These are not the top child health problems

Childhood obesity, bullying, and drug abuse are the top child health problems, according to respondents to a national survey for Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Michigan.

The survey participants got it wrong on two of those priorities.  Their responses are more a reflection of what’s been getting media attention, rather than the real problems affecting America’s youth.

I was glad to see that childhood obesity, listed by 60 percent of the participants, achieved the number one ranking.  It’s hard to overemphasize the serious medical and mental health implications of this epidemic.

However, those who listed bullying (58 percent) and drug abuse (53 percent) as the most serious child health problems got it wrong.

Bullying is an important issue, but the prevalence is not increasing, and may in fact be declining. Schools are taking this problem very seriously, and many states have laws that help insure that our kids can go to school in an emotionally safe environment.

While drug abuse is a serious issue, it’s more of a symptom of underlying problems.

If I was completing the survey, I’d list child abuse and neglect as the second most serious health problem for our kids. The overall rates of neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse remain alarmingly high.  This is a safety issue that demands our focused attention.

I’d rate stress as the third most significant health issue, one that is related to so many other problems identified in the survey.

Childhood stress is difficult to comprehend. Most of our kids are privileged, entitled and raised in financially secure environments. They have economic advantages unknown to any other generation. With so many benefits, why is stress such a serious health issue?

I’d list stress as one of my top priorities because we are raising a generation of entitled and overprotected kids who are horrible at dealing with life’s problems. When confronted with difficulties, they respond by abusing drugs, smoking, bullying or developing mental health issues.

These problems are symptoms. We don’t need more education to teach kids that bullying, taking drugs, and smoking are bad. Instead, we need to teach our children better ways to deal with unpleasant feelings, difficult people, failure and frustration.

What kids are calling “stress” today was once viewed as just a normal part of living that kids figured out how to manage.

The solution is for parents to stop solving problems for their kids, and start teaching them how to deal with difficulties on their own. Your job is to do more coaching and less controlling, helping our kids to be strong and independent, not victims of life’s normal pressures.

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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