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In our opinion: The American family is not crumbling

SHARE In our opinion: The American family is not crumbling
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Is the glass half full or half empty? Either way, if the glass is family issues, the average American is probably wrong.

When it comes to understanding family trends, pessimism may be getting in the way of an accurate picture and distracting from growing issues. 

That’s what findings reveal from the 2019 American Family Survey, an annual collaboration between the Deseret News and researchers at Brigham Young University. Results indicate most Americans are misinformed about family issues. The majority of those surveyed were unaware that the national divorce rate is dropping. They were also incorrect about the rate of teen sex and that fewer babies are born out of wedlock. 

What they do care about, surveys show, are more pressing and less visible issues: paid family leave optionsaffordable day care and work-life balance.

That doesn’t surprise us. The American Family Survey is now in its fifth year, and it continues to paint a unique portrait of the fundamental unit of society that often belies public thinking. In 2016, for instance, the Deseret News found economic concerns, including the cost of raising children, beat out other stressors on the list for parents. In 2017, we found high technology use correlates with poorer relationships between family members. Last year, the survey revealed family identity — being a mother, father, aunt and the like — matters far more to Americans than identifying with a political party, career, race or religion.

And this year, surveys make clear believing in the worst isn’t doing the American family any favors. Leaders tend to focus on and even emphasize the negative to better highlight what they can do to help, and while negative stories have a wider appeal than positive ones, they may lead to ill effects. 

“When Americans wrongly perceive the facts of family life, those perceptions color their views of the health of family relationships today,” researchers reported. 

Glossing over existing problems isn’t the right answer, but neither is focusing on the wrong ones, which can have a harmful impact on families. Living in fear over a potential problem could lead to real problems down the road. A young adult who has been taught to fear divorce, for example, may be hesitant about, or even avoid, committing to serious relationships. 

We affirm the family remains the most fundamental unit of society and that it deserves protections on all fronts.

It isn’t wise to let fear get out of hand. Spending extra energy on issues like out of wedlock births, divorce rates or teenage sex, while important to address, could blind Americans to other current and growing concerns — teens and e-cigarettes, the rise of mental health issues and the dangers of a digital age.

Nevertheless, if parents and individuals to take the time to consider the trends themselves, they’ll find an encouraging message — American families aren’t perfect, but they also aren’t crumbling.

Now is the right time to shift from fear to an informed optimism. We affirm the family remains the most fundamental unit of society and that it deserves protections on all fronts. Remaining realistic and informed while being confident about the future will lead to better public policy, stronger communities and happier American families.