March 8, 2013

Editorial

Four types of family culture

It would hardly be news if we reported that American families are divided, as are Americans in general. Just witness the last election or what is going on in Washington these days.

However, a new three-year study by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture shows just how divided our families are. Its “Culture of American Families Project” identified four types of family culture. They labeled them the “Faithful,” the “Engaged Progressives,” the “Detached” and the “American Dreamers.”

The four percentages add up to less than 100 percent. Presumably, the rest of the families didn’t fit into any category.

With 27 percent of parents, the “American Dreamers” are the largest category. These are parents who pour themselves into raising their children by providing them every possible material and social advantage, despite the fact that they themselves usually have a relatively low household income and education.

They also invest much effort into protecting their children from negative social influences, and into shaping their moral character. The study found that this is the most common culture among African-Americans and Hispanics, with each group making up about a quarter of “American Dreamers.”

The “Detached,” mainly white parents with blue-collar jobs, no college degree and low household income, comprised 21 percent of parents, according to the study. They do not feel close to their children, are pessimistic about their children’s opportunities, spend less than two hours a day interacting with their children, do not monitor their children’s homework, and their children have low grades.

Twenty-one percent of parents are “Engaged Progressives.” They see few moral absolutes and morality for them centers around personal freedom and responsibility. They are politically liberal and the least religious.

“Engaged Progressives,” the report says, “strategically allow their children freedom at younger ages than other parents. By age 14, their children have complete information about birth control, by 15 they are surfing the Internet without adult supervision, and by age 16 they are watching R-rated movies.”

The “Faithful,” the report says, comprise 20 percent of parents. They “adhere to a divine and timeless morality, handed down through Christianity, Judaism or Islam, giving them a strong sense of right and wrong.”

Furthermore, for the “Faithful,” “Raising ‘children whose lives reflect God’s purpose’ is a more important parenting goal than their children’s eventual happiness or career success.”

Obviously, the greatest contrast is between the “Faithful” and the “Engaged Progressives.” It is reflected in the responses to the statement that “as long as we don’t hurt others, we should be able to live however we want.” Over half of the “Engaged Progressives” agreed with the statement, while 91 percent of the “Faithful” rejected it.

The “Engaged Progressives,” the most highly educated and wealthiest cohort in the study, are generally part of the American establishment, which should give us some indication of why our culture has become so secularized.

Besides dividing American families into these four categories, the study also identified some major trends in parenting and family culture. “American parents of all stripes want their children to become loving, honest and responsible adults of high moral character,” it said—hardly a surprise unless it would be among the “Detached.”

Today’s parents, the study found, in all categories except the “Detached,” are in more constant contact with their children than were parents in earlier generations. They use “constant communication and close relationships to influence their children. Parents walk the fine line of wanting to be strict, but also wanting to be close friends and confidants of their children.”

Therefore, the study said, today’s parents don’t believe that there is a “generation gap” between them and their children as there has been at other times in our history. They believe their children largely share their values, whatever those values are.

Finally, the study says, “Many parents feel helpless to keep negative external influences at bay as children gain ever-increasing exposure and access to the Internet, on-demand movies, Facebook and other technologies.” Our guess is that, in this case, “many parents” means mainly those in the “Faithful” category.

We would like to think that our readers belong in the “Faithful” category. But all parents should also be aware that other families don’t always share their values.

—John F. Fink

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