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New study finds high rate of teens raised by both biological parents in MN, ND

Family index

Minnesota and North Dakota have some of the country’s highest rates of teenagers raised by both biological parents who were married to one another, according to results of a new study.

Across the nation, the Family Research Council’s fourth annual “Index of Family Belonging and Rejection” released in February said about 46 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds were raised by both biological parents who were married.

Locally, 56 percent of Minnesota teens and 53 percent of North Dakota teens of this age were raised by both biological parents who have been married since before or around the time of their birth, ranking the states No. 2 and No. 5, respectively.

Still, the authors of the latest index said that means 44 percent of Minnesota teens and 47 percent of North Dakota teens were raised in households of parental “rejection,” leading to “grave” implications for these children.

Some children who grow up in such a household may perceive it as rejection, according to Mandy Bernardy, an outpatient therapist with The Village Family Service Center in Fargo. But many others can thrive in the same environment, and it often comes down to the relationships — rather than marital status — of the adults in their lives.

“The main piece that’s going to be really important is for parents to have a civil and working relationship with each other, whether they’re married or they’re not married,” she said.

A different study, released earlier this year by commercial laboratory Identigene that sells an over-the-counter paternity test, said North Dakota and West Virginia tied for having the second-highest increase in divorce at 1.7 percent. Maine topped the list at 1.8 percent, according to the figures based on data.

Case-by-case basis

The Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute analyzed data from the 2008-2011 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for its latest index. But the report cautioned these statistics are biased because the Census only tracks biological relationships of a child to one parent.

To come up with an estimate, the institute compared the year of a child’s birth with the year of their parents’ marriage, meaning some married parents wouldn’t be counted if they got married too long after the birth. Similarly, parents who got divorced in the years between the birth and when their children were teenagers might not be counted as divorced.

The latest report says Washington, D.C., (17 percent), Mississippi (32 percent) and Louisiana (36 percent) have the lowest rates in the country, while Utah topped the list at 57 percent. On a regional basis, the Northeast had the highest rate at 50 percent while the South had the lowest at 42 percent.

While Bernardy said some children who grow up with divorced parents, or in a mixed household without both biological parents, may struggle, others can be completely fine.

“Each child and each family is so unique and different from each other that you can’t base one thing off of the other,” she said.

All children need to have security and nurturing to thrive, she said, whether it’s from two moms, a single dad or a nuclear family.

While growing up with two parents may be an “ideal” family unit in some ways, Bernardy said there are times that’s not necessarily for the best — abusive parents, for instance, or adults who try to pit their children against their other parent.

Still, the familiar expression “it takes a village” rings true today, even as cultural attitudes toward same-gender parents, divorce and marriage continue to change.

“I think it’s really important for any child to have as many people as possible in their life that can love and support them,” Bernardy said. 

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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