Parents, experts, and even teens and children today have one thing they can all agree on, that children and adolescents face a number of critical issues. While every generation tends to think their experience is unique, things really have measurably changed for today's children. Technology has had a role in that, changing the culture around children and teens far faster than changes their grandparents, and even their parents ever experienced. Health concerns add to the issues that children and teens face.
"Childhood obesity and other chronic health conditions: the continuing growth in childhood asthma, and the tremendous growth in mental health conditions and developmental conditions like autism," are "major epidemics," according to Dr. James M. Perrin, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics, as quoted in the "Boston Globe" in 2012.
NBC News Health reported a rise in allergies seen in children in 2011 compared to 1997. While food allergies reported in the study rose less than 2 percent, the instance of skin allergies rose 5 percent. Allergies are not only an inconvenience but can lead to potentially fatal cases of anaphylaxis and asthma. The cause for the increase was not determined. Suspects included environmental pollutants. A 2010 "Science Daily" article, citing data from a study published in “Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology," reported peanut allergies among children have more than tripled from 1997 to 2008. The number of children suffering from "adult" diseases such as heart disease and type II diabetes, has also increased. Parents can help by setting an example of health and ensuring their kids get proper exercise and nutrition.
Dual income families, divorced and single parents are now the norm. Long work days and multiple jobs have affected family functioning and relationships by reducing time spent together. According to NPD Group, an international market research firm, only 47 percent of Americans have dinner with all the family present every night, 40 percent have dinner with the TV on and most of the dinners consist of unhealthy processed foods. In March 2013, the “The Atlantic” reported that only 22 percent of weeknight "home-prepared" dinners were free or nearly free of convenience foods. Pressed for time after a long day at work and school with homework to do and other nightly routines, it's easy to fall back on conveniences foods; however a healthy meal made primarily from scratch using fresh instead of processed ingredients, takes only about 10 to 12 minutes longer, according to "The Atlantic." Children and teens can eat healthier, and consequently get sick less, when dinners are wholesome. Having a family dinner together also helps kids by providing unstructured time together. Good relationships with parents reduce the risk of drug use, premature sex, suicide. while increasing overall well-being.
Americans live in a violent culture. According to the University of Michigan Health System, by the time the average American child turns 18 years old, he will have seen, on television,16,000 murders and 200,000 violent incidents. This kind of exposure can desensitize them to suffering and violence. Many movies, watched for entertainment, glorify grisly acts of violence and torture. In one video game, popular with adults and children, killing prostitutes earned points. It's not just media violence. Kids contend with violence in their daily lives. A 1993 National Association for the Education of Young Children position statement mentioned a Chicago housing project where “all of the children had witnessed a shooting by the age of five.” According to the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, just over three million children each year witness violence in their own homes. Parents can help by being selective about what is on the television, as well as setting rules in place for internet and video game use. Family-friendly software can be set in place for children, while teens can be given more responsibility. Age-appropriate discussions with kids of all ages is also helpful.
Kids are bombarded from all sides with sexual pressure. Overtly sexual TV has become the norm. The sexualization of girls in media and culture has long been discussed. Parents complain about sexualized clothing, such as thongs and padded, push-up bras, marketed to increasing younger girls who are given the message it's not enough to be a good person. Porn of every type imaginable is ubiquitous, shaping boys' desires and girls' concepts of what boys want them to be. A 2013 “Sunday Morning Herald” article reported “70 per cent of boys and 53.5 per cent of girls have seen porn by age 12.” As if media pressure isn't enough, teens pressure each other. They pressure each other into sexual acts they see in porn, acts their "partners" don't enjoy, but perform to please, according to “Psychology Today.” A teen needs a strong sense of self to survive it.
Parents can help their children and teens by helping them build self-esteem and confidence. Setting boundaries for kids and teaching them to set boundaries is also important. Helping ensure children and teens are properly equipped to successfully navigate a rapidly changing world is one of the most important things a parent can do for their offspring.