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In 2010, about 4.2 million of our fellow citizens got married. Since legally recognized marriage exists, at present, only between two partners, that’s about 2.1 million weddings.
Also in 2010, there were more than 870,000 divorces in the United States. It has been estimated that, conservatively, more than one million children are affected by these divorces annually.
A new study, “A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics among College-Age Millennials,” by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, augments these statistics with one data point that illustrates why the family, as God made it to be, is so important: “When asked to offer one or two words that describe how their generation is different from their parents’ generation, college-age millennials (18-24) are twice as likely to offer a negative, than a positive, remark. Four in 10 offer negative comments.”
Among the adjectives millennials used to describe themselves: “more selfish, less respectful ... lazier ... less religious or moral.” Thirteen percent of those surveyed made “generally negative” comments about themselves in comparison to their parents.
As painful as this is to read, it should not come as a surprise: When, through divorce, children are rejected by their parents, is it surprising that those children would view themselves with greater antipathy than not?
The findings of the new millennial study mirror those of Dr. Pat Fagan of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute in a paper published earlier this year, “The Effects of Divorce on Children.”
Divorce permanently weakens the family and the relationship between children and parents. It frequently leads to the development of destructive conflict management methods, diminished social competence, the early loss of virginity, diminished sense of masculinity or femininity, more trouble with dating, more cohabitation, greater likelihood of divorce, higher expectations of divorce later in life and a decreased desire to have children. Divorce weakens children’s health and longevity. It also increases behavioral, emotional and psychiatric risks, including suicide.
What do we make of the assertion by some millennials that they are “less religious and moral” than their parents? I thought we lived in a post-modern age where morality exists only as a dated construct grounded in the quest for power through language manipulation. If objective morality exists, it is unknowable and those who assert that it has parameters are motivated not by charity or malice but a primitive desire for control.
Ah, but in comes the conscience, the “law written on the heart” (Romans 2:15). However seared it might be, one’s inner sense of moral boundaries is essential to our very makeup. A significant study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology speaks of childrens’ “intrinsic understanding of moral rules.” Intrinsic, meaning innate and inherent in the mind and heart? This, in a secular and scientific journal. Guess the Apostle Paul was on to something.
However, the conscience-as-guide can be tuned out, and often is. According to the “National Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents: Attitudes and Opinions about Sex and Abstinence,” parents and adolescents generally oppose pre-marital sex.
However, adolescents tend to express more permissive attitudes about their own sexual behavior than their surveyed parents. Social and cultural norms seem to be significant predictors of adolescent attitudes, with persistently more permissive views expressed both by and about males than females.
Put simply: In an age of rampant divorce, children are heavily influenced by “social and cultural norms,” which argue – incessantly, creatively, blaringly – that sexual intimacy is merely a rite of passage akin to shaving or a first prom.
Parents are intended to guide and protect their children, including from the excesses of ungoverned desire.
When parents leave, not only do children lose their primary social arbiters and defenders, their sense of self is diminished and their exposure to cultural corruption increases.
We should not wonder why such social pathologies as sexually transmitted disease, illicit substance abuse, teen alcoholism, etc. are entrenched among and devastating to so many younger Americans. Where there is no vision, the people perish. Where there are no parents – or at least families in which both an active mom and dad are present – the children suffer.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president at the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization.