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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.