Parenting in the 21st Century Essay

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¶ … Parenting in the 21st Century

By any measure, effective parenting has always been a challenging enterprise that demands a wide range of skills and behaviors, particularly in single-parent families. Indeed, studies have shown time and again that children raised in what the U.S. Census Bureau terms "traditional nuclear families" (i.e., families with both biological parents present) enjoy more economic resources, outperform their single-parent family counterparts academically and experience fewer adjustment problems as they grow older. Moreover, the percentages of children being raised in single-parent families is greater today than ever before, with more than half of all children in the United States living in a single-parent family at some point in their lives. To identify how single parents can overcome these challenges and provide their children with the most effective parenting practices to facilitate their long-term academic and social development, this portfolio paper provides a review of the relevant literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

As the single mother of an active and bright 10-year-old son, I am faced with the same types of challenges that confront all parents in helping their children acquire the skills and motivation they will need to attain the full potential in adulthood. For one thing, I have attempted to ensure that age-appropriate recreational and developmental activities are provided in the home and that he participates in sporting activities. For example, my son enjoys several sporting activities, including basketball, golf and football and he has become expert with his Sony Playstation and X-Box 360 game platforms; however, I always try to ensure that he balances his sedentary activities on his game platforms with his sports to ensure that he remains physically and mentally fit. At the same time, I have consistently sought to inculcate traditional values such as the importance of hard work, fair play and honesty in my son by setting a good example for him in these areas. These are not easy tasks, but they are essential in helping him attain his full potential later in life.

Certainly, my son is not alone in being a child of a single-parent family and the significant stigma that was formerly attached to this status has diminished significantly in recent years (Whitehead, 2007). In fact, single-parent families are now in the majority in the United States. In this regard, Magnuson and Berger (2009) emphasize that, "Most children no longer spend their entire childhood in a family that includes both of their biological parents. More than half of children under 18 will spend some time in a single-parent family" (p. 575). This fundamental change in the family structure in the United States has been the result of more than 40 years' of increased rates of divorce as well as a growing number of unmarried women having children (Zhan & Pandey, 2004). As a result, Zhan and Pandey note that, "Mother-only families have become increasingly common" (2004, p. 87).

Unfortunately, this increase in numbers of mother-only families has not been accompanied by a concomitant increase in earning power for these women. For instance, Zhan and Pandey add that, "Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, female-headed families with children were five times more likely to be poor than two-parent families with children. In 2000, 35.1% of female-headed families with children under 18 lived in poverty, compared with 6.9% of married-couples with children under 18" (p. 88). In 2000, mother-only families with children under the age of 18 years also comprised more than half (52%) of all of the poor households in the United States (Zhan & Pandey, 2004). For many single-mother families, economics remains one of the major problems faced, but these problems transcend just money but extend to the larger social sphere as well. In this regard, Burns and Scott emphasize that since 1980, "Large numbers of single-parent families were created, but economic equality did not arrive, neither did adequate child care or other family supports. Ex-husbands continued unwilling to pay child maintenance: Only some 30% pay even small amounts unless forced to by the state" (1999, p. 4).

These harsh realities are now being faced by more than half of all families in the United States, but simply being part of the majority, though, does not help single-parent families overcome the array of challenges they face. Compounding the problem is the fact that mother-only families are at a disadvantage for a broader range of factors than simply economics. While there is no longer that same level of stigma attached to single-parent families, the fact remains that children in these settings are at a disadvantage across the board compared to their traditional nuclear family counterparts. For instance, Ginther and Pollak note that, "Children reared in certain family structures will, on average, receive more psychological support or more social, cultural, and economic resources than children reared in others" (2004, p. 672). Not surprisingly, this significant disparity between traditional nuclear families and single-parent families can have a tremendous impact on child development. In this regard, Ginther and Pollak add that, "Single-parent families may be associated with inconsistent parenting or reduced supervision and control, and these characteristics of parenting styles may adversely affect child development" (2004, p. 672). The impact that living in a single-parent family on children's development has long been recognized. For instance, Usdansky reports that as early as 1926, researchers advised that, "The forces that are brought to bear in the lives of children when the home is broken by divorce or separation are undoubtedly tremendous in their influence upon the developing child's adjustment to the social order" (2009, p. 209).

Given the enormous demands on single parents, it is little wonder that there may be instances of "inconsistent parenting" or "reduced supervision and control," but these shortcomings are not restricted to single-parent families nor are they characteristic of all such family structures. By and large, though, it is well established that single-mother families are faced with some challenges that are not equally shared by many traditional nuclear families. This point is also made by Magnuson and Berger (2009) who note, "Single-mother families are associated with relatively small increases in children's behavior problems and, to a lesser extent, declines in achievement" (p. 577).

This is not to say, of course, that all children from single-parent families experience these adverse effects in the same way and will suffer developmental problems and perform poorly in school. For example, Usdanksy emphasizes that, "Many of these families survive with few ill effects, and some even blossom" (2009, p. 210). It is to say, though, that statistically speaking, children who living in single-parent families are at a statistical disadvantage compared to their traditional nuclear family peers. The studies that have focused on the effects of divorce on child adjustment indicate that economic hardship, family or interparental conflict, inadequate discipline and other secondary stressors that are linked with divorce exacerbate the already-negative effects of divorce on the children of the family (Hetherington, 1999). Moreover, studies that have focused on the effects of single parenting on child adjustment indicate that economic hardship, maternal mental health, and the parenting behaviors of the mother also have an effect on developmental processes (Hetherington, 1999). According to Crossman and Adams (1990), "Divorced mothers are particularly likely to become more restrictive and to give more demands that are resisted or ignored by the child" (p. 206). There is also a growing body of evidence that indicates that children in single-parent families experience social development problem, particularly during the first year following a divorce (Crossman & Adams, 1990).

These studies, though, are painting single-parent families with a very wide brush and it is reasonable to suggest that some children from single-parent families perform equally as well or even outperform their traditional nuclear family peers on all developmental measures. For instance, Sawhill (2003) emphasizes that, "Not all parents encourage their children to do well in school" (p. 79). Likewise, Walker and Hennig (1997) note that, "The growing number of single-parent families has not been matched by an increase in our understanding of their family functioning" (p. 63).

Much of the research concerning single-parents families conducted to date has been constrained by the following:

1. A focus on demographic characteristics, reasons for custody, household activities, etc., rather than on parent/child relationships;

2. A frequent reliance on single methods of data collection, usually self-reports, rather than on multiple methods, including behavioral observations;

3. A focus either on parents or children rather than both; and,

4. A failure to include appropriate comparison groups (i.e., single-mother and two-parent families) that are matched on relevant variables. This limitation is particularly noteworthy because the economic and life circumstances of single-parent families are often considerably different from those of two-parent families (Walker & Hennig, 1997, p. 63).

Despite these limitations in the research, it has become abundantly clear that children from single-parent families are faced with a number of developmental challenges that are not faced, at least to the same degree, by their counterparts in traditional nuclear… [END OF PREVIEW]

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