Strong families: bridge the gap between youth and God

Culture challenge of the week: Youth, struggling and spiritually alone

Two recent statistics stand as warning signs that our youth are struggling and they need our help. First, 1 in 4 American children grow up in a single-parent home, without a model of an intact, functional family. (Black children fare far worse: 72 percent grow up in a single parent home.) Second, one-third of people younger than 30 say they are unaffiliated with any religion. Perhaps more troubling, 88 percent of the unaffiliated say they are not even looking for religious connection.

Either trend, standing along, spells trouble.

We know that children from single-parent homes, as a group, experience less successful outcomes than children raised by Mom and Dad together. And thats in spite of the single mom or dad doing their absolute best. According to the Single Parent Success Foundation, individuals from single-parent families encompass 63 percent of suicides nationwide, 75 percent of children in chemical dependency hospitals, and more than half of all youths incarcerated in the U.S.

Children raised by a single parent are two to three times more likely to drop out of high school, says Bradford Wilcox, head of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and boys from single-parent homes have double the risk of being arrested before they reach the age of 30.

And it matters greatly whether children attend church. Children who attend church tend to have better grades, lower risk of divorce as adults and are more likely to succeed in college. They also are less likely to become pregnant as teens or become delinquents, because church attendance helps them form personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment, according to one analyst. As a bonus, parents and children who attend church together tend to enjoy better relationships with each other.

Whats at the heart of both of these problematic trends? Relationships.

An awful lot of young people are heading into their own years of family formation without a vision of what strong relationships family, spiritual and community look like. While professing a creed and having a set of beliefs defines a religion, the essence of faith is relationship. How can we expect youth to trust in the love of a father in heaven if their father on Earth was never present to show a trace of this love?

And its tough for children from single-parent families some of whom live in communities that have few, if any, intact family role models to envision what a healthy family dynamic looks like. Further, what is the appeal of belonging to a church when one has never known the fruits of belonging to anything?

How to save your family: Families, reach out

So how can we help our young people grow rich in their relationships with God and their families, and acquire the vision for building their own successful families?

First, keep your own marriage and family strong. Parents, take time to nurture your love for each other. Attend church together and read the Bible in your home as a family. Expose your children to the faith and family dynamics of other strong families. Teenagers are at a point in their lives where they begin to own their faith (as opposed to identifying with a religion because their parents do), and they need to see a broad range of healthy models.

Second, encourage your church or faith community to find ways to bridge the family gap for the youth in their congregations. Recent research by the Barna Group shows that most youth pastors do not make a strong connection between the success of their efforts and exposing teenagers to healthy families. As young people grow in their relationships with each other, they need to see strong models of families and to envision a similar future. They need to see what healthy dynamics look like including the repentance and forgiveness required in all enduring relationships.

Its easy to forget that the children of today will be the parents of tomorrow. Barna Group President David Kinnaman observes that the fact that todays younger generation is getting married so much later makes the presence of effective family modeling in a church seem like a quaint, distant life event, rather than a soon-to-be-real decision.

Our children need God. And they need to know strong families. Make it a point to share Gods love and design for families by living out what you know to be true and reaching out to share that truth with everyone around you.

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