What is Estrangement?
Estrangement, in the context I’ll be talking about, is the slow degradation of social bonds between parents and children.
Estrangement has been growing in the US for a number of reasons and it’s more common than you probably think.
Estrangement has many forms. For example, the growing LGBT movement has separated a lot of families because of children being rejected by their parents. However, I propose that most of it are more subtle ways for families to cut ties than this common type reported in the media. The New York Times actually touched on this back in December 2017. Catherine Saint Louis said:
“It’s usually a long, drawn-out process rather than a single blowout. A parent and child’s relationship erodes over time, not overnight.”
This is something a lot of people don’t understand. There are a few families that separate immediately due to physical abuse or other traumatic events, but the vast majority of American estrangement are people slowly limiting contact with their parents. This doesn’t sound like the shocking LBGT vs. Traditional Marriage trope we might imagine
It can be anywhere from parents being too busy to connect with their child to children being too busy to connect with their parents. One child might not show up to Christmas dinner because of their parent’s feelings towards the president. An aspiring grandmother might stop talking to her children because they refuse to have any children of their own, and the grandmother lives across the country. A kid might not like their parents just because the parents didn’t support their dreams, their identity, or their lifestyle.
There are a plethora of possibilities, but most of them have something in common; someone’s expectations aren’t being met.
Why Failing Marriages are not the problem
I bet it’s impossible to name all of the things feeding into this sharp increase in estrangement especially since there are very few statistics on it.
Some might argue that the divorce laws implemented in the 60s or the rise of same-sex marriage have increased estrangement, I strongly believe that neither of these beliefs can separate true family ties.
We all know that to raise a child “it takes a village.” We should never expect two parents to be the only ones to provide emotional input for a growing child. We’d expect them to feed, shelter, and love their child of course. A child needs to be exposed to a community of people outside of the household that wants to help teach them and help them learn from their mistakes.
Learning a lesson from someone you just met often has a bigger impact than learning it from someone you’ve seen every day of your life. Isn’t this the premise of churches and schools?
Now take this idea of extended families for children and apply a social media lens to it.
Social Media’s Impact
Social media and networking were the first things that came to my mind after reading about the estrangement epidemic for the first time.
Children that are younger and younger are starting to use smartphones. This also means they are using the internet and social networking. I was born in the 90s and I, like most of us who were, was using Myspace by the time I was in 6th grade if that gives you any frame of reference. Plus, we’d expect to see people who have been neglected emotionally by their parents, external families, and other communities to find their way into social networking at even younger ages. Can you guess what children are finding in these networks?
They are finding new interesting activities that their parents never told them about. They are finding videos and articles that make them passionate about the world. They are finding the answers to their math problems. They are finding their niche of interests and entirely new sets of families that share these interests. They are also finding their friends from school so that they can talk to them all day instead of sparing even 5 words for their parents.
The fact is, that, while using social media, children can talk to whoever they want to instead of having to rely on their parents to network for them. There doesn’t seem to be a need for parental interaction if the kids don’t like what their parents are doing even when they are still just children.
There are tons of implications of this fact. The interactions that make life meaningful for children might be reduced to 1s and 0s because they can’t be satisfied emotionally by the family right next to them.
Let’s not forget that parents are also falling into the same rabbit hole. Many older Americans have found their long lost relatives or high school friends using networking apps like Facebook and Twitter. If you have a child watching you chat or text with your friends from far away all day what does that teach them?
These are some of the ideas that I weighed while pondering the increase in estrangement. It made me think of my future relationship with my parents.
To me, estrangement seems to be nothing more than a shift in social connectivity or familial ties in society. People will find what attracts them no matter what, and that can lead to families being torn apart. Why? Because people are greedy. People have high expectations for emotional support and material support from everyone around them. If people can’t find something to fill their void then they will look far and wide.
Estrangement has a million factors affecting it, but it is really just a side-effect of the social reconstruction society is undergoing due to the increased traffic of electronic information. Some people might just be finding new families, while others think the ones they’ve always had are irreplaceable.