Maria Reig Teetor, Intern
As a psychology major, I am fascinated by studies that relate family structure to different mental health problems. One study on child poverty demonstrates that children who grow up in poor families are more likely to develop depression and personality disorders. Poor children are exposed to a wide range of risk factors that affect their social and emotional development. The environment they grow up in is surrounded by drug abuse, inadequate nutrition, crime, parental instability, divorce, maternal depression….I could go on and on.
In 2010 43% of children lived in “low-income” families, which translates to 43% of children living in poverty conditions. These factors are known to decrease cognitive stimulation, which consequently affects their education; they have higher probability to skip school and fail classes and eventually drop out of high school.
This environment also causes the children to externalize their emotional turmoil with behavior outbursts such as delinquency or drug and sexual abuse. Because this is the environment in which these children grow up, learning such behaviors from mothers, fathers and peers, it becomes their normal lifestyle. In short, poverty affects children and has grave consequences. But should we blame the economic meltdown or the government for this social crisis? Or can we do something about it? Can we help these children finish high school and prevent them from ending up in prison or as cocaine addicts? Can we prevent girls from being abused and emotionally unstable? Can we show them that their life-style is not the only one?
It’s a lot to ask, but I know we must try.
Research demonstrates that children who grow up in the stable environment provided by natural marriage are more likely to develop emotional stability and grow up sure of themselves and of their own identity. This is a strong indicator of success in their education, as they feel safe, loved and respected in their own home.
But how does this apply to our poverty problem? Well, marriage is the strongest anti-poverty weapon. Why? As fathers or mothers disappear, poverty increases and both child and parent suffer. A study done by the Heritage Foundation shows 31.7% of children who are in poverty conditions come from single-parent, female-headed families, while only 6.8% come from married, two-parent families.
I deeply admire the mothers and fathers who decide to raise their children on their own. It takes courage and generosity. But we should work toward helping families stay together. We should provide information that will help people form and maintain healthy relationships, teaching adolescents to delay childbearing until there is a strong commitment, because of its benefits for their own future and for their children’s future.
This way we can address two problems at once: poverty and emotional instability. Both are less common in children who grow up in homes where the parents are married and work to grow in unity through their marriage.