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The New Face of Marriage and Family

Boy meets girl, gets married at 22, moves into a house with a white picket fence and has 2.6 kids…and a Labrador. Sound familiar? Maybe back when my parents got married!

Now “living together” trumps marriage; and for those who actually tie the knot, the average age of marriage continues to rise. Millennial experts at Ypulse say that movies like Friends with Benefits are a better representation of today’s Millennial relationships. Young people today believe that “relationships can develop from friendships and from one night stands.” (Ypulse, 2-13-2012)

Times have changed…along with the entire definition of the American family.

Marriage? Maybe. Kids? Probably.

Spring has sprung, and along with it, love. (If you don’t believe me, just check the status updates of your “friends” on Facebook.) Of course, spring always leads to summer, which is the typical season of many, many weddings. But that storybook tradition seems to have been put back on the shelf by this younger generation.

Forbes recently compiled a bunch of data on marriage among Millennials and concluded that this demographic is “divorcing marriage.” True enough, a mere 21% of Millennials (also called Gen Y, basically, young people age 18-30) claim to be married, which is only half the percentage of their parents’ generation at the same age. And why is that? Consider these related points:

  • 59% of young women believe “living together” is a legitimate lifestyle
  • More than one-in-three young workers still live with their parents (largely due to economic reasons)
  • The average age of first time marriages have increased by more than 2 years for guys (28.2) and more than 4 years for girls (26.1) during the last 100 years

But the one thing that stands out most in these studies is that marriage is no longer a requirement for kids. The research group Child Trends, working in tandem with The New York Times, claims that “more than half of births to American women younger than 30 are outside marriage.” And across all ages, a whopping 4 babies in 10 are born to mothers without a ring on their finger.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the research (in that same article above) also points out the vast differences between kids who are raised in a traditional home with two married parents versus kids who are raised by a couple out of wedlock. Everything from school performance to emotional health to behavior is slanted in favor of kids raised by married parents.

The Huffington Post has said that young couples with children born to them out of wedlock “are more likely to have become parents in their teens, more likely to have had children with other partners, more likely to be poor, suffer from depression, struggle with substance abuse, and to have been incarcerated.”

No wonder these households are called fragile families.

The Makings of a Mindset

Naturally, many wonder where this new mindset on marriage and family is coming from, and whether or not it’s good for society. It hasn’t taken long for people to finger media and technology as one of the instigators of this societal trend…and to declare it as basically harmful for individuals and families.
Last month, Melanie Shreffler, a writer over at Ypulse, one of today’s leading experts on the Millennial generation, provided a little insight into the influence of media and technology on Gen Y today:

Social media and technology have changed the way guys and girls get involved. They’re far more likely than in the past to find themselves in long-distance relationships with friends they’ve met online or people they’ve met on vacation. Social media can also be a catalyst or a killer for relationships. Before they start hanging out in person, they find each other on Facebook and do a little online “stalking.” Another shift is that while Xers will tell you that relationships don’t start from one-night stands, Millennials have quite a different opinion. Hints of these new attitudes towards relationships are showing up in popular media…
Life is rarely like the movies, but several of Ypulse’s Youth Advisory Board members have told us that “Friends With Benefits” is a good representation of Millennial relationships. They believe that relationships can develop from friendships and from one night stands, and that can obviously make things a little complicated from the start. Millennials believe in trying things out before settling on a decision.

Young people are learning a lot about relationships from the entertainment media. Just look at the most popular shows young people watch today. For example, what nuggets of truth about sex and relationships do you think viewers glean from Jersey Shore, the number one show watched by 12-17-year-olds? Watchdog group, the Parents Television Council, recently did a study on the MTV reality shows. In this study, they noticed some interesting observations particularly about the roles of women and the percentage of time dedicated to talk about responsible sex.

  • females talked about sex acts more than men, and more graphically than men, and mentioned sexual body parts more often than men.
  • there was no difference in the most popular derogatory terms females used to talk about other females compared to the most popular derogatory terms males used to talk about females.
  • although 88% of the sexual dialogue between females and males across all shows focused on intercourse and preliminary activities leading to intercourse (foreplay, etc.), the topics of virginity (0.2%), contraceptives (1.4%) and STD’s (2%) were only mentioned 4% of the time.

Still wondering why unwanted pregnancy is so high and girls’ self-esteem is so low?

Me either.

Reforming the Family

America – and its kids – model a very different kind of family compared to those of bygone decades. Even restricting our comparison of today’s mindset to that of the previous two generations will show how far we’ve slid in terms of marriage, divorce, love, entertainment, and sex.

But there are a number of things we can do to help reform a healthy and holy idea of marriage and family. I’ll suggest two simple ones.

  1. Ban trashy reality television programming. It’s easy to spot these kinds of shows; they’re the ones that are poisoning young people’s minds about responsible, healthy, and God-pleasing families. For instance, if a show centers on sex – when no one from the cast is married – it should probably be cut. As much as I (Jonathan) am an advocate of “co-viewing” media with our kids, this is one of those times where I just use the “Off” button on the remote control. If that sounds harsh, then ponder this. If we’re trying to help one of our kids kick a drug/alcohol addiction, we wouldn’t just “decrease” their time spent down at the meth lab or local bar, we’d “totally cut it out” because those things run completely counter to our intentions! By the way, this isn’t just limited to television; the same can be said of all harmful media influences, be it music, movies, magazines, etc. You’ve got the right to be ruthless in this regard, for your family’s sake.
  2. Explain (and model) the design and benefit of a biblical marriage. Most kids have an incorrect view of marriage/family these days, largely because they don’t rightly understand God’s purpose for it. So, in addition to modeling a loving, caring, selfless, and God-praising marriage/family, take the time to teach your teenagers about God’s intentions for marriage and family. Here are some killer passages to get you going.

Genesis 1:27-28. This is God’s very first command mentioned in the Bible. Teenagers are usually surprised that this is what God said to do, first!

Song of Solomon. This entire book focuses on the sexual aspects of a relationship between two lovers. Not only is it good for a few laughs when comparing “pickup lines” from then to today, but it also goes to show how important and pleasurable the gift of sex is that God has given us.

1 Corinthians 13. The famous “love” passage, of course. It’s not just for wedding ceremonies, people. It’s for the marriage, too.

Hebrews 13:4-7. This final passage gives one of the clearest expectations God puts on our sex – that it happens within the confines of a marriage.

Media and other forces in our society have worked hard to put a “new face” on the American family. But I’m convinced that we need to revert to the ancient understanding of family as God’s Word describes it. Only then can the experiences of marriage, family, and relationships be fully enjoyed as God intended.

Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of numerous books including the new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning book Do They Run When They See You Coming? Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.

David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.