DAVID ELKIND. Ties That Stress: The New Family Imbalance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. 256 pages. $19.95
David Elkind, well-known author of The Hurried Child, joins several authors in the ongoing discussion about changes that have taken place in family life over the past few decades. Elkind focuses on the family unit and addresses the imbalance that existed in the "modern nuclear family" and now exists in the "postmodern permeable family." The modern nuclear family was characterized by solid boundaries and was particularly beneficial for children and adolescents. Since the 1950s, however, the situation for children and adolescents has grown progressively worse, and today the postmodern family is of more benefit to parents; "parents living in permeable families have more lifestyle options ...," while children are treated like miniature adults. Both types of families reflect the larger society, and this shift has come about because of several factors: a lack of vocational security for parents and the resulting stress created by the pressures of family and work, the changing emphasis in education, the telecommunications revolution, and a lack of institutional and societal support for families. As Elkind puts it, "This shift is not limited to families but is aided and abetted by all those social institutions that serve the family."
This book has many strengths, the first being that it is a well-documented study of family life. The author consistently builds on his past work and cites outstanding scholars as he traces the history of family life. Another strength is that Elkind does not romanticize the nuclear family. Rather, he recognizes that it was limited primarily to white middle- and upper-middle classes and was characterized by major weaknesses not only for adults, but for children as well. Similarly, he recognizes that the postmodern permeable family offers several advantages for children, specifically freedom and the opportunity to develop as individuals.
This volume contains ten chapters on several topics -- family feelings, family values, parents, children, adolescents, diagnosing disorders, and stress among youth. It is not surprising, in view of his past work, that Elkind devotes significant attention to the educational systems and to adolescence. The section on the role of recreation in this imbalance is particularly enlightening.
All is not gloom! The last chapter in this book focuses on the development of the "vital family. …