The Urbanised Nuclear Family:
A New Mentality and Behaviour
Children and parents can no longer count on intermediaries to ease their reciprocal difficulties, and television strongly contributes to accentuate this lack of communication and comprehension.
Urban and industrial society, in turn, is not guided by coherent and stable principles. Everything is unstable, conflicting, competitive, and aggressive. There is no place for the traditional family.
This brought the advent of the nuclear family made up of parents and one or two children where affectionate understanding and mutual communication between generations is increasingly difficult. Children and parents can no longer count on intermediaries to ease their reciprocal difficulties, and television strongly contributes to accentuate this lack of communication and comprehension. Children no longer have a precise idea of why they were born and do not guide their professional and social lives according to their parents. They rather look outside the family walls to their companions hoping that there they may find the freedom and understanding they do not find within the family. Furthermore, being confined to small homes accentuates the awkward situations and misunderstandings of the modern nuclear family within itself. It also constitutes a further psychological tension for children and adolescents who, in spite of the difficulties they feel in relation to their parents, still wish to see the home as a place of refuge against the aggressions of modern life.
The nuclear family is essentially a product of urbanisation that not only transforms the material conditions of life, but people’s mentality and behaviour as well.
Once again, Paul Landis, in his book Adolescence and Youth: The Process of Maturing, points out:
Urbanization is significant not only because it increases the density of population but because it changes the entire tone of the social aggregate. People behave quite differently when thrown together in large aggregates with little geographical space between them and when isolated in families or in small neighborhood groups. The problem of child rearing, of economic adjustment, of morals, religion, marriage, and family,… become new with this major modification in the life pattern of a people.19
When people live in rural areas in traditional families, they tend to adopt stricter and more conservative moral rules of behaviour. Moving to an urban area and living within a nuclear family leads them to acquire customs that are much more liberal or even completely licentious. Antonio Cándido, a Brazilian university professor and writer explains:
Urbanisation is a decisive factor in the evolution of the family. This became more noticeable during the 19th century when the rural elite started to move to the cities,…as a result of the increasing success of industrialisation.… There was a definite tendency that favoured the rapid transformation of what remained of patriarchal society. Consequently, the following characteristics appeared: equality of status between man and woman; increasing participation of women in the workforce; increase in birth control; increase in the number of divorces and prolonged separations; lessening of paternal authority resulting in a levelling within the family itself; weakening of family links resulting in a change from the extended family to a conjugal group.20
Loss of Purpose with the Nuclear Family
This egalitarian and liberal transformation of the family deprived it of one of its more characteristic purposes: education. The so-called generation gap contributed greatly to this. This was not only caused by the frequent absence of the parents from the home, but also by the tense atmosphere created by the limited space. To this was added the interference of external factors such as the school, the State, and television.
Let us see what Anne-Marie Rocheblave-Spenle, author of the book The Adolescent and His World, has to say about this:
The State increasingly takes over the functions of the family: teaching, education, pleasure. Society increasingly encroaches upon the family, especially education, by means of newspapers, magazines, television, books,… and certain organisations.… Thus one has the impression that the family is losing its rights.
T. Parsons considers today’s nuclear family as one of the main causes of the child’s and adolescent’s aggressiveness. In the traditional family, the child saw the father as a masculine and professional role-model. As he matured he would adjust himself to that model. In our society today, on the contrary, the father is rarely at home and frequently his professional activities seem distant and obscure to the child.… When society was stable, when things changed little, the role of the parents was not a problem. It was transmitted from generation to generation without argument.… Today, by the very nature of the rapid changes in society,… parents feel vulnerable and helpless.21
Marie-Françoise Côte-Jallade adds:
The family no longer exercises its traditional functions.… Plopped in front of the television, the parents no longer speak of their activities or of their work. The family is now too frequently a place of silence.… Rarely does a son learn a trade or profession from his father.… The family also in great part lost its function of transmitting moral values.22
One also cannot minimise the impact on the children’s education in cases where the mother must work in order to make ends meet.
Urbanisation Favours Juvenile Delinquency
One of the most striking aspects of the accelerated and disordered urbanisation is the formation of sprawling housing estates where nuclear families are confined to small flats where they have no desire to spend their leisure hours. As a result, most of their time is spent on the street.
