Youth Culture Window
Music icon Kid Rock identified with an entire generation when he said, “Getting married is f---ing fun. Being married sucks.” (Rolling Stone, 8/9/07) Most Americans must agree, because it seems that quitting marriages is more popular than committing to them. Fair warning: we’re gonna talk about divorce.
The demise of “family structure” is fairly evident to most Americans today. A healthy family has plenty of enemies: financial problems, less quality time available for one another, and the influx of dangerous media pumped in through television sets and the Internet. But one foe stands head-and-shoulders above all the rest: divorce.
Here are some unflattering snapshots of marriages today, as reported by the 2005-2006 U.S. Bureau of the Census. It found that...
- 40% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.
- only 68% of children lived in “two married parents” homes. This is down from 85% in 1970.
- more than 1 million children are affected by divorce each year.
- 40% of kids will see their parents divorce before reaching adulthood. (Amato, 2000)
These numbers prompted George Barna to say, “There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage.” However, the same census found that 75% of divorcees eventually remarry. So that fixes everything, right?
According to new research published by Florida State University, not exactly.
Last week, researchers at FSU released their findings from a study on “blended” families (aka, stepfamilies) that claimed “teenagers in families with different biological parents have lower grades and more behavior problems…than other adolescents, and these traits may not improve over time.” Specifically, teenage boys in this situation had the biggest difficulty adjusting.
Regardless of the newly discovered potential risks, one-third of all weddings in America today form stepfamilies. With 1,300 created every day, it’s predicted that by 2010 there will be more stepfamilies in America than any other type of family.
So, what effect do these numbers have on kids caught in the middle?
Despite the amount of trouble they see in today’s marriages, a recent in-depth AP/MTV poll found that 92% of kids say they want to be married. But, the “state of our unions” has taken its toll on the way Gen Y looks at family and marriage values. This Gallup Youth Survey reports a full 85% of “unchurched” teens and 50% of “churched” teens approve of couples cohabitating prior to saying, “I do.” Given the pain so many young people experience from marriage before they even enter it themselves, it’s little wonder they wait until the age of 27 (on average) before tying the knot.
Who’s To Blame For Bad Behavior?
Even rookie youth workers have heard teens bemoan, “It’s my parent’s fault that I ….” Since the Garden, we’ve been placing blame on others. But can kids legitimately pin their poor behavior on a half sister or step dad? Let’s face it, we all know “that couple” who’s been married their entire adult life, but have absolutely toxic kids. Conversely, we know stepfamilies that have raised wonderful children. So, a blanket statement that says “all biological families are good, and all stepfamilies are bad” is clearly flawed.
Until Death Do Us Part
But there's good news to report, as well. Here it is: researchers have also mined hope from marriages that do it right the first time. Children that live with both of their biological parents...
- tend to be more academically successful, emotionally stable, and apt to take leadership roles. (Waite & Gallagher, 2000; Manning & Lamb, 2003)
- are less likely to have sexual intercourse. (Pearson, Frisco, 2006; Sieving, Eisenberg, Pettingell, & Skay, 2006)
- show lower levels of behavioral problems than peers from other family types. (Carlson, 2006)
It’s clear that these kids have reaped the benefit of mom and dad keeping their promises to one another. This is the kind of family that our ministries should strive to produce and strengthen, even if the family is on its “second time around.”
As youth workers, part of our job is to teach teenagers how to have a marriage that lasts longer than Britney Spears' marriages…and be a lot healthier, too! Marriage is like a decision to follow Christ; it’s supposed to last the rest of our lives!
So, what can we do to help the generation we love so much avoid making the same mistakes that mark our generation?
- Show parents again and again how important they are in the life of their teens. Absolutely nothing else in the world has as much affect on a kid’s view of marriage and family than that of his or her parents. Find great marriage enrichment resources and organizations that you can confidently endorse to the parents in your church. Lots of adults perform “maintenance” on their professional lives for the sake of their careers. Why not encourage them to do the same for THEIR MOST significant purpose?
- Teach AND model grace in the midst of present despair and past failures. When a teenager comes into your office weeping over the pain she senses at home, trust me, that is NOT the time to pick up the phone and lambaste the parents with a hardcore rendition of the Torah. Jesus, the Ultimate Example of healing and forgiveness taught a good bit on marriage, and even divorce. You simply cannot go wrong following His lead. (But be very careful that your private life does not undermine your public teaching. That’s why it’s important to teach AND model grace.)
There are too many kids who’ve been caught in the fallout of a divorce. We at www.TheSource4YM.com sincerely appreciate each and every youth worker that walks beside families showing them a better way. Whether the family is biological or blended, decent or dysfunctional, God loves them! So, keep sharing with them the hope that only Jesus can offer.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. 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.
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