02 Oct What Young People Want
What Young People Want
Movie screens, computer screens, tablet screens, and cell phone screens—they’re everywhere and do just about everything—except “screen” out harmful content. Today’s young people are saturated in destructive messages about body image, sexual behavior, abortion, relationships, marriage, and family. They are as pervasive as the air they breathe, and as close as their own pocket. Throw in peer pressure from friends and trendy shifts in law and culture, and some may ask, “Do our young people even have a chance for a successful family of their own? Do they even want a family anymore?
Yes and yes.
Contrary to popular belief, most of today’s young people have great hopes for marriage and family. Research by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and Marlene Pearson with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy shows that “the vast majority of teens say they want to be married and stay married for a lifetime.” In fact, “the vast majority of high school seniors—82% of girls and 70 percent of boys—said that a good marriage is extremely important to them and that they expect to marry in the future.” Interestingly, even “inner city African-American single mothers—the group least likely to marry—desire a successful marriage as fervently as their middle class married peers.”
Yes, most young people want a successful marriage and family, but many of them worry about not being able to realize their dreams. What can we tell them? What will help them navigate their single years and prepare for a successful marriage?
Typical answers often include “teach them how to protect themselves,” which usually means contraception and comprehensive sex-education. For example, as we speak, school districts in Nevada are proposing new “Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education” for children as young as 5 years old. The guidelines are produced by SIECUS, who advocates “sexual safety, sexual privacy, sexual pleasure,” and that “every woman should have the right to obtain an abortion.”
However guidelines such as these actually derail young people from reaching their long-term goals. Duke University’s Dr. Monique Chireau presented evidence of this at a UN side event last March. Using statistics from England, she explained:
“Despite 10 years of intensive efforts using typical prevention strategies including expanding sex education, increasing availability of contraception, and increasing access to abortion, the teen birth rate continued to rise at 4% per year. Today England has the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in Western Europe. And 50% of those pregnancies in Britain end in abortion.”
England is a prime example of how increasing sex-education, contraception, and abortion simply does not work. The only thing that does work is to tell young people the truth.
The Sequence of the Success
It can be stated a simple formula, which Dr. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and Marline Pearson call the “Sequence of Success:”
STEP ONE: Get your education. Graduate from high school, or better still, attend some college or get a college degree. Studies show that the amount of education is related to the success of both economic and personal goals. “Both men and women with a college education are more likely to marry and less likely to divorce.” Research by sociologist Brad Wilcox confirms the importance of finishing high school or college, and adds, then get a job.
STEP TWO: Get married, but in your twenties, not your teens. Whitehead and Pearson report, “According to research, married people are happier, healthier, and wealthier than single, divorced or cohabiting individuals. They are better equipped to cope with major life crises [and] are far less likely to be poor.” Recent research confirms the child poverty rate is “five times lower in married-parent homes,” and that “the decline of marriage leads to an increase in poverty.” “In the United States, marriage drops the probability of child poverty by 82%.”
Marriage provides the best framework for women, men, and children to flourish. But the order and timing of marriage matters. Whitehead and Pearson caution that “failing to follow the Sequence of Success not only poses economic risk, it also threatens the success of relationships. Marrying as a teenager is the highest known risk factor for divorce; people who marry as teens are two to three times more likely to divorce than people who marry in their twenties.”
STEP THREE: Wait until you’re married to have a baby. According to Whitehead and Pearson, “it is necessary to correct the widely held notion that having a child as an unwed teen has few, if any negative consequences on future relationships and marriage, or for children.” In other words, we need to tell young people that teen pregnancy and unmarried cohabitation are devastating—to them, their children, and their future.
In short, getting an education, getting married, and then having children, greatly reduces the chances of poverty and divorce, and increases opportunities for a more satisfying life in every measurable area.
The Sequence of Success is more than just “saying no.” It is about saying “yes” to doing the right thing at the right time and in the right order. It helps young people organize their lives. Instead of simply helping them manage risks, it helps them hold on to their aspirations. It helps them see that the future starts with the present.
The past doesn’t have to be your future
When we presented this message at the UN last spring, two women came up to us afterwards and said, “We enjoyed your presentation, and this may work in the United States, but it will not work where we live. In our country, children are having children. It’s just the way things are.”
We encouraged them to teach their young people that they have a choice. When youth understand that different choices produce different results, and that they have the power to control both, a light goes on in their minds. They realize they can choose the life they want. They can be a “transitional character.”
“A transitional character is one who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage.” This term by family scholar Carlfred Broderick, describes “individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and who somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold.”
Transitional characters are not limited by national borders or cultural divides. They are every day individuals who are making a conscious choice that no matter what happened in their family before them, or what is happening in the world around them, “it stops with me. I choose to live my life differently. My past will not be my future.” It can be done. It is happening every day in every land.
We invite you to tell a young person you love about the Sequence of Success. If needed, encourage them to be a transitional character. The future families of tomorrow depend on the youth of today realizing that their life is in their hands, not in the hands of flat screens, friends, or trends.
United Families International, President