Last week I discussed factors tied to tragedies such as at Newtown, Connecticut and the implications for our society. Today I’d like to discuss the changes in the family structure and ways in which these have impacted the mental health of our children. Some research suggests that children in single-parent homes are at higher risk for problems, yet this is a complex situation since the circumstances can vary tremendously. Is it the financial hardship, conflicts between divorced parents, quality of parenting, or quality of their social network that makes the difference? Or more specifically, does it have to do with absent fathers? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children (one out of three) live in biologically father-absent homes. There is significant data on the effects of father absence on poverty, emotional and behavioral problems, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education and childhood obesity. In essence all of these factors contribute to a higher incidence of these issues when children live in a father-absent home. Based on my clinical experience, children’s mental health improves when there is positive involvement and emotional attachment by both parents, whether they live together or not. The key to children developing positive moral character, integrity, and values is directly tied to their relationships with their parents, peers, teachers, pastor, and any other role model or influence. Having lost a parent early in my life, I know what it is like to grow up with a single parent and eventually a step-parent. The influence of extended family and friends can either be positive or negative. I was blessed with positive role models and my relationships have helped sustain me and allowed for tremendous growth over the years. The Sandy Hook tragedy reminds us of how fragile life is and the importance of our relationships. We should lean more on God and each other during these difficult times. Stay connected to people you love and who love you because they are your lifeline.
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