to serve as evidence on both points.

Family Facts

Family breakup
By age 16, nearly one-half of U. S. children will have seen their parents divorce. (1)

One half of white children who see their parent remarry will see that second marriage dissolve by their adolescence (higher in nonwhite families). (2)

Only five percent of U. S. kids see a grandparent regularly. (3)

More than one-third U. S. households with children are single parent families — far higher than ever before. (4)

The U. S. divorce rate is the highest in the Western world. (5)

More than one-fourth of U. S. births are to unwed mothers. Births to unwed mothers have increased by more than 200 percent in the last twenty years. (6)

In the ’50s over 80 percent of children grew up in households with both biological parents. By 1990 only 50 percent of children spent their entire childhood with both parents and projections of current trends indicate that by the year 2000, 60 percent of U. S. kids will spend all or part of their childhood in a single parent home. (7)

Family, function, fears, finances, and fathers
Parents spend 40 percent less time interacting with their children than in the 1950s. (8)

This generation of parents spends ten to twelve less hours per week with their children. (9) The average worker is at work 163 more hours per year than thirty years ago.)

U. S. adolescents spend an average of three minutes a day alone with their fathers and 50 percent of that time is watching T. V. (10)

Only 16 percent of kids whose fathers don’t live with them see their fathers on a weekly basis — and 50 percent have not seen their father in a year or more. (11)

The original $600.00 tax exemption per child would be $7,000.00 today if it had kept pace with inflation. (12)

In 1950 the average family paid 3 percent of its income for taxes — today it is over 15 percent. (13)

Twenty-eight percent of school-age kids have at least one parents at home on a full-time basis — down from 57 percent in 1970. (14)

Seventy percent of women report that they are afraid to tell their bosses they are pregnant. (15)

Cause and effect connections between family decline and social and economic decline
Seventy percent of teen suicides occur with children from fragmented homes.*(16)

Eighty percent of kids in patient mental health units are from broken homes. (17)

The single most correlating factor in drug/alcohol problems is the absence of one parent. (18)

Children from broken homes are 30 percent more likely to become physically ill and three times as likely to have serious emotional problems. (19)

Twenty-two percent of kids in single parent families will live below the poverty line for seven years of their childhood. (20)

Fifty percent of single mothers live below the poverty line. (21)

Kids from fragmented families are six times as likely to be poor. (22)

The closer kids are connected to their parents, the less likely they are to feel suicidal, to become violent or use drugs. (23)

The more hours children are left by themselves after school, the greater their risk of substance abuse. Home-alone kids are twice as likely to abuse alcohol or drugs

than children who are supervised by a parent or another adult family member after school. (24)

*”Fragmented” or “broken” refers to families that have undergone divorce, separation, death, or other circumstances that have resulted in a single parent situation. While many single parents do an exceptional job of parenting, statistics show that the likelihood of adolescent problems is much higher.

The peak hours for juvenile crime are now 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. (the hours kids are alone after school. (25)

Seven million latchkey kids go home to an empty house after school. A third of all twelve-year-olds are regularly left to fend for themselves while their parents are at work. (26)

Experts estimate that the parent is twice as powerful as the school in determining the educational achievement levels of adolescents in literature, science, reading, and other subject areas. (27)

Next week in part seven: The “crisis” continues — How Social Problems Stem from Family Problems.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.