Social Constructionism Essay, Research Paper
This essay will illustrate the diversity and change within modern family structures over the past thirty years, whilst identifying ways in which these changes may have impacted upon young people and the subsequent implications for workers undertaking direct work with young people.
It will demonstrate an understanding and offer examples of how social constructionism helps us interpret the meaning of the society we live in at any given time. Social constructionists argue that reality, the everyday meanings applied to our existence is constructed by social, cultural, economic, political and religious processes. These processes historically are changeable, giving different definition to society at different points in times. Therefore our attitudes, understanding and expectations of society and issues within it will be influenced by the meanings attached.
Firstly there has been a marked increase in single parent families. In the UK in 1995 there were an estimated 1:4 families headed by a single parent, the majority (but by no means all) of whom are women in the 16:24 age group (Wilkinson and Mulgan 1995). Historically there have always been single parent families, but what has changed is societies attitudes, perceptions and beliefs attached to adults and children living within such units, whether through unforeseen circumstances, limited life opportunities or personal choice.
In the 1950 s and 60 s young women who became pregnant outside of wedlock were considered loose and immoral with the child subsequently labelled a bastard . These linguistic terms are rarely used in the 90 s with the younger generation being much more likely to view an upbringing in a single parent family as equally valid (ref course material).
Although there has been a social shift in attitudes towards single mothers, politically the subject area continues to create much debate, Charles Murray American Social Scientist who inspired the Back to Basics campaign argues that unmarried mothers are a destructive social phenomenon which could lead to explosive political upheaval in Britain, the only solution being to get rid of their benefits , the Guardian 17 September 1995.
This problematizing of young mother s and the need to manage and control, what is often considered irresponsible behaviour, often influences policies which seek to restrict housing, benefit and child care in order to stem the tide . The result is often financial hardship, poor housing and limited educational opportunities for young parents. Young people living in single parent families are more likely to have grown up experiencing financial hardship. They also appear to reach significant life stages earlier than their middle class peers i.e. finish their education, move away from the family home and start a family.
Given that women head the majority of single parent families, it is important to be aware that male role models may be absent or fleeting in some young peoples lives.
Worker s are likely to encounter young people from single parent families (increasingly so as the figures rise). As mentioned earlier there is no longer the negative labels but potentially financial hardship, which may have an impact upon their physical, social, intellectual and emotional development.
The second significant change is the decrease in the marriage rate and increase in the divorce rate, since the 1970 s. Changes within the law have now made divorce more accessible and affordable, especially for women, who historically were economically and socially dependent upon their husbands. A shift in attitudes and expectations has resulted in society s perceptions regarding marriage and divorce being redefined, i.e. people who cohabited without entering into marriage were frowned upon and considered to be living in sin in the 1970 s, this arrangement today is widely accepted. Research suggests that young people are marrying later, often after a period of cohabitation, if at all. They are making decisions to marry based upon personal wishes and desires as opposed to society’s expectations.
However, it is important to note that some cultures and individuals have not changed their attitudes or expectations of family life, despite the overall trends in society. Young people may feel divided by the values and beliefs of their community and the change in attitudes of others.
Given the move away from marriages it is conceivable that large numbers of young people will have resided within a family unit, where parents have not married or have divorced. Therefore the political expectations and opinions on the normal family are not going to reflect the experiences of a vast number of young people.
A significant change is regarding women’s perceptions on remaining unmarried. Terms such as old maid and left on the shelf are examples of how linguistic labels have become redundant due to shifts in societies understanding and beliefs regarding women s roles.
Workers will come into contact with large numbers of young people who have experienced their parents cohabit, divorce or remarriage. This may have an impact on young people s perceptions around relationships, viewing them as more transient than earlier generations. This may result in relationships with parents/partners being less stable and secure than previously.
Workers may come into conflict with religious and political leaders whose values regarding normal family life may disadvantage or exclude young people for whom family life is not beneficial or those who do not have the opportunity to this form of living. Sexual Health Workers strive to offer sexual awareness sessions as informally as possible, dispelling myths, encouraging safe sexual practices whilst exploring knowledge, understanding and options on specific subjects, i.e. pregnancy, single parenthood, sexually transmitted diseases and terminations. Some of the issues discussed may be in conflict with the values and beliefs of that organisation. For example Catholic schools may oppose discussions regarding cohabitation due to beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Thirdly, there has been a transformation in relationships within the family. Gender roles within marriage have undergone significant changes. There is now greater emphasis placed upon the emotional needs and aspirations within the relationship, rather than the practical aspects. It is likely that both parents work and the division of household labour and childcare more evenly distributed.
Parent and child relationships have also been refocused, due to a change in attitudes and values regarding children and young people. Politically there has been much progress towards acknowledging the needs and entitlements of young people. The Children s Act 1989 was the most important reform of the law concerning children this century. The Act makes the children s welfare a priority and emphasises the responsibilities a parent has in ensuring that the child s health and welfare needs are met. The Act demonstrates how societies understanding, attitudes and values have changed towards children. Statements such as spare the rod and spoil the children and children should be seen and not heard are now widely considered rigid and authoritarian parenting approaches and responses.
The impact of these changes in young people s lives will be diverse, dependent upon their experiences, expectations and opportunities. Some young people may feel empowered and liberated by the blurring of gender roles within the home and society, others may feel uncertain and confused about what is expected of them.
An important point to raise is the increase in suicide rates amongst 15-24 year olds. In most European countries the increase has been greater amongst males than amongst females. The specific risk factors are uncertain but may include unemployment and more family disruption due rising rates in divorce (Oxford textbook of Psychiatry). This research would suggest that the gradual restructuring of gender roles within the home and society is likely to be less favourable for young males. Relationships between children and their parents appear to invite and encourage more equal and companionable relationships, than existed between previous generations (Page 24, Young Lives, Young Worlds). Discussion, negotiation and compromise are often an integral part of the parent/child relationship, with young people having greater autonomy and responsibility than their parents. However, these changes may result in fewer rules and boundaries within the home. Difficulties could be experienced in establishing ground rules or they may be ever changing due to frequent re-negotiation leading to arguments and conflict within the home.
Workers need to be aware of how social and political changes may have brought about a sense of loss of role, within the lives of some young people. For instance young males may seek their status within society by being in full time employment, thus being unemployed may evoke feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. For young people who have resided within families where the boundaries are either too rigid or too flexible conflict may have arisen, resulting in young people leaving the family ill equipped and ill prepared to live independently.
In my experience extended family support networks are diminishing. Thus leaving young people increasingly dependent upon statutory and voluntary organisations for practical, emotional and financial advice, assistance and support, if there is a breakdown in family relationships or it is not considered in the best interests of the child to remain within the family.
Workers will frequently encounter young people who may feel disillusioned and disheartened by social, economic and political policies that have excluded and disadvantaged them at various stages of their lives. Earlier experiences may include school exclusions, financial hardships or periods of being looked after by Local Authorities in later life the issues of unemployment or poorly paid government training schemes may contribute to such feelings.