Family Life Today (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Older and Younger Parents

Another change in family composition that impacts schools for young children is the age of parents themselves. People are having children at both older and younger ages. Teen pregnancies and birth rates among unmarried women remain high in the United States as compared to other industrialized nations, despite many efforts to make young people aware of the major challenges facing teen parents (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2006).

At the same time, many couples are choosing to wait until later in life to begin families. This older group of parents tends to be well educated and brings a diversity of life and work experiences to their interactions with schools. Statistics on older parents are sketchy, but it appears that the numbers are growing (Martin, Kochanek, Strobino, Guyer, & MacDorman, 2005).

Ethnic/Cultural Diversity

Another fact of life today in the United States is that families continue to grow more diverse in terms of ethnic/cultural background (Hildebrand et al., 2000). It is estimated, for example, that the non-Hispanic White population in this country will decrease from nearly 75% in 1980 to approximately 47% by the year 2020 (Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2006). With relatively stable birth rates for whites and considerably higher birth rates for the Hispanic population in particular, family diversity continues to grow (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Family diversity will also grow because of the number of immigrants from Asia and other parts of the world. One additional reason for the growing ethnic/cultural diversity of families is that there is an increase in multiracial families (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

In addition to modifications that need to occur in the curriculum because of these changes in demography (see Chapter ), this increasing diversity will also influence the kinds of interactions that teachers have with parents and families. For example, Asian American parents tend to have high academic expectations for their children but also feel that the school should have considerable autonomy in dealing with academic and discipline-related issues (Olsen & Fuller, 2003). Consequently, they may be less likely to get involved in some aspects of school life. Adults working with young children and their families need to be aware of these cultural/ethnic differences and adjust to them as plans are made to involve parents and families in the educational process.

Family Mobility

Another characteristic of families today that significantly impacts teachers is the relocation of families in new communities (Gestwicki, 2007). In some cases, this movement is brought about when one or both parents are promoted to a higher position in a corporation or relocate to find a better job in a new community. Members of the American military community also move frequently. For other families, regular moves are a necessary condition for employment. Hispanic migrant workers, for example, move around the country taking seasonal agricultural jobs. In many parts of the country, the children of these workers move in and out of schools on a regular and predictable basis. Regardless of the reason, family mobility frequently leads to stress and can impact the family’s willingness to be involved in school. In a military family, for example, the husband may be deployed overseas, while mom and the children remain on a military base. In addition to the same stresses faced by a single parent, this mom may have high anxiety over her husband’s safety and have little extra energy and time for the schools.

Homeless Families

Each night in the United States, approximately 100,000 children are homeless (Berger, 2004). They may spend the night in a shelter, an abandoned building, or the family car. While statistics on homelessness are sketchy, it appears that the number of homeless families with children is a large proportion of those seeking shelter in missions (Union Mission Ministries, 2006) and that these families make up nearly 40% of the homeless (Berger, 2004). Clearly, the stress level of homeless families is high, and involvement with the schools tends to be a low priority. In many instances, homeless children either do not attend school at all or participate only sporadically. Teachers and caregivers should make a special effort to assist these families by directing them to community agencies that can provide them with services. And, despite the challenges, it is also critical that homeless families remain connected to the schools. The school setting may be one of the few areas of relative stability for these children.

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