Cultural shift needed to promote family
I read in the news recently about the stabbing by a young man over a piece of jewellery — a gold chain, to be specific. It is obvious that this young man and others who engage in similar acts have experienced a complete disconnect from social norms and values, whether it be as a result of a failed family structure and/or from their classroom experience.
This type of antisocial behaviour — and much worse — has been a growing problem over the past 20 years or so and the evidence is right in front of us in the form of the rising murder rate, a growing gang culture, violence at sporting events and the blatant disregard for rules in general.
Whatever we are doing in the form of social programmes and education is obviously not making enough of a difference to stem the tide of this wave of criminal behaviour we are witnessing.
Malcom Raynor recently wrote on this subject in this newspaper:
“Bermuda has turned into a violent country. Statistically, that is what our homicide numbers are portraying us as. Our murder rate per capita is higher than Canada, Britain and most countries in Europe. Gangs in Bermuda and the outcomes of it is not a youth, Black or “their” problem; this is a “whole of Bermuda” issue that we must deal with. Our environment on the island is partly to blame for this behaviour and it will take a more concerted and holistic effort from all of us in the community to solve it.”
It is a complex issue, and there are many factors that will be part of the solution, but there are global studies available that show this one certainty: children raised in an intact, married family will have significantly greater success both scholastically and later in adult life.
The Institute for Family Studies in the United States reports: “Students’ performance and conduct in school are affected by the emotional support, intellectual stimulation, guidance and discipline they receive at home. And they are more likely to get the attention, affection and direction they need to thrive in school when they come from an intact, married family. Beginning with the US 1966 Coleman Report, a long line of studies have found that students from intact, married families do better in school than those from disrupted or unmarried families.”
The importance of the strong family unit in determining student and overall societal outcomes cannot be understated.
We know Bermuda’s public school system has had many challenges over the past two decades but it is abundantly clear that there are also “outside” factors that have had a significant impact on their ability to perform. While children go to school to learn and teachers are there to teach, the sad reality is that teachers are being required to take on the much larger role akin to parenting and, by extension, disciplining — leaving a less than optimal environment for those students who want to learn.
Schools are being asked to perform functions that society used to expect families and other social institutions to deliver. Improving education is one thing; fixing the broken family structure is entirely another.
The 2012 US Heritage Foundation Report cited that “child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware that its principal cause is the absence of married fathers in the home. Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon, yet it continues to decline. As husbands/fathers disappear from the home, poverty and welfare dependence will increase, and children and parents will suffer as a result”.
According to the US Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 per cent. The poverty rate for married couples with children was 6.8 per cent. Being raised in a married family reduced a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 per cent.
In Bermuda, statistics show that the percentage of children born within marriage is declining. Out-of-wedlock births are increasing and financial assistance for single parents has risen steadily. The Registry General’s December 2016 Annual Report shows that out of a cumulative total of 3,074 births for the five-year period 2012 to 2016, births occurring out of wedlock was 41.8 per cent. For the year 2019, that number rose to 48 per cent.
Children raised by married parents have substantially better life outcomes compared with similar children raised in single-parent homes. When compared with children in intact married homes, children raised by single parents are more likely to:
• Have emotional and behavioural problems
• Be physically abused
• Smoke, drink and use drugs
• Be aggressive
• Engage in violent, delinquent and criminal behaviour
• Have poor school performance
• Be expelled from school
• Drop out of high school
The schools, the welfare system, the healthcare system, public authorities, and the media all remain noticeably silent on the subject so it should be no surprise that out-of-wedlock childbearing has almost become accepted as normal within our culture.
With all the vast information and global studies available on the merits of intact, married families, why, then, is it that our young people are not told that having a child outside of marriage will have negative consequences and that marriage has many beneficial effects?
I believe there needs to be a cultural shift in the mentality of our entire community. A campaign of sorts, promoting the importance of the stability and commitment of marriage, with its promise of a long-term relationship, which should come before making the decision to have children.
A cultural shift where there is community-wide ownership of this obvious breakdown in the family structure, and the acknowledgement that it is a significant factor in the amount of antisocial behaviour in our young people that we are now seeing throughout the island.
Just as the Government discourages our youth from dropping out of school, it should clearly and forcefully articulate the value of marriage and provide information that will help people to form and maintain healthy marriages and encourage delaying childbearing until couples are married and economically stable.
In particular, there should be a clear emphasis on the severe shortcomings of the “child first, marriage later” philosophy. Families are the social fabric of every society, as they raise today’s children who are tomorrow’s future.
“As the family goes, so goes the nation.”
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