The family is the major social unit for emotional development in adolescents. The family is an integral social system, held together by strong bonds of affection and caring; at the same time, family members exercise control, approval, and dissent for each other’s actions (Husain & Catwell 1992). As part of this interaction, every family has a structure, whether dysfunctional or functional, chaotic or rigid. This family organization helps it to achieve goals within a developmental time frame and to survive as a unit.
Of all the changes in family life during the 20th century, perhaps the most dramatic and the most far-reaching in its implications-was the increase in the rate of divorce. The increase in marital dissolution has had major implications for the settings in which children are nurtured and socialized. The definition of dysfunctional family, however, differs widely among the studies, comprising more general definitions of negative rearing practices and altered family dynamics and specific and narrow criteria of family transition, socio-economic status and unhappy marriage. II.
There are children growing up in situations where the interactions between family members are far from healthy. The dynamics of a dysfunctional family can range from the very bizarre to the sublimely subtle. Children who are developing both physically and psychologically are misfits. The sad part of this syndrome is that the children have very little say as to what goes into the formation of their own personalities. They have to play with the hand that is dealt. Too often society waits `until children have many years of physical or psychological abuse before trying to intervene.
Once these children begin to manifest their dysfunctional behaviors, it is often too late or extremely difficult to turn them around. The key players in a dysfunctional family are, of course, the parents or parent. Dysfunctional parents come in all sizes and shapes, with the most obvious being the alcoholic, the abuser, and the mentally disturbed. There is, however, a more subtle level of dysfunction in families (Husain & Catwell 1992). Overprotective parents not only stifle the decision-making process with this kind of behavior, they are constantly making their children feel less than whole.
Parents who always make decisions for their children-from deciding when they get up in the morning or when it is time for the bath-are creating individuals who rely on other to make their decisions-creating followers instead of leaders. In families where dysfunctional rules are rigidly adhered to, individual development and expression is discouraged. Children in these families may reach young adulthood less prepared to function in intimate relationships such as close friendships, dating and marriage.
The quality of these premarital relationships contributes to one’s decision to marry, and strongly predict marital satisfaction (Amato & Sobolewski 2001). In families where highly dysfunctional rules have promoted unhealthy family process, future relationships may be negatively influenced. A considerable amount of money is being spent on the drug problem, but most of the money is going into law enforcement, incarceration, and rehabilitation programs. These are important areas that need funding; however, there seems to be little emphasis on prevention.
If we could raise a generation of children who were psychologically healthy, who respected themselves, and had high self-esteem, they would have no desire to engage in self-destructive behavior. It is simple economics-supply and demand-if we do not demand or desire drugs and alcohol, then the profit motive erodes and suppliers will disappear. Even if we took drugs and alcohol off the streets, we would still have that segment of our population that is dysfunctional. These children are simply the products of their environment.
If we are to change the way they view themselves and life, we must provide them with a healthy environment in which to grow and learn. Its’ time parents and guardians are held accountable for the behaviors of children (Amato 2000). Parents, who do not show a reasonable amount of love, respect, and discipline toward their children should be identified and be made to assume some of the consequences of their children’s behaviors. III. It is estimated that over seven million American adolescents-one in four-are extremely vulnerable to multiple high-risk behaviors and school failure while another seven million are at moderate risk (Amato 2000).
In today’s society, adolescents are apt to become involved with damaging behaviors, particularly those associated with alcohol, drugs, sexual activity, sexually transmitted disease, and pregnancy. An authoritarian power structure is one in which parents impose their values upon their adolescent children. These children see the adults in the family as demanding and restrictive. Adolescents frequently have no alternative but to break the rules. Even as the adolescent grows older, authoritarian parents have difficulty renegotiating outdated rules.
Individuals with divorced parents are at increase risk of experiencing psychological problems in adulthood. Although good reasons exit for assuming that the quality of parent-child ties mediates some of the long-term negative effects of parental divorce (Jekielek 1998). Unfortunately, along with these pressures, many young people lack guidance and support. The path to adulthood has been described as one of isolation. During adolescence, exploratory behavior patterns emerge.
