What does the Future Hold for Our Children?
Editors note: This is an edited version of an article written by Graham McDonald, National Team Leader of Children of the World, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ Australia.
Much time and money has been spent to report on how we should preserve and improve the natural environment in which we live for future generations. Professor Patrick Parkinson, a specialist in family law and child protection, in his report, “For Kid’s Sake” – Repairing the Social Environment for Australian Children and Young People, makes this point. “Rightly we are thinking about what legacy we are going to leave our children, and their children, in relation to the natural world on which we all depend. Generally speaking however, we have as a nation paid little attention to the social environment in which our children are growing up.”
“The dangers that the deterioration of this environment presents for the future are immense. Indeed, many of us may not even be aware of how bad things are becoming” Professor Parkinson writes. In a report from the evaluation and statistics branch of the Community Services NSW, it showed that 30% of 12 – 17 year olds have been reported to the Government Child Protection Agency at least once in their life. The Director of The Australian Centre for Child Protection at the University of South Australia said these figures may be the highest in the developed world.
This fact was demonstrated in the “canary in the coalmine” data found in the Parkinson report, that show from 1997 to 2009 the total number of children in out-of-home care has more than doubled, from 15,674 to 35,895 and increasing at an ever increasing rate. The dramatic increase in child abuse and neglect is only part of the overall deterioration of the wellbeing of our children. More than 25% of young people aged 16-24 have a mental disorder. A further 24% of young people, who have never experienced a mental disorder, are experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress.
The psychological distress is reflected in the 66% increase in the number of 12-14 year old children hospitalised because of intentional self-harm from 1996 to 2006. In the same period there was a 90% rise in hospitalisation of girls 15 to 17 years of age. Other manifestations of psychological distress include binge drinking and sexual promiscuity. The rate of hospitalisation due to alcohol intoxication in young women 15-24 years of age more than doubled between 1998 and 2006. In the last ten years there was a four-fold increase in chlamydia infections in the 10-14 year age group. Girls reporting unwanted sex increased from 28 to 38 per cent from 2002 to 2008.
While the chances of marriage ending in divorce have increased over the last 25 years, the increase in children experiencing parental separation is largely a consequence of the rapid rise in the number of children born into de facto relationships which have a greater propensity to break down than those in a committed marriage situation. In 2009 35% of children were born out of wedlock. The result is that fragile families grow fragile children with the cycle perpetuated in subsequent generations. The overwhelming evidence from research is that children do best in two-parent married families. Strong married families do make a vast difference to the wellbeing of the child.
Richard Eckersley, an expert at the Australian National University relates a number of factors that contribute to the decline in children’s wellbeing. These include “A cultural change to greater materialism and individualism and among others, too much choice and lack of clear frames of reference.” A report from the Commission on Children at Risk in the USA released in 2003 would agree with the above findings. The Commission made up of leading children’s doctors, research scientists and youth service professionals issued a report on new strategies to reduce the high incidence of children suffering from emotional and behavioural problems.
The scientific findings suggest that children are biologically “hardwired” for close attachment to other people and for moral and spiritual meaning. With more children experiencing parental separation, they are denied the opportunity to receive what is needed for their wellbeing, and to achieve their potential. Research does show children who come from an unstable home environment will struggle in many areas of relationships through their own life. The Commission’s findings recognise that religious and spiritual nurturing is vital and has a significant influence on the wellbeing of the child.
Other significant results showed that religiously committed teenagers are less likely to become juvenile delinquents, adult criminals, substance abusers or engage in high-risk sexual behaviour. They in fact have higher self-esteem and more positive attitudes about life. Rosemary Aird from the University of Queensland’s School of Population Health, conducted a survey of the effects of spiritual thoughts and behaviours of over 3,000 twenty one year olds. The survey looked at two different belief systems. A recognition of God, as associated with traditional religions v the new spiritualism with no recognition of God.
Aird discovered that the newer non-traditional beliefs were linked to higher rates of “anxiety, depression, disturbed thinking and anti-social behaviour”. Traditional religion tends to promote the idea of social responsibility and thinking of other’s interests. Our governments need to take seriously the impact “religious teachings” has on the mental health of our children. The greater challenge is to the Church “what are we, as Christ’s ambassadors, going to do about it?” Research demonstrates the value to society of raising children with Christian principles. This is where the church must come forward to champion the cause of the children, their parents and society generally.
Source: Children of the World