Deteriorating social environments for raising children

Visualization of narrower problems
Deteriorating family context
Diminishing parental influence
Ineffective parenting
Inadequate parenting
Socially endangered children
Parenting deficit
In the USA a 1993 study indicated that the serious problems of adolescents, including drug abuse, school failure, delinquency and violence, have grown to tragic proportions in part because of the deteriorating environments in which young people are raised. The decline in economic security is a major contributory factor, but the system of neighbourhoods, families, child welfare, health care education, job training and justice system were all effectively under siege and were failing to rescue young people in need of help. In many cases they were making matters worse as with school programmes that discriminate against low-achievers, health programmes that exclude adolescents with serious health problems, absence of assistance to young people in the transition from school to a job, and the inability of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders.

The environment of a typical Eastern European Gypsy child living in a shanty village is poor in positive influences. These children do not browse through their parents' books and parents do not read stories to them, they do not have a chance to colour pictures in children books, because all of these are missing, unimportant items in Gypsy households. There is virtually no regularity in eating and sleeping in the families. Children are allowed to watch videos of all sorts together with adults in rooms filled with cigarette smoke, they often witness arguments and fights of adults, their excessive consumption of alcohol, and often also sexual activities.

1. We must recognize how difficult parenting has become, particularly in the margins of our society. Support networks in the form of grandparents, family and stable neighbours are no longer readily available. Increasing numbers of children are being born into rickety partnerships, where the normal trouble of child rearing are intensified by poverty, bad housing, poor support services, loneliness, family conflict and increasingly high levels of marital instability. Children's difficulties caused additional anxiety, anger and helplessness which rebounds on the children themselves, who become ever more angry in the process. Many parents do not recognize the value of consistent discipline. The effect is a confused child who is unsure of right and wrong. Demoralized teachers have given up forming good citizens in favour of producing good test results. Significant discipline problems and poor exam results are the outcome. We have forgotten that good citizens will probably be literate, but that the converse is not necessarily true. Even when children are removed from home because of really serious delinquency, they go to establishments where they have rights without responsibility. That can cause mayhem with impunity. In our society, the balance of power between wayward youth and the agents of social control has dramatically shifted in favour of youngsters.

2. Twenty years ago, most children were endowed with at least two or more people who focused their main attention upon them. Today's child often does not have one full-time person concerned with his well-being. Not only is our society facing economic downward mobility, but also our children are presented with a caring downward mobility.

3. The negative impact of society in developed countries on its children is mainly because of two important changes which have occurred in the last twenty years, one being the spiralling divorce rate, and another the Women's Movement. Presently, in the USA for example, one out of two marriages ends in divorce. This fact places millions of children each year in the traumatic situation of family breakdown. The Women's Movement resulted in the introduction of millions of women into the workforce, including 60% of mothers, and 80% of stepmothers. Women now receive greater rewards for career than for effective parenting. This phenomenon results in the fact that children have fewer and fewer resource people available. This is further exacerbated by the exclusionary and often unstable dynamics of stepfamilies and remarriage. Loveless homes also constitute an endangering environment for children, a type of surroundings that breeds delinquency. In loveless homes, children are constantly exposed to traumatic experiences which have a definite influence in the development of their personalities. Furthermore, it is an established fact that such loveless homes have an even more deleterious effect upon the children's mental development than the so-called 'broken homes'.

4. Certain serious privations or imbalances between parents (for example, one or both parents' absence from family life, a lack of interest in the children's education or excessive severity) are factors that can cause emotional and affective disturbances in children. These factors can seriously upset their adolescence and sometimes mark them for life. Parents must find time to be with their children and take time to talk with them. As a gift and a commitment, children are their most important task, although seemingly not always a very profitable one. Children are more important than work, entertainment and social position.

(D) Detailed problems