One Quarter of Young Adults Have Little to No Relationship With a Parent

( – Family breakdown is behind many of the social problems we’re facing, and for decades conservatives have criticized the rise of divorce and single parenthood. Researchers have found an alarming new trend, though. Even in families that haven’t officially broken up, a shocking percentage of adult children are estranged from at least one of their parents.

The Vanishing American Family

In 1965, a controversial report by future senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) warned that the rise of single parenthood among black Americans was a destructive trend that would damage economic and political equality between the races. In the decades since then, researchers from multiple countries have consistently found that children brought up by two parents in a conventional family do better in life than those who aren’t. At the same time, the family breakdown that worried Moynihan has spread into all racial groups in the US, and is still going rapidly. A recent study shows that more than a quarter of young American adults have little or no relationship with one or both parents.

The study, published in the December 2022 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, analyzed data from multiple previous studies of young American adults aged from college students to 32 years old. Based on that data, they calculated that the average young adult has contact with a parent at least twice a week –- 100 times a year –- and feels “high levels of emotional closeness” with their parents. However, many of them either had little or no contact, didn’t feel emotional closeness or both. Twenty-six percent of them were estranged from their fathers; a much lower, but still significant, 6% were estranged from their mothers.

Why Is This Happening?

The researchers found that, with people communicating through social media, young adults often cut off parents by blocking their email addresses and social media. One author thinks social media is actually making the problem worse. Joshua Coleman says “influencers” are encouraging young people to think “you don’t owe your parents anything,” while therapists teach them that parents are a source of trauma and the way to heal and be happy is to cut them off. Ohio State University sociologist Rin Rezek blames “this new desire to have healthy relationships,” and says people might choose not to have parents as family members. Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting healthy relationships –- but do today’s social media-addled young people know what a healthy relationship is? Meanwhile, decades of research shows that for most people, having parents in your life is key to being happy and successful.   

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