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…They Have Enough to Deal With (Part 1) 

Because of changing socioeconomic demographics, the American family structure has changed from the traditional biological two-parent families to multi-blended combinations of nontraditional families (e.g. single-parent families, divorced families, LGBT families), necessitating the study of youth development in a variety of social and familial contexts (Roberts, Lewis, & Carmack, 2011). Positive youth development (PYD) is a construct researchers have used to assess youth development in the context of the family.  The goal of PYD is to support youth development by promoting social, moral, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth (Thomas & Joseph, 2013).

However, two major familial shifts that remain understudied in relation to PYD and socioeconomic demographics are single-mother families and the role that important non-parental adults play in relation to PYD.  Families headed by single mothers have become one of the largest groups in a growing population of nontraditional families, including single-parent families, divorced families, and LGBT families that have diverged from the traditional husband-wife familial organization (Roberts, et al., 2011). Children born to single mothers have increased from 25% in 1965 to more than 70% in 2014 (Whitaker, Whitaker, & Jackson, 2014).  In addition, because of increasing changes to family structures, support networks consisting of important non-parental adults (including extended family members, coaches, mentors, teachers, and neighbors) have become increasingly important to PYD (Bowers, Johnson, Buckingham, Gasca, Warren, Lerner, & Lerner, 2014).  Important non-parental adults can provide crucial financial, social, and emotional support to families and children, especially single-parent families, and have been found to be connected to increased PYD (Bowers et al., 2014).

Okay enough of the research, let’s talk about reality.

Parents and teachers alone should bear the responsibility of developing our youth no more. Yes, I said ouryouth.  For many years student achievement has been based on what a child learns in the classroom alone.  For decades, education reform and politicians have made many changes and modifications to the system of how children learn best.  Special programs, funding for high-risk populations, nutritional programs are just a few of the strategies implemented in the last few decades to promote higher student achievement and success.  Billions of dollars spent and still…no award-winning results.  In fact, in some cases, our youth are getting even worse. That’s where you and I can make a different in a dismal state of affairs concerning our youth.

Due to the juxtaposition of my own experiences, I have long been interested in the development of children and the families in which they live.  Improving society through helping people empower themselves is a major ambition of mine, particularly as a former school teacher.  Understanding the right strategies that positively impact families, schools, and low-income communities can provide ways to help struggling parents find the right solutions for their children both at home and in school.  As a former school teacher, I used to think that parents were the biggest reasons why children were unprepared for school and lacked motivation.  However, after many years of researching strategies that shape positive youth development, I have come to realize that children need far more than just the support and guidance from their biological parents.  In fact, the more challenging the home environment; i.e., single-parent homes, divorced families, blended families, LGBT families, the more that children need extended support systems for other important adults such as mentors, coaches, youth leaders, and extended family members.   These are the kinds of development relationships that matter to our youth the most.

“The prototypical educational leader in the emerging twenty-first century realizes that the quality of education is directly related to the vitality of the economy and national global interests; this leader is a change agent (Calabrese, 2002, p. 1).”  Change is needed for the future of our youth and our country.  The solution is not in parents who are overloaded and ill-equipped in many cases to address all the demands of our youth today.   As an agent of positive social change, there are several actions I would take to help to facilitate a better relationship between schools, parents, and human service agencies.    Lee & Walz state that a counselor who is an agent of social change possesses the awareness, knowledge, and skill to intervene not just in the life of an individual but at a system-wide level (1998).

Dr. Sabrina Watson is the founder of Leadership Education and Development Academy LLC, an organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs,

educators and students and to grow personally and professionally through our proprietary and strategic processes.  Dr. Watson strives to empower entrepreneurs and youth leaders by providing educational training and other enriching opportunities that promote improved performance for professionals and positive development for youth. She works with educators, youth leaders, and parents to support them in their role of helping young people reach their full potential. As a former public-school teacher, she not only has extensive knowledge of evidence-based practices that support positive youth development, she also draws from her years of in-depth research and her discovery of the integral role that important non-parental adults play in the support and development of youth living in high-risk, adverse conditions.

Dr. Watson has earned her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, her Masters degree in early childhood education and her doctorate in Human Services, specializing in Family Studies and Intervention Strategies.  For more information on steps you or your organization can take to help the youth in your community, contact Dr. Watson at, or call her office at 1-800-559-8680 or email her at


Bowers, E. P., Johnson, S. K., Buckingham, M. H., Gasca, S., Warren, D. J. A., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2014). Important non-parental adults and positive youth development across mid- to late-adolescence: The moderating effect of parenting profiles. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43,897-918.

Calabrese, R. L. (2002).  The Leadership assignment: Creating Change. MA: Allyn &

Bacon, pp.       38-41.

Lee, C., & Walz, G. R. (Eds). (1998).  Social action:  A mandate for counselors.  Alexandria, VA:  American Counseling Association

Roberts, S. R., Lewis, R. K., & Carmack, C. (2011). Positive youth development among African American adolescents: Examining single-parents as a factor. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 39(4), 310–319. doi:10.1080/10852352.2011.606403

Thomas, N. R., & Joseph, M. V. (2013). Positive Adolescent Development: Relevance of Family Interventions. Rajagiri Journal of Social Development, 5(2), 115. Retrieved from

Whitaker, I. P., Whitaker, M. M., & Jackson, K. (2014). Single-parenting in the African-American community: Implications for public policy and practice. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 24, 230–249.