The American family system is not very popular around the world and is criticised for the manner in which American parents raise their children. Researchers state that American parents do not exert substantial authority or discipline over their children, which is the crucial reason why the American family system is receding with respect to values and traditions (The New American family). There are several other reasons for this degradation of family values and morals in children (Dolliver, 2006).
It is believed that the initial Western families were functional units, hierarchical in nature with clearly defined roles and functions for each of the family members, including parents, grandparents and children.
More importantly, age and gender were crucial determinants for the kind of work which was undertaken by the individual members of the family, for instance the older women folk were responsible for the moral development of the children, while the mothers of children had to look after the basic necessities such as food, clothing and the daily tasks. The men folk were in charge of the financial responsibilities and had to seek jobs to ensure the smooth functioning of the family.
Girls had to help their mothers in the house while boys were expected to assist their fathers to earn a living. Most importantly, there was utmost respect for the eldest members of the family, the grandfather and the grandmother, and their authority could not be challenged by the younger members. This was a norm followed by society in general and each and all families had to adhere to the rules and regulations of society to be able to function and be accepted in society (Dolliver, 2006).
The church and neighbourhood, in addition to other acquaintances formed crucial elements of society and punished those families by socially boycotting them, if they failed to adhere to the commonly followed customs (Dolliver, 2006). However, in the current scenario, the family structure of America has undergone serious changes.
Families are not the standard types with parents, children and the grandparents. Today, the term family could be used to denote different institutions in which there are single mother with their children, or gay couples living together (Dolliver, 2006). The term family in American society can also be used to refer to a family of three with parents and a pet, like a dog or a cat. Even unmarried couples call themselves a family in the modern world and there is no set pattern or factor which could determine a family (The new American family).
Families in America are of numerous types and may differ in size and structure, for instance families may be run by single mothers, nuclear families without grandparents, families with dual career couples, families with gay couples or families with unmarried couples to name a few (The new American family).
This change in the concept of the family has evolved over a period of time and has resulted in radical changes in the way families are perceived. Ideally speaking, a family would indicate individuals who are related to each other biologically by birth. In recent times, this concept has drastically altered with families being denoted for individuals who live together under one roof, not by virtue of their relation, but more as a matter of choice and preferences. Even unmarried couples living together call themselves a family (The new American family).
More recent developments in the American family structure have brought about changes in families with most of them being nuclear as opposed to joint family systems. The prime importance of American society on autonomy and individuality is one of the most important reasons why the bonds among family members in American families are loosely organized. Thus, the individualistic culture of America can be said to be the vital most influencing factor resulting in the weakening of the family system, with great emphasis on individualism rather than collectivism. In America’s modern society it is individual preferences rather than society, which dictates the concept of family.
Couples choosing to live with their children, but separately from their older parents also term their institutions as families, while couples who live together and prefer not to have children are also called a family (Dolliver, 2006).
Additionally, there are couples who live together for years and produce children, but choose not to get married, yet call their unit a family, for instance the famous duo, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt who live together as a family but have not yet decided to get married. The American society and culture has no regulations for women who want to have children but desire to do so without marriage and therefore choose to adopt children, rather than getting married and engaging in biological reproduction (The New American Family). Surrogate mothers are also a common aspect of American culture with cases in which the biological mother of the child continues to function as a family member of the family which has adopted the child.
However, such instances of happily functioning families are few and rare in America, and there is growing concern over the degenerative changes which have occurred in the American family system (The Changing Shape of the American Family).
The factors which have had a negative effect on American families is the dual earning structure where both parents work and there is little or no parental supervision over the young child. With grandparents not being a part of families, there is no way in which children can be imparted with values, traditions and morals which are necessary for the positive development of children. Another crucial reason for the disturbing deterioration of families is consumerism, which is high and on a constant rise (Dolliver, 2006).
Parents have to struggle to maintain their standard of living and need double incomes to meet all the luxuries of life (The New American Family). Moreover, with high rate of divorce, most children are disturbed and are not raised in secure family atmosphere, but are brought up by single parents, which is not conducive to the psychological and moral development of children. With democratic rights and acceptance being given to same sex and gay couples the concept of family unit has undergone a sea of change. Rapid globalization in addition to media, television and computers have also had several negative impacts on children, who are ardent followers of what is shown on television and follow it sincerely even though the content is seriously flawed and unsuitable for them.
With little or no parental or grandparent supervision, television and technology are the only means by which children learn about the outside world and appropriate forms of behaviour. What they see is what they believe and make it a part of their lives, living and functioning according to highly corrupted norms in life (Dolliver, 2006). Computers and television are children’s’ best friends and there are no family ties and bonding with the senior members of the family, like the grandparents. With no family members to care for children and unavailability of labour, children are raised irresponsibly with little care and attention to hygiene and moral education (The New American Family).
Moreover, the individualistic culture has rendered individuals lone and depressed which directly impacts drinking and other evils caused due to isolation. The basic structure of American society is flawed which has a negative impact on everything including families, culture and the complete society in general. Emphasis on independence and autonomy as opposed to collectivism has resulted in the degradation and complete breakdown of the American family system.
Dolliver, Mark. Maybe the Good Old Days Weren’t So Bad When It Came to Family Life. Adweek; 2006, Vol. 47 Issue 42, p24-24, 2/3p, 1 bw. Web.
Richards Sarah Elizabeth. THE CHANGING SHAPE OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY.
McGinley Phyllis. The new American family.