Belonging to a family is one bond almost everyone in the world shares, but family patterns vary from country to country. The United States has many different types of families, but the traditional structure of the American family — mother, father and children — continues to prevail for the most part as a new century unfolds. Yet, over the past several decades, US society has witnessed an evolution in family structure and daily life in many respects, because of myriad factors, running the gamut from advancements in science to the composition of the workplace. Single parenthood, adoptive households, step-parenting, stay-at-home fathers, grandparents raising children are but a few of the newer tiles in the mosaic.
What is it like to be a young person in the United States?
The typical American child spends six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year in school. Children in the US start preschool or nursery school at age four or under, kindergarten at five years of age. Schools provide American children with much more than academic education. More than 80 percent of all students participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports, student newspapers, drama clubs, debate teams, choral groups and bands.
During their leisure time, American kids spend much time watching television, listening to music or playing computer games, but many also have after school jobs. One recent poll indicated that nine out of 10 teenagers polled said they either had a job or would like one. Child labor laws set restrictions on the types of work that youths under 16 years can do. Many youths work part-time on weekends or after school at fast-food restaurants, baby-sit for neighbors, hold delivery jobs or work in stores. Many youths are also involved in community service organizations or are active in church and religious-group activities. Other belong to youth groups such as Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, were they learn about citizenship, crafts, arts, camping and other outdoor activities. Thousands of young Americans volunteer to help take care of the elderly, the handicapped and hospital patients, or help clean up the environment.
While for most American children and teenagers life today is nearly free of serious conflict, young people are still under many types of stress. Peer pressure, changing family conditions, mobility of families, unemployment and problems at school may lead to use of alcohol or drugs, the refusal to attend school, running away from home, teenage pregnancies or juvenile delinquency.
Abridged from US State Department IIP publications and other US government materials.