This happens with both the parents and the children. It hinders the educational function of the family and favours juvenile delinquency. This fact is corroborated by the majority of specialists such as Robert Laplane, Geraud Lasfargues, and Denise Laplane in their book Puberty:
If family ties loosen, others are formed that even surprise the adults themselves. The young form groups, gangs … whose formation is favoured by the artificial creation of housing estates and dormitory towns that are left during working hours to the unsupervised young.23
C. I. Sandstrom, in his book The Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence, adds:
Formerly members of a community were moved by strong family ties as well as a uniform behaviour that left little or no room for anti-social activities. Social development led to bigger cities and to the breaking of family ties. Work is generally outside the family circle and the old values were dissolved without creating new ones. For the individual this means an increasing social vacuum disconnected from any place, tradition or work group. The members of the community became more isolated and anonymous. As a result the social checks and balances were weakened. According to Durkheim, this type of society creates and encourages criminality.24
Incapacity to Provide for Its Own Members
The family was not only affected in its moral, psychological, and social aspects by urbanisation and industrialisation. Its economic activities were also changed. No longer capable of providing services and exercising functions as before, the family stopped being a production unit. In his essay “Sociological Study of the Spanish Family”, José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado explains:
The enormous growth of cities, mechanisation, massification and the means of communication created environments that are profoundly transforming the old family structure. Men no longer work at home but in offices and factories. Salaries are no longer given in kind but in paper money. The family unit is no longer one that produces but rather consumes.… Husband and wife are no longer able to take care of their elderly, of their sick and of their children. It is now society that provides care homes, hospitals and day-care centres. Socialisation of children (that is the progressive and adequate integration of the individual into society without the family) is done less in the home and more in the nurseries, primary schools and the street. Entertainment is less personal and is increasingly centred on television or outside the home at amusement parks or public events.25
At this point, let us summarise some of the main benefits of the traditional family model as well as some of the harmful effects of the nuclear family model, the result of two centuries of urbanisation and industrialisation:
The Traditional Family Vis-à-Vis the Nuclear Family
* In the Traditional Family, there are usually many children.
- In the Nuclear Family, there are few children.
* * *
* The Traditional Family is normally made up of three generations interrelating amongst each other.
- In the Nuclear Family, there is normally no interrelationship between three generations.
* * *
* In the Traditional Family, there are many extended family relatives.
- The Nuclear Family has few extended family relatives.
* * *
* In the Traditional Family, the ambience diminishes tensions.
- In the Nuclear Family, the ambience aggravates tensions.
* In the Traditional Family, the child passes from infancy to maturity with fewer crises.
- In the Nuclear Family, the child confronts the crisis of adolescence head-on.
* * *
* In the Traditional Family, parents are identifiable psychological and professional models for their children.
- In the Nuclear Family, parents frequently are not role models for their children, who then look outside the family to find them.
* * *
* In the Traditional Family, the mother stays at home and the children are under her watchful eye.
- In the Nuclear Family, the mother frequently has a job and does not take care of the children personally.
* * *
* The Traditional Family resolves its own problems without having recourse to outsiders.
- The Nuclear Family frequently does not resolve its own problems, but seeks outside help.
* * *
* The Traditional Family is harmoniously integrated in society as a whole.
- The Nuclear Family lives oppressed, in conflict and crisis with the social structures.
* * *
* The Traditional Family’s stability is derived from faith and the observance of religious and moral principles.
- The Nuclear Family’s instability comes from the lack of faith and the lack of observance of religious and moral principles.
19) Paul H. Landis, op. cit., p. 72
20) Antonio Cándido, A estrutura da escola, “Educação e Ciências Sociais”, 1956, 1, no. 2, pp. 139- 172, in Samuel Pfromm Neto, Psicologia da Adolescência, Livraria Pioneira Ed., 7ª. Ed., São Paulo, 1979, pp. 226-227.
21) Anne-Marie Rocheblave-Spenlé, El adolescente y su mundo, Ed. Herder, Barcelona, 1972, pp. 137-140.
22) Marie-Françoise Côte-Jallade, “De 14 a 19 anos – La adolescencia o la dificuldad de ser”, Colección “Asi se hace el Hombre”, no. 8 , Ed. Sal Terrae, Santander, 1984, pp. 53-54.
23) Robert Laplane, Geraud Lasfargues and Denise Laplane, La Pubertad, Oikos-tau Ed. SA, Barcelona, p. 129.
24) C. I. Sandstrom, Psicologia del niño y del adolescente, Ed. Morata SA, Madrid, 1968, p. 265.
25) José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado, Fundamentos biológicos de la família, “Estudio Sociologico de la Familia Española”, Instituto de Sociologia Aplicada de Madrid, Confederación Española de Cajas de Ahorros, Madrid, 1976, p. 471.