Chapter OneThe State
They are more numerous than the entire Hispanic and African-American
populations of the nation combined. They have more energy than a
nuclear power plant and are as confounding as the federal budget. They
have tastes as fluid as the Missouri River and dreams that will redefine
the future. They are a marketer's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
and the most lovable and frustrating beings in the life of every parent.
We're talking about America's children. You don't have to look too
hard to find them. In 2003, the Census Bureau reported that there were
73 million residents 18 years of age or younger living in the United
States. They come in all shapes and various sizes, in many colors, and
are distributed indiscriminately across the 50 states.
Our children will define the future, which makes them our most significant
and enduring legacy. After all, God never told His followers
to take over the world through force or intelligence. He simply told us
to have children and then raise them to honor God in all they do.
Therefore, you might logically conclude that bearing
and raising children is not only our most enduring
legacy but also one of our greatest personal responsibilities.
In this book, I will focus upon understanding and
affecting the lives of children in the heart of the youth
cohort (i.e., children in the 5- to 12-year-old age range).
This group, some 31 million strong, represents nearly
half of the under-18-year-olds in the country. That's
almost equal to the population of the entire state of
Why focus on this particular slice of the youth
market? Because if you want to shape a person's life-whether you are
most concerned about his or her moral, spiritual, physical, intellectual,
emotional or economic development-it is during these crucial eight
years that lifelong habits, values, beliefs and attitudes are formed.
Four Dimensions of Our
Everyone's life has challenges, difficulties and hardships en route to
adulthood. On balance, though, most American children experience a
good life, especially when compared to the quality of life children in
many other nations of the world endure.
Educational Achievement and Intellectual Development
Most of America's children spend plenty of time in the classroom-and
we pay for it. Public school systems throughout the nation spent more
than $380 billion in 2000. More children than ever before get an early
educational start-more than half of all three- and four-year olds enroll
in school, and nearly two-thirds of five-year-olds enroll in all-day kindergarten
programs. But neither school spending nor student attendance
is a viable indicator of educational achievement or quality. Studies measuring
such factors raise troubling questions.
For example, it is estimated that one-third of all school-aged children
are at least one grade level behind in their academic performance.
Fewer than 3 out of 10 fourth graders read at grade level. Matters do not
improve much over time. Just one-third of eighth graders are proficient
in reading, and only one-quarter are proficient in writing and math.
These findings are particularly alarming given the correlation between
poor academic skills and quality of life. Studies by the National
Institutes of Health and the National Association for Educational
Progress discovered that poor reading skills are a harbinger of teen pregnancy,
criminal activity, poor academic achievement and dropping out
before high school graduation.
Testing among students reveals that when the academic performance
of American pupils is compared to that of peers in other nations,
American students come up far short. Recent studies of eighth graders
in 25 industrialized nations showed that American students ranked
tenth in science and twenty-first in mathematics.
Interestingly, most parents are pleased with the quality of the
schooling their young ones get. Gallup's recent research shows that 7
out of 10 parents are generally satisfied with the educational quality
their children receive. Our research found that most parents think their
children are well cared for and well taught and have access to adequate
facilities and programs. Relatively few parents believe their children are
unsafe or exposed to unreasonable social pressures at school. Also interesting,
most parents believe that the schools attended by most other
children in the nation do not provide a quality education.
Exposure to technology in the classroom is increasing in the United
States. More than 4 out of 5 children under 13 years of age use a computer
at school on a regular basis. Whether or not the integration of
technology into the daily academic regimen will enhance students'
learning experience remains to be seen.
Health and Physical Development
Advances in medical and health care have substantially reduced infant
mortality during the past half-century. With new breakthroughs in medical
research and technology, children have greater opportunities than
ever before to live long and healthy lives.
There are, however, five dominant health-related challenges kids
face these days. The most prevalent of these is being overweight. It is estimated
that roughly 1 out of every 8 children under 13 is overweight or
obese, which is double the figure of two decades ago. The combination
of couch-potato behavior, computer games, fear of lack of safety in public
places such as playgrounds and gymnasiums, supersized fast-food
meals and the demise of school-run athletic programs contribute to the
problem. While government agencies posit that only 25 percent of children
ages two to five have a consistently healthy diet, that already low
percentage shrinks to just 6 percent among teenagers. Indeed, if
lifestyle modeling is a significant influence on behavior, then the future
looks even bleaker concerning the physical condition of our young people,
since a variety of medical professionals have estimated that as many
as 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese.
Another serious concern is the increased sexual activity among
youngsters. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that almost 1
out of every 10 teenagers had sexual intercourse prior to his or her thirteenth
birthday and that the number is steadily rising. Apart from the
serious moral, emotional and spiritual consequences of premature sexual
activity, such experiences commonly introduce sexually transmitted
diseases (STD). CDC has reported that while relatively few adolescents
have contracted an STD-fewer than 1 million of the youth under age
14-these young people are at greater risk than older individuals of
acquiring one or more of the numerous permanent and incurable diseases,
which is a particularly unnerving reality given the increasing sexual
activity among children.
Substance abuse-tobacco, drugs and alcohol-is a temptation to
which millions of young people succumb. Current estimates indicate
that about 1 out of every 10 eighth graders smokes daily (the proportion
rises to 1 out of 4 by age 17); 1 out of 5 used drugs of some type in the
past year (ranging from marijuana to hallucinogens to "club drugs"
such as Ecstasy); and more than 1 out of 3 were drunk at least once in
the past year, with significant numbers of adolescents reporting regular
alcohol use and even binge drinking. For a small but significant percentage
of those who abuse these substances, the behavior becomes
addictive; and for a larger portion, the temporary impairment of their
decision-making abilities produces serious physical consequences.
