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Where have all the parents gone?

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It is 3am in the morning when a police officer spots a group of juveniles in a public park. The police officer and his partner approach the juveniles and find that they have been drinking. When the officers begin to question the fifteen year old, he replies with obscenities and spits at them. Rather then taking the juveniles down to the station, the officer decides to phone the juvenile’s parents to make them aware of where they are and what they are doing. To the officer’s surprise when the mother of the juvenile answers the phone, her reply is, “Oh, they’re just out having fun and I have to work tomorrow, Can’t you just drive them home?” What is most disturbing about this story is that this is a common event; this story is based on an actual event as evidenced by netcops.com. Why are today’s children not being taught basic manners, and the difference between right and wrong? Where have all the parents gone? In order to answer these questions it is necessary to explore the history of the American Family.

In the 1950’s there were established norms for the way people lived and behaved towards one another. To deviate from the norms would result in much embarrassment and humiliation, any person deviating from the norms could be stigmatized. Saving face in front of society was absolutely essential in the 1950s. “The idealized family was composed of a home-maker wife, a breadwinner-father, and two or more children (Bianchi 14).” It was the norm for a mother to be up and running at the crack of dawn, preparing her children’s breakfast and making sure her children’s dress was clean and crisply ironed so that he or she could look good and be prepared for school. The families of the 1950’s were very concerned at how their parenting skills were seen by others. Parents instilled manners and respect in their children from birth, the use of “yes ma’am” and “No ma’am” was the norm and to address an adult or someone in a position of authority with anything other than Mr., Miss or Mrs. was unthinkable. The parents of the 1950’s understood the institution of family; they understood and accepted the responsibility of nurturing their children with good principles.

In the 1960’s things began to change, with the civil rights movement and women’s liberation movement more women began to join the work force. More women began to focus on their education and their careers. Children began to be left with relatives or day care centers while both parents worked, and less attention was being given to their upbringing. Over the years there has been a significant increase in the number of children in daycare. “In 1965, just 7 percent of preschoolers of employed mothers were in center care as their primary arrangement; by 1994, 29 percent were in center care (Bianchi 35).” With the women’s role expanding outside of the home, social norms began to change.

Society began to become more accepting of “divorce, cohabitation, and sex outside of marriage; less sure about the universality and permanence of marriage; and more tolerant of blurred gender roles and of mother’s working outside the home (Bianchi 16).” Social degradation had begun, no longer was it a social faux pas to miss the PTA meeting or Sunday church. With the acceptance of cohabitation there slowly came an acceptance to children being born out of wedlock. These actions would have been thought absolutely disgraceful in the 1950’s. With the absence of a full time parental figure in the home and more focus being placed on career and financial importance less time was given to the basics of parenting, to the teaching of morals and respect for others.

Over time as the economy changed more women began to join the work force. With industry shifting from manufacturing to services, a decline in wages followed, most especially for those with little to no education. The economy and the jobs available to unskilled men were no longer enough to support an entire family based on one income alone (Bianchi 4). Had the women’s liberation movement not occurred, it is easy to speculate that women may still have had to join the work force in order to maintain their families’ livelihood. The ultimate price for industrialization of America was being paid by the American family; parenting was becoming a thing of the past.

The lack of basic parenting leads to a domino effect of degradation of the institution of family. With the acceptance of cohabitation came the increase in unwed mothers and an increase in single family homes. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census of 1961, in 1960, 87.5 percent of all families were married couple families while 10.0 percent were female-headed. Whereas the Census of 1990 indicates that by 1990 married couple families accounted for 79.2 percent of all families (10.5 percent decline from 1970) and 16.5 percent of all families were female-headed. Although women today are less dependent on a man’s income to support themselves and their family, with the increased costs of child care and time spent at work little time is left to teach basic morals and values to today’s children.

Since most parents spend all of their time at work and have to come home to tend to the everyday chores of the home little quality time is spent with the children. Rather then spending time with their children, taking the time to talk and play with their children more and more parents are purchasing their children’s love. Parents are sparing no expense to purchase the electronic babysitters known as video games for their children. It is easier to entertain their children with television and expensive video games rather than to sit, talk and play with them after a hard days work. More and more children are spending hours in front of the television sets. Playing video games is replacing the traditional forms of children entertainment, playing board games and sports with the neighborhood kids. Most parents are too busy with work to help their children with their homework or to sit down and read to them at night.

Many of today’s parents are even too busy to monitor what their children are doing when they are together with them under the same roof. There has been an increased reliance on government to set limits on children’s behavior. What used to be the parents’ domain now has to be controlled by the government. “Warnings are now being placed on music, television, movies and video games to replace the guidance once offered by parents (Murrah 3).” The parental dependence on others does not stop there; today’s parents also expect the schools to entertain their children with after school programs. It wasn’t too long ago that “fathers and mothers engaged in sports and directed activities for their children (Murrah 3).”

The problem with today’s youth is that traditional values are no longer being taught in the home. Most of today’s children display little to no respect for authority. How can we expect today’s children to possess good morals and values if this is a problem that has developed over time from one generation to another. The problem of today’s children possessing no values is not just their own, it is the problem of their parents as well. Many of today’s young parents were brought up with little focus on respect for others and morality, therefore they do not possess the basic principles and knowledge to bring up their own children. How can they bring up their own children the right way, if they themselves had little to no instruction in parenting. Many parents are turning to self help books for guidance, but bringing up a child is not something that can be solved by consulting a work of literature. Bringing up a child cannot be classified as a textbook case, there is no such thing as a black and white case, and there are many gray areas. Most importantly many books do not teach that the cooperation by the child is optional (Barbera 2). What is one to do, if the child is not cooperating? It has become increasingly fashionable to be your children’s friend. “Parents can be only parents to their children. Don Barbera, journalist for The Opinion magazine writes:

For instance, it has become fashionable to become best friends with our children. In theory it is not a bad idea. In practice, however, it stinks. Parents can be only parents to their children. Best friends come from the ranks of peers, not parents. Still, some parents abandon their role to become best friends to their kids. The strange thing is that now they become neither fish nor fowl. They’re neither good parents nor best friends (p.1).

As you can see there are no shortcuts to be found when it comes to parenting. Microsoft Encarta defines parenting as the skills and responsibilities of being a parent, nurturing and teaching a child. The key word in the aforementioned statement is parent, in order for parenting to take a place there must be a parent present. No matter how much society evolves or how many advancements are made in technology the nurturing that comes from parents cannot be duplicated or replaced. Parents are absolutely necessary to teach children about morals and respect for others. Where have all the parents gone?

Works cited

Barbera, Don., “Where have all the Parents Gone?” The Opinion. 2pp. 28 July 1999. 25 April


Bianchi, Suzanne M., Lynne M. Casper. “American Families.” 53pp Population Bulletin, Vol.

55, No. 4, Dec. 2000. 25 APR 2003.


Murrah, Jeff. “Where have all the parents gone?” Restore the Family. 2pp. 27 April


Netcops. “Where have all the Parents Gone?” 10pp. 27 April 2003


“Parenting.” Encarta Encyclopedia: Microsoft. 2002. ed.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1961. Household and Family Characteristics: March 1960. Current

Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 106. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1990. Household and Family Characteristics: March 1990 and 1989.

Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 450. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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