Family should provide a foundation for successfully launching the next generation. But parents must overcome these trends to give their kids a fighting chance.
God designed the family to be the basic building block of society, because He deemed it “not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The family is where children are to learn about God, how to love and care, and how to become responsible adults. If the family is undermined, denigrated or redefined to be something other than what God intended, that is, in effect, a serious attack on the social order.
Yet that is exactly what is happening.
The American family has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 50 years. In some areas half of marriages end in divorce. The percentage of single parents in the United States has tripled since 1960. Adoption and parenting by same-sex couples has become widely accepted. Cohabitation is increasingly commonplace, and growing numbers of children are born to unmarried couples.
The “traditional” family is disintegrating, not just in the United States, but around the world.
Exactly what factors are causing these changes in family structure? Three of the biggest threats to families are materialism, secularism and negative media influences.
Threat #1: materialism
Materialism is all around us in our culture. Commercials bombard us constantly, telling us that having more is the key to happiness. We rack up credit card debt so we can buy the latest technological gadgets and designer clothes. We focus our time and energy on attaining wealth and material possessions, while putting less priority on our relationships and spiritual values. Many believe materialism has reached epidemic proportions in Western society, and the family unit is one of the casualties.
One such individual is Knox College psychology professor Tim Kasser, author of The High Price of Materialism. “Materialism has become an increasing issue over the last few decades,” he warns. “It’s a growing problem for people of all ages, but especially for our youth. Research has shown that for more and more adolescents, making lots of money and having lots of possessions is what’s most important.”
Through his research, Dr. Kasser has identified two primary causes of this increase in materialism. One is the growing anxiety and feelings of insecurity underlying our culture. “When people feel threatened due to issues like violence, divorce rates and unemployment—all big concerns in our nation right now—this tends to lead people to becoming more materialistic.”
The other factor is advertising. Researchers agree that the number of ads people are exposed to has increased dramatically in recent years. In big part this is a reflection of all the digital technologies we’re connected to, which are constantly delivering marketing messages. On top of that, we still have television, radio and magazines sending advertising our way.
“When people are exposed to advertising messages that say it’s important to make a lot of money or possessions will make them happy, then they tend to take on those same materialistic values,” Dr. Kasser says.
Materialism harms families in a number of ways. “As people become more materialistic, they become less empathetic and show less concern for others,” Dr. Kasser says. “If you live with another person, whether it’s your spouse or your child, and he or she doesn’t think about how you feel or what you need, that can lead to a lot of family conflicts.”
There are other side effects of materialism. Sometimes families become so obsessed with having physical possessions that they go into debt, which can create constant conflicts over money. Parents can become so busy making money to buy “more stuff” that they sacrifice meaningful time with their children. They may try to compensate for not spending time with their kids by buying them lots of gifts, which can instill attitudes of selfishness, self-absorption and entitlement in children.
The “traditional” family is disintegrating, not just in the United States, but around the world.“Loving money is expensive,” Dr. Kasser says. “It can take away precious time as you work to accumulate it, and in the end it can cost you your family.”
Ultimately, materialism can take away time for prayer and Bible study and even cost us our relationship with God.
Threat #2: secularism
Several recent surveys have reported what may seem painfully obvious: Our society is becoming less religious and increasingly secular. According to a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) study, 25 percent of Americans claim no formal religious identity (meaning they identify themselves as either atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular”), compared to 6 percent of Americans in 1991.
Another survey, conducted in 2015 by the Pew Research Center, found that 9 percent of Americans do not believe in God, up from 5 percent in 2007. The same report found that the number of U.S. adults who consider religion to be “very important”—meaning they pray daily and attend religious services at least once a month—declined between 3 and 4 percentage points from 2007 to 2015.
Other studies have taken place around the globe, all reporting similar trends. In fact, a 2016 report by National Geographic calls “no religion” the “world’s newest major religion,” and tells us the number of “religiously unaffiliated” is growing significantly throughout the world. Pew Research Center puts the number of nonreligious people at 16 percent of the global population. This includes people who have actually rejected religion, as well as those who aren’t interested in it.
Secularism refers to the rejection of or indifference to religion. This word comes from the Latin saecularis, meaning “worldly” or “earthly.” Secularism is a system of thought that teaches that God either does not exist or is not relevant, and mankind is a product of evolution. Human existence is limited to this present world, with no hope of an afterlife. Any moral standards are relative, and mankind’s highest end is personal happiness and self-gratification.
It’s not difficult to see how the secularist worldview is hurting the family. Marriage is seen as simply a civil contract, rather than a spiritual bond between one man and one woman under God. If the marriage isn’t “fulfilling” or conflicts arise, there is no reason to try to make things work.
