The Changing Sturcture Of The American Family

1897 words - 8 pages

The shape of the American family has undergone a dramatic change over the last several decades. The once dominant "traditional nuclear family" is now accompanied by a variety of other familial forms. Sociologists, psychologists, and politicians, among others, have all offered their opinions on the subject and many studies have been put forth to demonstrate the adverse effects of these situations on children and on the society as a whole. While these studies have resulted in conclusions that perpetuate the myth that single-parent and blended families are aberrations from the norm, other researchers take the position that these groups are just new and viable variations on the idea of what constitutes a family. The results of many of the studies done in the past have been flawed, but there is mounting evidence that if researchers control for a wide spectrum of influences, they will arrive at a more accurate and positive assessment of the situation. If many different variables are taken into consideration, the non-traditional family structure can be shown to have a potential for success that is comparable to that of the two-parent family.
Those who advocate the "traditional" family as the only acceptable model base their claims on the interconnectedness of the structure of the family and its probability of success. In order to arrive at a realistic assessment of the merits and pitfalls of the various family groups, one must separate family interactions from family composition. Too often love and support are promoted as inherent qualities of the family that has both a mother and a father. This is a simplistic notion that does not acknowledge the reality of the dysfunctional two-parent family. As Alesia Montgomery and Robert Rossi, from the American Institute for Research, point out, in their 1994 report to the US Department of Education, "two-parent households are not always stable and supportive and single-parent households are not always isolated and overwhelmed" (par. 4). They cite many factors other than family structure which might influence a child's probability of success in life including strong family cohesiveness, positive parental guidance, and supportive community networks. Some negative factors which are separate from the composition of the family and which could lead to problems are lack of parental warmth, neglect, and high levels of conflict within the family (par. 5).
Many studies substantiate the conclusion that family climate has the most direct effect on child development. Although single-parent and blended families are presented with a unique set of challenges, stress occurs in all family groupings. Harmful home environments contribute to a variety of problems. Alesia Montgomery and Robert Rossi cite a study that correlates the risk of substance abuse with unstable home environments and the parents' permissive views on alcohol use (par. 13). The negative factors of physical or sexual abuse have been shown to contribute to...

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