I'm starting to think I'm an anomaly. And I'll admit it. I run seriously out of step with our fame-obsessed, tabloid-saturated, "hook up" culture. I just don't get the nation's acceptance of casual sex and the rejection of the American family. I just read a new study which shows that the teenage pregnancy rate is up after a 10-year decline, and I am concerned for my daughters. In fact, I am concerned for all American children who are now growing up in an instant gratification, pop culture-obsessed society where rich and famous celebrities are showing off their multiple plastic surgeries, parading around their Size 2 bodies for TMZ cameras, checking in and out of rehab, and treating marriage like a nuisance, men like sperm donors and babies like accessories. And no one calls them out on it. In fact, this ever-extreme, attention-seeking behavior is more likely to land them on the cover of People magazine, or as a feature story on Entertainment Tonight. How are parents supposed to counter this cultural phenomenon? I'm alarmed that this is not just a passing trend, but something deeply corrosive to the foundation of our society.
They say decadence preceded the fall of Rome. And I am seeing that all across America, young people are emulating the reckless behavior of celebrities by self-medicating with prescription drugs, having "body part" sex without love, and by desiring the latest, greatest attention grabber: a baby without a marriage. Unfortunately, these young Americans are highly unlikely to grow up to be either rich or famous. They are even less likely to have an entourage around them to pick up the pieces when life doesn't work out by giving them their own reality show.
We are now three generations past the 1960s divorce revolution and one thing is abundantly clear: The "divorce revolution" has failed our families, leaving the children of America to pay a tragic price. Bill Cosby said, "I don't know where we lost it or how we lost it, but people aren't parenting." He couldn't be more right. The fatherless crisis that has long plagued the African-American community has now spread like an epidemic across the entire nation. This is an American tragedy.
It is time for all Americans to realize that when children grow up with the absence of a traditional family structure, they are growing up with a lifetime of disadvantage. Yes, I know plenty of children of divorce overcome the loss and grow up to be happy, healthy, productive members of society. However, statistically, there is no getting around the fact that children growing up in a single parent household, or bouncing back and forth between the homes of divorced parents, are much more likely to succumb to cultural influences, exhibit behavioral disorders, suffer from depression, drop out of school, have babies out of wedlock, end up in prison and become dependent on alcohol and drugs. Basically, they are at risk for everything a parent does not want for a child.
What can we do to help the children of America stand a better chance for a promising future? The first line of defense has to start with parenting. The No. 1 thing for those of us who are married is to simply try harder to stay married. Yes, that's it: Try harder. "I am not happy" is not a good enough reason to get divorced. If you have children, your pursuit of happiness is only a noble cause if you take your family with you on the journey. And contrary to popular opinion, it is okay to stay married for the sake of the children. In fact, there is no better reason! Modern women may feel like they don't need men anymore, however, children still do. We should remember the words of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters."
Here's another thing. If your friends are in a rocky patch in their marriage, don't offer to set them up on a date! Instead, strongly encourage them to work it out and stay together. Offer to watch their children for the weekend so they can get away and reconnect with each other, instead of connecting with someone else.
Don't silently condone bad behavior from friends. If your friends are disrespecting their marriage or neglecting their children, then call them out on it. Let's get it through our heads that it's OK to speak up. Nudge them to go home where they belong, to properly parent their children, to pay their child support, or to stop drinking or doing drugs. Let them know you don't support what they're doing. A broken family triggers a domino effect of destruction.
If you are single with children, then make raising your children your top priority. If you are a parent then make the commitment to be a great parent. There is a vast difference between the two, and the extra effort will show in your children. Don't let society raise your children. This is your job. Remember that television and computers are not baby sitters, and Facebook doesn't count as face time with your children. Turn them all off before dinnertime. That means yours, too. Pull out the board games (my family loves Apples to Apples) and find your way to a Frisbee and a bike path.
Right now, America is lined up for a perfect storm. Whether our American ship continues to sail or whether it goes down like the Titanic will not only be determined by our ability to turn around our economic crisis, but also our ability to turnaround the single-parent crisis that plagues American families.
The future of our nation will be determined by the support our children get today. That's my two cents. Let me know yours. Remember, an angel gets its wings every time you make life better for a child.
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