If you don’t believe the Bible, especially verses like Malachi 2:16, where God tells us He hates divorce, ending the marriage becomes the easy solution. Abandoning the biblical definition of marriage opens the door for the normalization of same-sex marriages and other nonbiblical unions.
Without a belief in God, parents may not take strong stands with their children on issues of right and wrong. God’s standards are replaced with permissiveness, hedonism and doing whatever feels good. It’s no wonder that sexual promiscuity, drug addiction and alcoholism are at epidemic levels in our society.
To compound matters, the least religious segment of the population includes the parents of the next generation. In its study, PRRI found that 39 percent of young adults are “religiously unaffiliated,” compared with 13 percent of those over 65.
Millennials are more likely than older age groups to believe in evolution and to be more accepting of premarital sex, abortion and alternative lifestyles. This is what they’ll be teaching their own children—making it unlikely the secular movement will disappear anytime soon.
Threat #3: negative media influences
Our world is supersaturated with mass media extolling ungodly attitudes and values. Many of today’s movies, television shows, songs, video games, websites and magazines convey messages like sex outside of marriage is okay, violence is acceptable, religion is unacceptable, it’s okay for kids to disobey their parents, happiness can be purchased, husbands should not lead their families, young is better than old—all of which can damage families and weaken the fabric of our civilization.
Our world is supersaturated with mass media extolling ungodly attitudes and values.“Today’s media is not value-neutral; it’s very much backed by people with agendas, and it’s not all innocent,” observes psychologist Lisa Strohman, founder and director of the Technology Wellness Center based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“We let this media come into our homes, and we view things that we would never dream of teaching our kids as acceptable—whether it’s violence, sexual promiscuity or disrespect for elders—but that’s what’s modeled for them on television. If you bring unwholesome entertainment into your home, these are the kinds of standards you and your children will be soaking up.”
Not only are kids absorbing unwholesome values, the time they spend engaged in the media takes away valuable time from more productive activities such as physical exercise, playing with friends, reading and doing homework. That in itself is a huge concern, because the typical child spends a lot of time each day immersed in mass media of some type.
A 2015 report from a U.K.-based research agency, Childwise, found that children aged 5 to 16 spend an average of 6½ hours a day in front of a screen. Another study, conducted in 2015 by San Francisco–based nonprofit Common Sense Media, reports that teenagers (aged 13-18) use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day and tweens (aged 8-12) use an average of six hours a day.
Parents, too, are engrossed in their electronics. A 2016 Nielsen Company audience report reveals that adults in the United States devote about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media. For about two-thirds of American families, the television is usually on during dinner.
The amount of time may seem less important compared to the blatantly immoral messages, but even that can be very damaging to families, according to Dr. Strohman. “You’re not really ‘present’ and ‘available’ to other family members when you’re constantly focused on your computer or watching television,” she says.
“Today’s families spend a lot less time just sitting with each other and talking, because their time is consumed by all our entertainment devices. This is harming family life in a big way.”
The ultimate enemy
Materialism, secularism and negative media influences all pose major threats to families, and to society as a whole. However, the ultimate enemy is not a human or physical adversary, but Satan himself. He is the one behind these threats. Satan wants to break up our marriages and undermine our families, and he will use everything available to try to accomplish his goals.
Our families can survive Satan’s ploys, even if our society is caving in to them. But we must recognize Satan’s devices and tactics. The Bible tells us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We must be alert.
The way to protect our families is summed up in Ephesians 6:11-12: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
If we stay close to God and lean on Him for protection and guidance, our families will stay intact—and flourish.
Sidebar: What You Can Do
In a world where families are increasingly under attack, parents must do whatever they can to strengthen and protect their homes. Here are some suggestions:
Model good behavior for your children to follow. When you strive to live by biblical principles, your children will be more likely to do the same.
- Set aside regular time to be together as a family, without the television, computers or phones. Activities that stimulate interaction (such as playing board games or going bowling) are better than passive entertainment (seeing a movie together).
- Teach your children to pray, and pray with them each day. Also teach them how to study the Bible, and try to conduct a family Bible study at least once a week.
- Go to church together and perhaps spend time walking and talking as a family on God’s Sabbath.
- Keep communication channels open. If your children want to talk, put away your electronics or other distractions and listen to them—even if they want to talk about something trivial. This helps keep the lines of communication open for when more serious subjects need to be addressed.
- Talk to your kids about media messages. Explain that not everything they see on TV or the Internet is necessarily true, and that the producers of these messages often have their own agendas.
- Steer your children toward entertainment that promotes good values. If a movie, television program, music selection or video game is inappropriate, don’t be afraid to say “No.”
- Have dinner together as a family as often as possible. Family meals provide excellent opportunities for conversation.
- Don’t overschedule your children. Limit their extracurricular and outside activities so you can still have unrushed, quality time together as a family each week.
Your family is truly one of your greatest blessings. Do all you can to defend and preserve it.