Of the many moving highlights of last night’s State of the Union address, my favorite had to be when President Trump recognized New Mexico police officer Ryan Holets and his wife, Rebecca. You might recall that it was Officer Holets who boldly stopped a pregnant woman from injecting heroin. When it was first reported last year, the story quickly went viral. The Holets were so moved by the plight and need of this troubled young addict that they wound up adopting her baby and named her, quite appropriately, Hope.
The President’s annual speech is intended to provide our nation’s chief executive with an opportunity to offer both an update on the past year and a vision for the coming months. Traditionally, the speeches are sprinkled or accented with human interest stories but focus primarily on core policy initiatives. President Trump took a slightly different tack, building the substance of his speech around both the plights and promise of everyday Americans. One commentator likened his style to the late radio newsman Paul Harvey, who regularly captured his audience’s interest with winsome and folksy tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Against this backdrop, I thought it might be helpful to expand upon some of what President Trump shared, and compile a brief “state of the family” address discussing some of the themes that we saw emerge last year in the arenas of marriage and parenting.
This is a broad topic, of course, so for the sake of brevity I have narrowed the list down to five important themes, most of them relating to broader cultural trends.
1. The opioid crisis is real.
As the story of the Holets highlighted, opioid addiction has wreaked havoc among families, communities, and even the foster care system. In fact, the opioid crisis is largely responsible for causing life expectancy in the US to drop for the first time in many years. That hasn’t happened since 1993, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. There has been a dramatic rise over the past few years in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and fentanyl (a compound which is synthesized to act like morphine and heroin, only much stronger).
According to the DEA, overdose deaths from opioids and heroin (to which many users resort when they are no longer able to find prescription drugs) have reached epidemic levels, with parents sometimes even overdosing at home in front of their own kids. This is a true national tragedy that tears at the very fabric of family and causes lasting damage, across generations, to both users and those around them.
2. Teen depression and suicide are epidemic.
A little over a year ago, Time magazine reported that more than 6 million American teens are living with an anxiety disorder of some kind. And a wealth of research reveals that teens are grappling with depression more than ever before. A Johns Hopkins University study, for example, found that teen depression has increased dramatically in recent years, with more than three quarters of depressed teens being girls.
Tragically, but not surprisingly, teen suicide rates are also increasing. In fact, the CDC reports that between 2007 and 2015, the suicide rate for girls doubled, and increased by 30 percent for boys. Against this backdrop, last March Netflix released the breakout series 13 Reasons Why. According to many experts, though, the show glorified suicide and addressed it in an exploitive manner. Focus dealt with this issue on a number of fronts, most notably by offering our free Parent’s Guide to 13 Reasons Why.
3. The “Mike Pence Rule” isn’t so antiquated.
When a Washington Post interview with Karen Pence last March revealed that the Vice President never dines alone with other women or attends events that serve alcohol without Karen by his side, the so-called “Pence Rule” became the source of endless jokes on late night talk shows and endless debate online. But then, in October, the Harvey Weinstein scandal exploded, followed by sexual assault allegations against dozens of other powerful men. The #MeToo movement was born, and suddenly the Pence Rule didn’t seem like such a bad idea (at least in some circles).
These events sparked meaningful conversations between husbands and wives about the importance of having boundaries in marriage, even if the specifics differ from couple to couple. One interesting study from YouGov and Deseret News explored whether evangelicals and other groups might consider activities such as flirtatious texting or following an ex on social media as being tantamount to cheating. Focus on the Family’s own Greg and Erin Smalley offered his and hers perspectives on the importance of maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships with members of the opposite sex.
4. The technology tidal wave continues.
Research continues to show that teens and adults alike are increasingly tethered to their electronic devices. Studies indicate that children typically receive their first smart phone around age 10, and proceed to spend 4.5 hours a day on their device—not including time spent texting or making calls! Meanwhile, another study revealed that parents spend more than 9 hours a day engaged in screen time. And there is plenty of research to suggest that sexting, cyberbullying, and social media are factors in the epidemic of teen depression and suicide outlined earlier.
On the plus side, however, it appears we are beginning to wake up to the harmful effects of our tech addiction. Two Apple shareholders with a $2 billion stake recently wrote an open letter to the company calling it to respond to the “growing public health crisis” of smartphone addiction. Meanwhile, grassroots movements like the Wait Until 8th campaign are encouraging parents to delay giving their kids smartphones until they’re older. I’m pleased to report that our Parenting team here at Focus put together an excellent resource on this same topic, A Parent’s Guide to Today’s Technology.
5. It’s been a tough news year.
So far, we’ve established that suicide, drug addiction, and sexual assault are among the topics that dominated the headlines in 2017. And that doesn’t even take into account other difficult news from the year, including the biggest mass shooting in American history in Las Vegas, the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, shocking displays of racism and white supremacy in Charlottesville, widespread death and destruction as a result of hurricanes and floods, and an even greater-than-usual amount of hatred and vitriol in the political arena.
If you’re like me, there were probably times when you wanted to shield your kids’ eyes from the front page or the TV news. The situation was so bad that the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics developed a resource to guide parents in helping their kids process bad news. Focus also offers materials to assist parents in talking with their children about natural disasters, persecution, mass violence, and other difficult topics.
I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of developments that impacted the family in 2017. What would you add? Of course, last night’s speech and these five topics primarily revolve around secular matters. I say “primarily” because our faith should inform every aspect of our life. Ultimately, though, the root of our problems is spiritual. We’re a sinful people in desperate need of a Savior. Even the best policy solution won’t trump (no pun intended) the need for spiritual revival and healing. As we read in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “ If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
I pray THAT will be, first and foremost, the state of our souls. If it is, the state of our union will be solid and strong, indeed.
I hope you can see that our team here at Focus is committed to following the latest developments and providing you with practical, biblically sound guidance and information through 2018 and beyond.
What did you think of President Trump’s speech last night?