We live in a lonely world. While none of us can change that on a large-scale level any more than we can stop hunger or poverty or war, we can infuse our homes with real relationships that create the kind of stability, warmth, and meaning that children, teens, and adults equally crave. I think a huge part of the solution is to see people as needing relationships. It’s easy to realize that with babies and harshly judge those who neglect or abandon them, but we need to see the teens with headphones in, video games constantly playing, or thumbs regularly texting as being in need of real, face-to-face relationships, as well. Another part of seeing the need for change comes with understanding the situation for most families today, and the alternatives that disconnected teens can choose.
This family’s Christmas card picture-gone-viral isn’t too far off today’s typical “family time.” Add in the kinds of issues that come with broken and blended families, latchkey situations, moves, and other modern realities, and it makes sense that the default family life is almost nonexistent. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though — just that it takes effort to intentionally pursue community and provide the sense of belonging that came naturally to former generations. Back in the day when extended families dotted a neighborhood, and multiple generations lived under one roof, the concept of community seemed almost interchangeable with the idea of family.
Ironically, amid all the texting and social networking we do these days, loneliness is reaching record numbers. When teens don’t feel like their families meet their need for connectedness, they’re likely to look elsewhere for a sense of belonging. While technology certainly falls short of filling that void, many in-person relationships can temporarily fulfill it. Often those relationships are destructive for the teen or, at least, far less beneficial and stable than a family can be. From immature, sexually-motivated relationships to law-shunning gangs, relationships of all kinds promise teens the kind of community they crave. Of course, wholesome options exist, as well: sports teams, church youth groups, and extracurricular clubs, to name a few. None of these offer the same lifelong bonds as family, though.
Unique Benefits of Families
Despite the outcry from the adoption community about ABC’s debut of “Find My Family,” the quest for adopted children to find their birth parents and discover their biological roots demonstrates the strong pull all people have to connect with their personal histories. With the advent of the internet and sites such as Ancestry.com, more and more people are delving into their family trees. We have an innate desire to know more about our personal back-stories, as it were, but only living, thriving family relationships can really give us the sense of connectedness and belonging that we crave. The natural desire to have strong ties with our families makes parents’ influence much stronger than many believe it to be, and they can use it to provide more than a moral compass, but a living mentorship of faith and love, as well.