“Sometimes I see my dad on his day off.”
“My mom works two jobs and gets home after I am in bed.”
“I have three dads, two moms, and nine grandparents, but some I have never met.”
Two questions were posed to area middle school students at a recent youth event. How much time do you spend with your parents and who makes up your family? The quotes above are a sampling of their answers.
To see it in print is shocking. But in reality, many of our teens might answer in similar ways.
So, how did the American family get so disconnected? If we look back historically, it has only been in the last hundred years that American families have disconnected. Up until the early 1900’s, most families, lived, worked, learned, and worshiped together. In an agrarian society, the endurance of the family depended on strong family bonds. Everyone worked together for survival in a system where family was the core of life. Dad provided physical needs and protection. Mom provided love, care, and nurturing. Children provided extra helping hands. The family was intimately connected like this to assure the health and well being of the family system.
In the early 1900’s, the industrial revolution caused the first real disconnect within the family structure. Dads went away to work. Mothers were left home to manage the family. Dad’s value eroded because he was no longer needed at home to solve problems and protect his family. His sole purpose was to earn a paycheck.
About that same time, the public school system was developed. For the first time in history, children were sent away from home every day to learn from people other than their parents. Children were no longer under the authority of their fathers, because their fathers were away working. They were not under the authority of their mothers because they were at school. The second disconnect happened as children adapted perspectives and thoughts from people outside their home and family. Mom’s value eroded because the children she was created to care for no longer needed her and her role became irrelevant.
Most families still shared a common bond in their faith. Extended family and church held them together. The majority of communities were based on Judeo Christian values. Societal rules shared between dad’s boss, junior’s teacher, and others in the community were, for the most part, still connected by one faith-based value system. No matter where a family member was outside of their home, the majority of the messages they received were consistent.
Fast forward to the 1960’s. An attitude of rebelliousness changed the framework of society. Alternative lifestyles were embraced and many remaining Christian values were dismissed as old-fashioned. The feminine movement encouraged women to fight for their rights and divorce rates began to climb.
In the 1980’s, self-actualization reinforced the entitlement to be happy above all else. It was all about pleasing self and meeting selfish desires. Parents began to search for their own happiness. Kids were encouraged to do the same. Families started blowing up from the inside as everyone tried to find the source of true happiness within him or herself. Divorce reached epidemic proportions across America. The broken home was left with no one to care for it. The third disconnect happened. Raising children was no longer the most important value and children lost their place of priority within the family.
By the turn of this century, we lived in the wealthiest society on earth. Materialism became our source of worship. Parents bought things for their children to replace the time they used to spend with them. Entertainment and recreation became the goal of every activity, and meaningful dialogue subsided between parents and teens. Less time was spent with one another because there was so much fun to be had elsewhere. Pressure to participate in multiple activities and the craziness of chasing after the next greatest thing replaced what was left of family ties. True communication turned into scheduling sessions. Parents and children in the American family experienced the disconnect so many of us witness today.
“I wish my dad would spend more time with me.”
“I wish my mom would talk more and yell less.”
“I don’t want my dad to buy me stuff, I just want to spend time with him, you know hanging out.”
“I need my mom and she is just too busy for me.”
These quotes and others like them show up on the rekenekt graffiti wall almost every time it is displayed.
Here we are in the year 2014. In some families, parents and teens rarely see each other and communicate even less. Parents may resort to texting important news, or check in after school by email. Adults all across the land are discovering how to tweet and use Snapchat to stay involved with their kids. Meaningful, soul bonding relationship building has all but vanished. Our fast paced culture prevents us from knowing what our loved ones think, feel, or value. We pass each other full speed going in opposite directions. Sometimes, we are not together long enough to even start a real conversation. We have lost the basic foundational structure in our families and it is often easier to revert back to the busyness and purpose driven activities of everyday life. This destructive cycle leaves us disconnected.
Our youth need us, as parents, to take action. We need to be courageous enough to stand firm against a disconnected culture and take time to reconnect with our teens.
ACTION STEPS: Take Five
The rekenekt program helps parents reclaim their role as authority figures in their children’s lives and helps teens regain their value within the family system. Ask yourself these five evaluation questions. Have your teen son or daughter answer them too. Talk about the results to discover some new ways to reconnect your family.
1. On a scale from 1-10, 10 being best, how would you rate how connected we are as a family?
2. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being best, where would you like our level of connection to be?
3. What is one thing you wish I would tell you?
4. What is the one thing you wish you could tell me?
5. How would you like to spend our time together?
Rekenekt with Trish Propson is a monthly column devoted to raising awareness for parents about the issues teens face and helping them strengthen relationships with their teens.
Trish Propson is a local author, speaker, and family advocate committed to reconnecting families, one conversation at a time.