A recent nationwide poll of parents finds a great deal of pessimism when it comes to their children’s current health and future prospects. Researchers at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital came to this sad conclusion after polling more than 1,300 adult respondents and publishing the results in Academic Pediatrics:
Adults across all generations in the United States today view children’s health as unlikely to meet the goals of the American Dream of continuous improvement. Although demographic changes require continued focus on our aging population, we must equally recognize the importance of advancing a healthy future for our nation’s children, who will assume the mantle of our future.
One of the study’s authors told Beata Mostafavi that the negatives clearly outweigh the positives when it comes to parental expectations for the future:
“We have made remarkable gains in preventing communicable diseases, advancing technology and developing cures that have significantly reduced children’s illness and death over the last century,” Freed says.
“However, we are clearly falling short in addressing challenges affecting children’s health today, including mental health, bullying, safety and obesity.”
Most respondents (64%) agreed that kids today receive a better quality of education compared to past generations. A similar percentage (61%) said today’s youth have better health care. That’s where the good news ends, says Robert Preidt:
But far fewer — just 23 percent — believed that emotional support from families was better now for kids. And only 18 percent thought kids’ exercise habits and fitness were better today.
Just 17 percent thought kids’ diets now bested those of yesteryear, and only 14 percent felt communities were safer now than in the past for children.
Mostafavi says mental health is a big worry, especially for the youngest generation of parents:
Only 15 percent of poll respondents said the chances for a child to grow up with good mental health in the future are better now than when they were growing up.
“Mental health issues are rapidly emerging as a dominant factor in the well-being of children and a chief concern of parents today,” Freed says.
The negative perception was most prevalent among the youngest contemporary generations –with only 10 percent of Generation Xers and 6 percent of millennials believing that kids today will grow up to have good mental health in the future.
The authors of the survey see a dark cloud on the horizon for America’s youth:
Sadly, the perceptions of our respondents are supported by data on child well-being in the United States. Children today are the first generation to have a much lower likelihood of having earning power exceeding their parents. This bodes ill for the potential for socioeconomic mobility for our nation’s youth. Child poverty has also increased in 49 of 50 states between 2007 and 2012. Investment in our nation’s schools has also been diminished in recent years, with about half of all states cutting funding from 2010 levels. Unfortunately, current trends show a continuation in the lessening of the commitment to children and children’s programs. The Urban Institute estimates that the share of federal and state spending on children will drop from 10% to 8% in the coming decade.
This level of pessimism — from the researchers and from the parents they surveyed — is worrisome, if for no other reason than the fact that negativity can be contagious and so easily imparted onto their children’s psyches. Now more than ever, adults must recognize that talk is cheap. It is the time to “walk the walk” and reinvest our energy and resources into our children’s future. If we don’t take care of them now, we shouldn’t expect them to take care of us, either.