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Published On: Fri, Nov 7th, 2014

The family unit: Why is it important? What are its functions?

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Secretary Clinton writes that the average year old has already seen 18,000 murders on TV. The average American student has spent between 15,000 and 20,000 hours watching television, compared with 11,000 hours in school. The average American child watches annually more than a thousand stylized and explicit rapes, murders, armed robberies, and assaults on television.

Why would a child watching the Nixon Watergate crisis in 1972, think it wrong for anyone to break into Democratic Party of- fices, when s/he will have watched many similar break-ins on TV every night and considered them to be heroic actions? Children become desensitized when they see many crimes daily and it becomes a normal part of their lives.

Parents need to be aware of the wrong messages their children are exposed to, protect them against it, and actively lobby for a reduction of these negativities. The vast quantities of American literature available on parenting have not made the required impact. Hence, we need to examine why, with so much advice and decades of research, parenting seems to be taking a turn for the worse.

The general emphasis in Hollywood is on physical appearance, the outer body rather than intellectual achievement and the beauty of morals and ethics. There are naked statues of men and women in public squares. Beauty contests focussed on women’s bodies are common and are devoid of morality and spirituality. This has been commercialized to such an extent that there even exist beauty contests for dogs and cats! The Islamic doctrine is that God is beautiful and He loves beauty in everything; but the greatest focus is on the beauty of character, values, and morality.

When it comes to family problems such as drugs and issues of sexuality, the way we define the problem dictates the nature of the solution. If we define the issues as economic, the solution will be economic. If they are projected as social ills, the remedy will be basically social; if seen as physical the answer will be of a physical nature. For instance, it is often said that the drug problem is one of supply and not demand. This has led to a huge government investment in equipment, including boats and airplanes, to stop the supply. The focus is on the economics of the issue. In reality however, this has not solved the problem and drug lords continue to profit immensely by their sordid trade. It is time society also referred to these issues as moral, spiritual, and social and treated them accordingly.


The conflict between aims and means in American society creates a great deal of confusion in the minds of children. In his book Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, William Kilpatrick (1993) explains that parents want their children to be honest, reliable, fair, self-controlled, and respectful. What prevents parents from developing these traits in their children? Part of the answer lies in the influence of powerful myths about child raising. We will look at these myths in more detail in a subsequent chapter, however a few common myths specific to the family unit in America are listed here. William Kilpatrick criticizes the following:

a) Because the United States was built mainly on the idea of rugged individualism, when the U.S. was established, children should be brought up with no authority. The man went out into the forest, built his house, grew his food, and established his own business, all the while protecting himself and his family from wild animals, thieves, and foreign governments. He ran away from authority.

The early Christian pilgrims from different denominations came to what was then the Thirteen Colonies, a vast land where there was little or no government, to escape the harassment of dictatorial governments in England, France, and Germany, which suppressed their human rights and took away their freedom. Many Americans, who have benefited from the idea of limited government authority, think that it is better to bring up children with little or no authority at all. However, children need skillful parental care and authority to bring them up as loving people, whereas adults do not.

b) The myth of the “Good Bad Boy.” “Bad” boys are portrayed as lovable and happy. Tom Sawyer and Buster Brown, two popular characters from American storybooks, are exam ples from the past, Dennis the Menace, Bart Simpson, The Little Rascals, and other “lovable” brats featured in films and on television are examples from the present. This tradition has a powerful hold on the imagination, so that the word “obedience” becomes a dirty word in the child’s vocabulary.

c) The myth that love by itself preserves a child’s “natural goodness.” This is the idea conceived by Rousseau, that virtue will take care of itself if children are just allowed to grow in their own way. All that parents need to do is “love” their children; love, according to Rousseau, meaning non-interference and complete freedom.

The Seven Deadly Sins in Christianity: Gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride, and lust.

d) The myth of “expert knowledge” that is always right and never wrong. Parents have abdicated their responsibility and deferred to the “experts” in raising their children. The majority of child-rearing experts subscribe to the above myth of “natural goodness;’ so we have a situation where one myth supports another. Experts tend to place too much emphasis on the unique, creative, and spontaneous nature of children. Some experts only want parents to adjust themselves to their children, rather than parents teaching children to follow rules and obey authority. e) The myth that “moral problems are psychological problems;’ Behavioral problems are seen as problems in self-esteem or the result of unmet psychological needs. Many child experts disagree with the idea that most behavioral problems are the result of desires and sheer “willfulness” on the part of children.

Many books are devoted to “self-esteem;’ and the word “character” is not likely to be found anywhere. It is worth noting that a study of child-rearing articles in The Ladies’ Home Journal, Worn ens Home Companion, and Good Housekeeping magazines for the years 1900,1910, and 1980, found that one-third of them were about character development. f) The myth that “parents do not have the right to instill their values in their children;’ Some people argue that children must create their own values. In reality, children have little chance to do that, since other people in society want to impose their own values as well.

Does it make sense for parents to remain neutral bystanders when everyone else (from scriptwriters, to entertainers, to advertisers, to sex educators), insists on selling their own values to children? One way of defining values is to think of sins. g) The myth of “the Single-Parent Family being just as good as the Two-Parent Family:’ Character formation is a difficult task, even when we know how to do it. Divorce makes character formation much more difficult. The rate of divorce is very high, affecting over half of American families.


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