Many of these behaviors carry high risks and have resulted in an unprecedented number of alcohol-related accidents and school dropouts. The need to develop self-esteem and inquiring minds among our youth has never been more necessary. It is our belief that every youth in our nation, poor or rich, advantaged or disadvantaged, should have the opportunity to achieve success, not just minimum competence. This is the challenge to our society as a whole-our educational, community and social-support systems. However, it also is direct challenges to individuals to keep families maximize their potential.
Unfortunately, many families are unable to cope with the problems faced by adolescents. Many adolescents are growing into adulthood alienated from others, and with low expectations of themselves. There is greater likelihood that they will become unhealthy, addicted, violent, and chronically poor (Amato & Sobolewski 2001). Equally disturbing is that adolescents from the more affluent communities are displaying similar problems. On the other hand, less advantaged families, in struggling to make a living, do not have the time to build family relationships.
In a time of great change, many parents are confused about their roles and relationships and are less aware of the new temptations faced by their adolescents (Jekielek 1998). IV. Marital dissolution is a process that begins before physical separation and continues after the marriage is legally ended. These stressful circumstances are likely to impact negatively on children’s psychological adjustment. Consequently, the relatively high level of psychological distress among adult children who grew up in divorced families may represent a simple continuation of emotional problems that began in childhood.
Parental divorce negatively affects the quality and stability of children’s intimate relationships in adulthood. The risk of marital disruption is higher for those who experienced parental divorce as children. Our culture presently provides largely negative role models for the divorcing family. Language for divorced families lacks the capacity to derail a present relational system except in terms of a past relationship. The dramatic role transactions and systematic reorganization necessitated by divorce puts stress on the whole family.
This can bring on critical family dysfunction in all the major transitions. A dysfunctional family is defined as one in which the emotional needs of its members are not meet (Husain & Catwell 1992). It is assumed that this emotional abandonment has a deleterious effect on a child’s development. The explication of the various losses experienced by children from these families is common. These losses include, but are not limited to, the loss of one’s childhood, the loss of a relationship with oneself, the loss of security, and the loss of freedom.
The loss of one’s childhood, however, is simply indicative of a second and more significant loss, that of a nurturant parental figure (Amato 2000). Rather than missing something they didn’t have, this loss is a longing for; and missing, an idealized and fantasy parent. Although parents in dysfunctional homes are physically present, they are emotionally absent, and therefore they are unavailable to function as nurturant parents. Unlike a child who experiences the actual death of a parent, who eventually finds a substitute parental figure, a child in dysfunctional home has no such substitutes.
To compensate for this parentless home, children in dysfunctional homes may adaptively develop a fantasy parent, a good and nurturant parent, much like the invisible fantasy companion that so many young children create and enjoy. This fantasy parent is perhaps based on television characters or on characteristics of the parents of their peers. V. During the children’s adolescence, parent’s decision-making becomes even more difficult due to the complexity of such issues as discipline, schooling, and intimacy.
The adolescents are constantly very vesting changes in the rules and in the process parents may disagree with each other. Adolescents are adept at recognizing this ambivalence and may play one parent against the other. Most of the problems seen in dysfunctional families with adolescents also occur in normal families; however the rate of dysfunction is much higher in families that have maladaptive methods of solving problems. In fact, in many dysfunctional families adolescence related issues are a continuation of prior parental difficulties.
However, an implicit goal for every family, even a very unhealthy one, is the growth and preservation of its members. The family’s parameters undergo continuous evaluation as the adolescent goes through a period of change-physiological, cognitive, emotional or behavioral. This period of change necessitates a series of psychosocial adjustments within the family, the major one focusing on the adolescent’s primary developmental task of becoming independent from parents. References: Amato, P. (2000). Consequences of divorce for adults and children.
Journal of Marriage and the Family. Vol. 62 No. 4 Nov. 2000 pp. 1269-1287. Amato, P. & Sobolewski, J. (2001). The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological well-being. American Sociological Review. Vol. 66 No. 6 Dec 2001, pp. 900-921. Husain, S. & Catwell, D. (1992). Fundamentals of child and adolescent psychopathology. Washignton, DC: American Psychiatric Press. Jekielek, S. (1998). Parental conflict, marital disruption and children’s emotional well-being. Social Forces. Vol. 76 No. 3 Marc
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Topic: Protective Factors for Adolescents from Dysfunctional Family Dynamics
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