But let’s start with the good news, or what little there is to glean from the report: the United States has one of the lowest rates of children reporting that they smoke regularly or have been drunk at least twice, and our children are among the most likely to exercise daily. We also have one of the lowest levels of air pollution. We’re in the middle in terms of overall educational achievement, so I guess that could be considered “good” (give me a break, I’m reaching here). But that’s where the good news ends.
According to the report, the United States has the second highest share of children living under the relative poverty line, defined as 50 percent of each country’s median income, and the second largest “child poverty gap” (the distance between the poverty line and the median incomes of those below the line).
The United States ranked 25th out of 29 in the percentage of people 15 to 19 years old who were enrolled in schools and colleges and 23rd in the percentage of people in that cohort not participating in either education, employment or training.
We have the highest teen fertility rate, and among the highest infant mortality rates. We have one of the lowest child immunization rates and lowest average birth weights.
Although our children were among the least likely to smoke cigarettes, they were among the most likely to smoke marijuana. (For the record, I’m strongly in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana, but I don’t believe that children are fully capable of understanding the risks and implications of smoking anything.)
Although our children were among the most likely to exercise, they were also the most overweight.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the study is what children themselves say about their levels of personal satisfaction and the quality of their relationships.
American children were in the bottom third when ranking their own level of “life satisfaction.” Our children were 28th out of 29 countries in ranking the quality of their relationships (the French were dead last). Only 56 percent of children in the United States find their classmates “kind and helpful,” 73 percent find it “easy to talk” to their mothers and 59 percent find it “easy to talk” to their fathers.
These were among the worst rankings in the study.
In fact, according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:
2 mothers die in childbirth.
4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.
5 children or teens commit suicide.
7 children or teens are killed by firearms.
67 babies die before their first birthdays.
892 babies are born at low birth weight.
914 babies are born to teen mothers.
1,208 babies are born without health insurance.
1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.
2,712 babies are born into poverty.
2,857 high school students drop out.
4,475 babies are born to unmarried mothers.
That is a supremely sad list of numbers, and it’s only a small sample.
This says nothing of the violent society that we have created for our children. We have the third highest homicide rate among developed countries, according to Unicef. And according to a December Gallup poll, a third of parents fear for their children’s physical safety at school, and most believe it’s likely that a shooting like the one in Newtown, Conn., could happen in their communities.
That only makes sense in a country with nearly as many guns as people, where nearly half of all households have guns in them and where extending federal background checks — while supported by the vast majority of the American public — can’t make it through the Senate.
We hear so much about what we’re leaving behind for future generations, but not nearly enough about how we are failing them today. It is a failure of parenting, a failure of society, a failure of politicians.
We need smart and courageous parenting, as well as policies that invest time and money, love and understanding in our children.
Failures sown one season will surely bloom the next.