It’s tough being a parent. There are days when you wonder if the worry and work are really worth the rewards. Technology intensifies our awareness of bad events with an intensity, speed and frequency that feels overwhelming. Kids are abusing drugs, committing suicide, being bullied, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, and growing up in dysfunctional homes. It feels like times have never been worse for American kids.
Anecdotal stories are helpful in bringing serious problems to our awareness, but they can also give us a misleading impression as to the emotional health of our children. The facts are much friendlier.
- Lowest teen birth rate in history. Kids having kids is bad for the parents and their children, and typically results in all kinds of negative educational, social, and behavioral outcomes. The National Center for Health Statistics recently reported that 2010 was the lowest rate of teen births since the mid-40s, dropping to an all time low of 34.3 births per 1,000 teens. In 1957, the rate was 96.3 births. This significant accomplishment appears to be due to an increase in the use of contraception among teens, not in a decrease in sexual activity.
- Decreasing divorce rate, dropping by 5 percent since 1996. Divorce puts kids at a substantial risk for long term problems. Happy marriages are more likely to raise happy kids.
- Decreasing cigarette smoking among kids, dropping by about a third to one-half of the teens who smoked in 1996-97. We have a long way to go in trying to convince the 11 percent of 12th graders who smoke daily that this stupid habit will cause them serious health problems and premature death. Cigarettes remain the most deadly drug used by our kids.
- Decreasing heavy drinking among teens, dropping to 23 percent in recent years for 12th graders compared to 32 percent in 1998. This decrease was also evidenced among younger children.
- Decreasing involvement in violent crimes. In 1993, kids between 12-17 years of age committed serious crimes at a rate of 52 crimes per 1000 teens. In 2009, that rate fell to 11 crimes per 1000 juveniles.
- Child sexual abuse rates have decreased by 38 percent in the time period from 1993 to 2006, due to aggressive prosecution and the efforts of parents to educate and empower their children about speaking up about uncomfortable situations.
- Increasing attendance at college, with 70 percent of our high school students enrolled in higher education, compared to around 50 percent about 30 years ago.
We have a long way to go in making our communities safe and healthy for our children. We don’t want any of our children sexually abused, committing violence crimes, smoking cigarettes or abusing alcohol. We’re not perfect, but we are getting better thanks to caring, committed, and loving parents.