By Lawrence M. O'Rourke
March 30, 2005
Duke University sociologist Kenneth C. Land said the well-being of U.S. children has gotten better because their parents, remembering their own behavior in the 1970s, have done a good job warning their offspring away from drugs, violence and sex.
Now parents and policymakers need to start working toward more control of video game time and encourage exercise, school health programs, wiser snacking and other steps to cut back obesity, Land said in a telephone interview.
Land headed the Duke research team that produced the study for the Foundation for Child Development.
The sociologists used government reports to measure the well-being of U.S. children from 1975 to the present.
"Life is better overall for U.S. kids" than it has been in many years, Land said. "Child and youth well-being has continued to recover from losses in the 1980s."
Noting a decline in gang turf wars and drive-by shootings, the report pointed to a "decline in the crack cocaine epidemic" that destroyed lives and prompted violence.
"Although most individuals who used or otherwise were involved with crack cocaine were adults, adolescents and teenagers often were employed as runners for the drug _ which lead to an increase in gun carrying and associated violence" that turned children into offenders or victims, according to the Duke report.
Giving credit to President Clinton, the report said that the "generally strong economic expansion" during the 1990s increased job opportunities for young men and women and made "legitimate work" more attractive than crime to young people.
Children also behaved better in the past decade because the Clinton administration provided federal money to put 70,000 more police in neighborhoods and schools, the report said.
The report also singled out parents for making their children's lives better.
"Baby boomers have become more active in recent years in controlling their youthful children's behaviors and in building attachments to mainstream institutions and values," the report said.
The baby boomers of the 1970s and '80s experienced marijuana use in the '70s, the "powdered cocaine fad of the early 1980s, and the crack cocaine epidemic of the late-1980s," the report declared.
It said that these parents "may be more sensitive as parents to the imperative of controlling their children's exposures to the risk of crime, teen pregnancy, and smoking-drinking-drug use than were the early-boomers."
The 1998 tobacco settlement and cutbacks in cigarette advertising targeted at children and greater legal controls on sales of cigarettes to children were also credited by the Duke sociologists with improving the quality of young lives.
The research team said that the emotional and spiritual well-being of children has also lifted over the years. The researchers cited a lower teenage suicide rate, greater church attendance and more recognition of the importance of religion.
One sign of a better connection between children and their community was the increased voter turnout among youth in the 2004 presidential election, the report said.
But while life has improved over the past decade for young Americans, there are reasons to worry that it could decline.
"Despite improvements during the 1990s, the financial status of American families with children has declined since 2001," the report found. "Median family income in families with children peaked in the year 2000, but has continued to fall since then."
The report also found that children have also experienced a decline in social relationships because of an increase in the percentage of children living in single-parent families.