60% of American Children Show Signs of Poor Moral/Emotional/Relational Health, New Study Says.

Research consistently shows that secure attachment is directly related to robust moral reasoning, empathy,

58% of children in America suffer from insecure attachment.

58% of children in America suffer from insecure attachment.

emotional stability, and relational satisfaction.  By contrast, people with insecure attachments are more likely to be self-centered, emotionally reactive, impulsive, and dissatisfied with their relationships.   Secure attachment is essential to what people more casually refer to as an emotionally, well-adjusted child.

A new study shows a dramatic drop in the number of young adults in the US who exhibit secure attachment.  In this latest study…

researchers combined data from 94 different samples, involving more than 25,000 American undergraduate students, collected between 1988 and 2011. In 1988, 49% of people said they had a secure attachment style (51% were insecure in one form or another). By 2011 there was a 7% decline in security, with 42% reporting that they were secure (vs. 58% insecure).

This is a significant drop in secure attachment. It means that the majority of children in America will struggle with compromised moral reasoning ability, poor ability to empathize, an impaired ability to manage emotions effectively, and a decreased ability to have satisfying relationship.  Welcome to the new normal.

The Cause

What caused this significant drop in the number of children who are well-adjusted?   While the answer to this question is beyond the ability of this particular study, other research points to the fact that, in general, parents are becoming progressively less engaged with their children (for instance, families spend less time together and do less as a family than ever before).  Also, the skyrocketing divorce rate is a major contributor to poor attachment.

I am often criticized for making “too much” of  the importance of parent-child attachment. I receive even greater criticism for promoting parenting methods that have been shown to promote secure attachment in children.  But research like this shows that the majority of parents  (upwards of 60%) really are completely oblivious to how poorly attached to their children they really are.  Three generations of the culture of divorce, the radical feminist devaluation of motherhood and family, combined with  a culture that is religiously devoted to workaholism have obliterated the majority of adults’ sense of what is and is not either normal attachment or healthy family life.  Too many parents assume that, because their kids aren’t bursting into flame that everything is AOK.

We need to stop telling parents that they can do whatever they want and their kids will be fine, because you know what boys and girls?  The kids are NOT all right.

A Catholic Response

As Catholics we are called to bear radical witness to the world of the generous love that comes from God’s own heart.  Parenting in a manner that sees to healthy parent-child attachment by committing to “best practices” like creating and maintaining strong family rituals (for working, playing, talking, and praying together), showering children with extravagant affection, responding promptly to babies cries and children’s needs, keeping infants and toddlers physically close to us as much as possible (including sleep or room-sharing and nursing when possible), and using gentle, loving-guidance approaches to discipline are the ways that all parents can bear witness to that incarnational, embodied love.

We must do better for the almost 60% of our children who are not being given what they need to develop to their fullest, God-given, moral and relational potential.

If you would like to discover how to give your children everything they need to be in the top 40% of kids who are securely attached, check out Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenting and Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.


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