The Importance of Mom and Dad
Today’s teens have a long list of influencers standing in line to leave their mark on young lives: media, culture, friends, church, etc. But the greatest influencers on kids are still their parents. According to new research, however, the healthiness of teens is greatly dependent on how healthy the relationship is between mom and dad.
Broken Homes and Broken Kids
Most people would readily agree that a healthy home is more likely to produce healthy kids than an unhealthy home. But what separates a healthy home from an unhealthy one? And what sort of impact do both of them have on kids?
The Index of Family Belonging and Rejection, a multiple-year study of 15- 17-year-olds based on statistics gathered from the US Census Bureau, might offer some answers to those questions. According to their latest findings, only 46% of American teens, ages 15 to 17, have grown up in a house with their biological parents who are married to one another.
In case you’re not a “numbers person,” that’s less than half.
Sadly, that percentage decreases drastically in the lives of minority teens. For example, just 17% of African-American teenagers live in a home with their biological parents who are married to one another compared to 54% of White teens. (In a day when everyone seems to be talking about the wealth gap between the rich and poor, we have to acknowledge that this is also a huge one!) Unsurprisingly, the number of kids of all ethnicities growing up in a home with married, biological parents has steadily shrunk since 1950 when it was 63% of all kids.
In this 7-minute-long interview with Ken Blackwell, a member of the Family Research Council, he calls America “a nation at risk” and discusses the societal impacts associated with broken families, especially those that are related to economics and healthcare. In a related study, however, it was also discovered that teenagers living in single-parent homes tended to leave school earlier than teens who live with both their mom and dad. Additionally, teens from broken homes were also less likely to attend college. The gap between kids who live with both parents and those who live with one parent has always existed, but it’s widening as rates of divorce increase. For example, on the educational level, kids who came from broken homes in the 1980s were 8% less likely to graduate from college. In 2009, that gap had more-than-doubled to 17%!
It seems as though kids who come from homes that have experienced divorce or some other kind of brokenness may face difficulties that kids from stronger homes may not face. Regardless of the history a set of parents may share, the numbers don’t lie. The (close) presence of loving and caring parents in the lives of their teens simply cannot be overstated. For example:
- Strong interaction between parents and teens was found to be a key preventer of student suicide.
- Positive parenting helps prevent drug use.
- Teen drinking, too.
- Oh, and parents are the biggest influencers on teen sex (according to teens).
This list could go on for a while, but suffice it to say, parents’ influence on their kids can be life-changing and life-saving.
Making the Most of Moms and Dads
We live in a culture where divorce is prevalent and high-profile splits are common. (Of course, there are other ways in which a home can be void of mom’s presence or dad’s presence, such as military service, accidental death, etc.) But there’s hope for every home – and every kid – if parents are willing to put forth the effort. Here are a few points parents should keep in mind in order to make the most of their influence.
- Single parent does not = bad parent. Again, a home can be “single parent” for reasons other than divorce. No one should assume that a single parent is automatically a bad parent; likewise it shouldn’t be assumed that married parents are automatically great parents. A single parent, be it a mom or a dad, can still make a significant impact in their kids’ lives regardless of their situation. Divorced parents can still be great parents! Widowed parents can still be great parents!
- It’s never too late to make positive changes. Even if a family has been rocked by separation, divorce, death, ongoing military service, or some other disadvantage-inducing reality, it’s never too late to make a positive impact on kids’ lives. Hey, doctors routinely recommend to their patients who’ve smoked their whole lives to give up the bad habit and take up good habits. Why? Because it’s never too late to make positive changes! Here’s a short list of simple steps you can take right away:
- Make time to talk…daily…without distractions.
- Participate with them in their interests. (Watch a movie together, read a book together, play their sport with them, or listen to their favorite music.)
- In everything you teach, lead by example.
- Set expectations for them, and celebrate milestone accomplishments.
- None of those ideas require a degree in advanced physics. Neither do they require a huge family budget. All of us can be better parents, regardless of our situations, right away…if we choose. Granted, a rough history may make positive changes a little more difficult, but the benefit for our teens is well worth the effort(s).
- Be great moms and dads…and be quick about it!
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.