Single-Parent Families

by April Yackley

Overview

Risk Factors

Positive Outcomes

Teen Resources

Solutions





Overview

            Family structure in today’s society is a lot different than what it was 30 years ago.  The average family used to include both the mother and father.  Today, 20 million children live in a home with just one parent.  Single parenting is an issue that affects almost every part of the population.  While single-parent homes exist in significant numbers across nearly all ethnicities, it seems that minorites have higher rates than others.  For example, 53% of African American children lived in single-parent homes as of 2001, and three out of 10 Hispanic children lived with one parent.  There is also a difference in which parent the child lives with.  For white non-Hispanics, the mother was the only parent 16% of the time; for Hispanics, 25% of the time, and for African-Americans, 49% of single-parent homes were headed by mothers. 

           

    Risk Factors

    Being in a home with only one parent does create several risk factors for the adolescent—in other words, it puts them at a greater risk for having certain problems or engaging in certain behaviors.  The biggest risk factor associated with single-parent homes is economic status.   Adolescents living in single-parent homes are more likely to have a lower economic status—in 2002, the National Survey of America’s Families found that 57% of single-parent families were considered low-income.  Having a low economic status also causes single-parent families to have problems providing for their adolescents.  For example, 59% of low-income single-parent families reported food hardships in 2002, and 35% had problems with housing.  A lower income often also means living in poorer neighborhoods, where adolescents can be exposed to drugs, illegal activities, and poor adult role models; this increases their risk of becoming drug and alcohol users, dropping out of school, and becoming a victim of or committing acts of violence.   In addition to physical and physiological issues, adolescents in single-parent homes may also be more at risk for emotional and psychological problems.   Studies done on Washington and Colorado children and adolescents found that “adolescents in single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to have serious emotional and behavioral problems."  Living in a single-parent home can present problems for teenagers that their dual-parent friends may not experience. Children and teenagers who live in homes with only one parent are twice as likely to have poor school performance, especially on standardized tests; they are also more likely to not work and more likely to become teen parents. 


Positive Outcomes


    However, just because an adolescent lives in a single-parent home, it does not automatically mean they will have these problems.  Many adolescents who grow up in single-parent homes turn into healthy, successful adults. In fact, there are even some positive things about living with just one parent. Adolescents in single-parent homes learn to take on more responsibility and become more self-reliant (in other words, how to take care of themselves), have a better understanding of adults than their peers, and often have a good, strong relationship with the parent they live with.  Another positive outcome from living in a single-parent family is that adolescents may feel more valued by the parent they live with.  Single parents may depend on their adolescents for help with day-to-day chores and responsibilities and truly appreciate the help they get from their adolescent; in turn, the adolescent feels their parent values them.     


Teen Resources


It would be wonderful if all adolescents from single-parent homes came away from their situations relatively unscathed and in possession of these positive influences.  However, that is not always the case; as discussed, many become poor students, drop out of school completely, and become involved in substance abuse and other illegal activities.  Fortunately, there are resources for teenagers in these situations.  Teachers and school counselors are usually a great source of support and encouragement.  If teenagers are wary or uncomfortable approaching someone in their school, there are also Internet resources that can provide help and support.  One website, http://www.teen-drug-abuse.org/, provides links to treatment centers and informational articles about a variety of drugs.  Another excellent resource for teens are anonymous phone hotlines, which can provide help over the phone and assist teenagers in finding more sources of support.


Solutions


Every family’s situation is unique.  There are millions of reasons why mothers and fathers end up being the only parent in a household.  The multitude of possible causes makes it very difficult to suggest solutions to the prevalence of single-parent homes; indeed, there are many situations in which children are better off with only one parent, such as moving away from an abusive or chemically dependent parent.  However, perhaps there are some ways to decrease the divorce rate in this country and therefore lower the number of single-parent households.  For example, couples filing for divorce could have to participate in a certain number of marriage counseling sessions before the divorce petition is approved.


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