Being the victim of violence is yet another danger that threatens
the health and well-being of millions of preteens. Forty-five percent of
elementary schools reported one or more incidents of violent crime; the
figure balloons to 74 percent, three-quarters, of all middle schools. In a
typical year, 4 percent of elementary schools and 19 percent of middle
schools report one or more serious violent crimes (e.g., murder, rape,
suicide, use of a weapon or robbery). Students are
subjected to violence most often in schools where
gangs are present, and gangs are known to exist in
nearly 3 out of 10 public schools. During a typical
school year 1 out of every 14 students is threatened or
injured at school with a weapon; 1 out of every 7 students
is involved in a serious physical fight on school
grounds. One common result, of course, is that millions
of parents feel uneasy about their child's safety,
and more than 1 million adolescents missed at least
one day of school this past year due to fear of physical
Finally, the physical condition of young people is
impacted by their medical care. Despite the attention
focused on this issue in the past decade, 1 out of every
8 children under 13 has no health insurance and thus lacks adequate
access to qualified medical attention. Combined with the skyrocketing
cost of medical care, children suffer from medical challenges more widely
than many people realize. One recent study noted that about 20 percent
of youths in the United States exhibit some signs of psychiatric ailments
and that most of those go undiagnosed. One of the most widely discussed
conditions is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
which afflicts about 7 percent of children in the 6- to 11-year-old age
group. Millions of them are treated with Ritalin, antidepressants and
other psychiatric drugs; millions more receive no treatment at all.
It should be pointed out that both the health of children and their
engagement in at-risk behaviors have serious ramifications. A number of
studies conducted in the past decade have demonstrated a strong correlation
among six at-risk behaviors undertaken by adolescents-sexual
intercourse, excessive drinking, smoking, use of illegal drugs, depression
and suicide-and their generally negative impact.
During the past three decades, the economic state of children has actually
improved. The federal government has expanded its support for
children, currently funding more than 150 child-targeted programs to
the tune of more than $50 billion annually. While an unacceptably
high proportion of young people (33 percent) will live in poverty before
they reach adulthood, just half as many (17 percent) are mired in it at
any given time. (Realize that while the percentage is small, the human
suffering is enormous-nearly 7 million American adolescents are
plagued by poverty on any given day.) Most kids live in relatively suitable
circumstances, and 8 out of 10 adolescents even report receiving spending
money from their parents or extended family members. On average,
adolescents are given an allowance of slightly more than $20 per week.
Emotional and Behavioral Development
Much of the emotional stability and maturity of children stems from
their relationship with their family. Even though most parents feel they
are doing a good job of raising their kids-and there is little doubt that
most parents take their responsibility seriously-there is an abundance
of evidence that suggests many overestimate their performance.
The effects of cohabitation, divorce, births to unmarried parents,
and working mothers are taking a significant toll on a growing body of
children-an impacted group that now numbers in the millions. One
out of every 3 children born in the United States each year is born to an
unmarried woman. One out of every 4 children presently lives with a
single parent, and about half find themselves in that situation before
they celebrate their eighteenth birthday. Three out of every 5 mothers of
infants are in the labor force-roughly twice the proportion from just a
The confluence of isolating factors has led a majority of parents of
adolescents to admit that they do not spend enough meaningful time
with their young ones. Among kids 8 to 12 years old, one-third say they
want to spend more time with their mother, in spite of the fact that
today's preteens spend 31 hours per week with their mom, a jump of
about six hours each week from two decades ago. Adolescents spend
less time with their fathers-an average of 23 hours weekly-which is also
an increase compared to the early '80s. However, a substantial amount
of the increases in parent-child time are attributable to an escalation in
the amount of time spent driving to and from various activities, which
is an endeavor not normally deemed a meaningful moment or quality
The good news is the slow rise in the percentage of kids who live
with both biological parents (up from the 1 out of 2 a decade ago to
nearly 6 out of 10 today). These families tend to be more financially and
relationally stable, live in safer and more well-to-do areas and enroll their
kids in higher-quality schools.
In spite of-or, maybe, thanks to-the changes in family realities,
how are the kids turning out? There are many aspects to consider, but
here are a few factors to ponder:
Most adolescents consider themselves to be happy, loved, safe
and optimistic about their future. However, we have found that
most of them believe that adults generally consider young people
to be rude, arrogant, lazy and sloppy.
Kids ages 2 to 7 average nearly 25 hours per week of mass
media intake; the figure balloons to almost 48 hours each week
among those ages 8 to 13. Evidence of the changing times
and the new generation in place is the favorite medium of all, the Internet, according to 54 percent of kids under 8 and 73
percent of kids 8 to 12 years old.
Adolescents have become highly proficient at multitasking-the
ability to juggle several activities simultaneously without
losing ground in any of the areas.
Young people admit to being highly influenced by their role
models and to be actively seeking more such examples, but
nearly half of all preteens (44 percent) admit that they don't
have any role models. While parents are the most commonly
named role models, it is revealing that when children are asked
to identify the three most important people in the world to
them, only one-third name their mother or father. Even so, the
vast majority of young kids-more than 9 out of 10-say they
get along well with their parents, and most have no desire to
have their parents eliminated from their lives.