Stable families: the best defence against violence

Stable families: the best defence against violence


Stable families and committed fathers are society's best defence against crime and violence, and a great many other ills as well.

Tougher laws and more prison sentences might have their place, but if we want to understand why our society has become so violent we must look at the state of marriage and family.

In 1993, when there was great concern about crime, Dr Alan Tapper of Edith Cowan University published the facts and figures to support his statement, 'family breakdown in the form of divorce and separation is the main cause of the crime wave'.

Dr Tapper's conclusion has been endorsed by history and by countless other studies of the effect of family breakdown over the last 50 years.

And the effects of family breakdown are not limited to crime.

Bryan Rodgers, reporting on Australian research findings in Australian Psychologist in 1995, said: 'Australian studies with adequate samples have shown parental divorce to be a risk factor for a wide range of social and psychological problems in adolescence and adulthood, including poor academic achievement, low self-esteem, psychological distress, delinquency and recidivism, substance use and abuse, sexual precocity, adult criminal offending, depress- ion and suicidal behaviour.'

He added: 'There is no scientific justification for disregarding the public health significance of marital dissolution in Australia, especially with respect to mental health.'

In addition, the modern fashion for cohabitation instead of marriage did not help the adults or the children involved. A longitudinal study of 512 Australian children, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology in 1997, concluded: 'The relationship between cohabitation and delinquency is beyond contention: children of cohabiting couples are more likely to be found among offenders (and recidivists) than children of married couples.'

The simple fact is that marriage is the best and safest place for adults and by far the best environment for raising children to be stable and competent adults who are able to contribute to society.

Parents have a unique relationship with one another and with their children. It is rightly said of married couples that the two become one. It is also true that while children have relationships with each parent, they have that relationship within their parents' unity.

That is why divorce is so damaging to the well-being of children and hence to the well-being of society.

Role of father

The second reason is that divorce too often results in the absence of the father from the family. This seriously impairs the ability of many children to grow into their own social relationships and ultimately their own successful marriages.

A father's love for his wife, the mother of his children, is fundamental to his children growing up with the secure knowledge that they, too, are lovable.

It is vital that the education of boys and young men should lead them to understand the importance of fidelity to their essential role in marriage and family.

Both young men and young women should be warned that cohabitation seriously affects their ability to establish lasting marriages.

It is time for all of us - individuals, families and social institutions - to acknowledge the harm that has been done by our casual disregard for the importance of lifelong marriages.

Instead of blame for what has occurred, there is a real need for all of us to accept responsibility for upholding the importance of marriage - by example, by teaching and by encouragement and support for those who are married or are planning marriage. People naturally enter marriage with a desire for permanence.

Therefore, we all have a responsibility to current and future generations to counter the misleading material published in books, magazines, films and television. Marriage is the only way to establish stable families in a stable society.

The Most Rev Barry Hickey is the Archbishop of Perth, Western Australia.

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