Parents can count their blessings while acknowledging the work yet to be done
Recently I overheard a discussion about how sad it is for children today. Most of the women talking were “Boomers” raised in the late 1960s and 70s. I’m mystified when I hear adults bemoaning the state of childhood, just as I am when I hear talk of “the good old days.” While things have changed for children in the past several decades, most of the changes have led to positive outcomes. Unfortunately, the distribution of resources to children across economic and racial lines is still uneven, but even this is improving.
Generally speaking, kids in the United States are significantly more likely to be healthy, safe and better educated than before. The childhood mortality (death) rate has fallen by approximately half since 1990 (an all-time low). Children are less likely to be hit by a car, die from a car crash or have other accidents than before. Physical child abuse is down more than 50 percent, and sexual abuse is down by more than 60 percent since the 1990s. The number of children who are the victims of violent crime is down more than 50 percent since 1994. And childhood abduction rates, which have always been rare, are even rarer in 2017, with reports of missing children down 40 percent since 1997 – a record low.
Teenagers are thriving
Lives of teenagers also reflect positive trends. Births to teenagers are fewer, and use of tobacco and reports of binge drinking are down since the 1990s. It’s also a good time to be “different.” There is more acceptance of nontraditional sexual orientation and other variations of being.
Society in general has become more inclusive. Schools are integrated, and more of us socialize with others outside of our own race, religion and culture than in the past. It’s a better time to be a girl in today’s society, with more educational and occupational opportunities for girls and women today. Today, 56 percent of college students are female. African Americans are much more likely to attend and graduate college today than in the past. Happily, children can look to the future to see fewer limits on their potential based on their gender, race or sexual orientation.
Other advances in society are a mixed blessing. Technology has opened doors to knowledge and communication. The internet allows access to information and the transmission of ideas in an amazing way that is accessible to a wide range of people. Social media facilitates human connection. However, left unchecked, children can overuse technology, and miss out on important things like exercise, actual human conversation and other experiences. I believe that humans, especially young humans, are resilient and can learn to use technology to their advantage (this is where parents and limits come in).
Create Balance to Continue to Promote Positive Trends
Thankfully, we are a well-fed nation; but, the confluence of technology, which is a sedentary activity, and the abundance of fast, tasty food has led to unacceptable rates of childhood obesity that threaten the health of American children. Just as we have reduced accidents and disease in childhood, we are capable of improving the nutrition of children in the U.S.
Education in America has evolved over the decades, particularly access to early childhood programs for all economic groups. However, parents and educators may be pushing little students too far and too fast. Parents must be mindful that students require balance between academics and down time, especially in preschool and early elementary school. Children have a good deal of pressure to perform academically, and it sometimes seems at the expense of this balance.
Taken together, we can feel fortunate about the well-being of children in America. We must temper our blessings with limit-setting and the awareness of balance in our children’s experiences. We also must continue to work to advance the quality of life for all American kids. It also may be a good idea to be thankful and optimistic that our children are thriving. Happy New Year!
Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist in practice at Pelts Kirkhart & Associates. 504.581.3933