A new in-depth qualitative research study conducted by American Humane Association finds that fewer than half of U.S. adults believe our nation’s children are healthy, receive a good education, or are safe. “The State of America’s Children” drew on a geographically, ethnically, and age-diverse group of parents, step-parents, grandparents, step- grandparents, grown siblings, aunts, uncles and other adults, for their views on a wide range of topics including: The top perceived threats to the welfare, wellness and well-being of today’s children; What barriers currently in their path can interfere with the future we want for our young people; Physical and emotional issues, including health, obesity, bullying, teen pregnancy; Educational issues; Drugs and alcohol; Crime and violence; Parenting; Governmental and environmental issues; Financial issues; and how we see our current treatment of America’s children and their condition.
While there were a number of results that gave cause for hope, including the degree to which adults are attuned to the challenges facing today’s children, the study found that the respondents see a daunting array of traditional and emerging dangers facing children today, and many hold bleak views about their physical, emotional and educational condition, as well as how children in America are valued and treated. Interestingly, men were about twice as likely as women to see children as healthy and safe.
Key findings of the 2015 State of America’s Children research study include:
The Top Three Perceived Threats to Children: When asked to list the top threat to children, the greatest number of respondents cited educational concerns as the top issue, followed by physical and emotional threats, bad parenting/no moral values, and drugs/alcohol.
Concerns Over Specific Threats: The degree of adult concern over specific threats to the welfare, wellness and well-being of our children is both reassuring in that they are not unaware of the problems facing our young people, and worrisome in the degree to which adults believe that these problems are affecting today’s children. In a number of issue areas it is clear that media attention and awareness programs on emerging dangers are reaching adults and having an impact. In fact, on a five-point scale of “Unconcerned,” “Very Little Concern,” “Somewhat Concerned,” “Very Concerned,” and “Extremely Concerned,” many specific topics elicited the highest responses of “Very Concerned” or “Extremely Concerned,” including: Texting while driving (87%); Absence of good adult supervision (86%); Absence of positive attention by adults (83%), Illicit drugs (83%); Bullying (73%); Exposure to family violence (72%); Drugs/alcohol (72%); Poverty (72%); Obesity (71%); Sexual abuse (71%); Physical abuse (70%); Dropping out of school (70%); Exposure to violence in neighborhood (68%); Cyberbullying (67%); Homelessness (65%); Social isolation (64%); Sexual trafficking (59%); Dating violence (56%); Teen pregnancy (56%); Depression (55%); Violent video games (50%); Violent TV (50%); Violent movies (49%); War (42%); and Terrorism (43%).
Relatively newer, serious dangers such as cyberbullying and texting while driving prompting significant concern ranked highly (67% and 87% respectively). A majority of people ranked what can be less obvious emotional threats such as social isolation (64%) and depression (55%) as very or extremely concerning, giving them the kind of prominence once more commonly reserved for highly visible more physical threats.
Interestingly, despite media attention, the threat of terrorism did not play high on adults’ worries for today’s young people. And the respondents were now split on other former hot-button issues such as violence in entertainment, with only half believing violence in videos, movies and television is a significant concern. Abuse and real-life violence of all kinds were prominent in adults’ concerns, while extremely rare threats such as kidnapping hardly made an appearance.
These survey findings regarding concerns around physical and emotional well-being are consistent with what The Academic Pediatric Association (APA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have deemed the most important problem for U.S. children – the effects of poverty on child health and wellbeing, e.g. lack of affordable healthy food, lack of exercise, obesity and other physical/emotional health issues.
Men Twice as Likely as Women to See Children as Healthy and Safe
Perceptions About the Treatment of Children in America: We asked the nation’s adults to assess how they feel children in America are being treated in a broad number of ways. Some of the results, especially those tied to the age-old American ideals of opportunity, reflected continuing hope for the next generation, and men were about twice as likely to see a rosy picture when asked about children’s health and safety, but a marked preponderance of those dealing with the physical, emotional and educational realities facing today’s young people were alarming, with surprising numbers of people saying they either “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” with the following statements: Children in America go hungry (82%); Children in America have opportunities to achieve/do well in life (74%); Children in America have opportunities to contribute/be generous/help (73%); Children in America have opportunities to play outside (66%); Children in America have access to health care (62%); Children in America are safe (48%) [Note: Men were more sanguine (63.8%) than women (34%) on this point]; Children in America receive good education (47%); Children in America have a connection to their self-identified culture (47%); Children in America are protected from harm (46%) [Note: Staying consistent, men were twice as likely to agree (61.7%) as women (32.1%)]; Children in America are treated with respect (44%); Children in America feel safe (43%) [Note: More than twice as many men agreed (59.6%) compared with women (28.3%)]; Children in America have access to mental health care (42%); Children in America have more than one adult who is unconditionally crazy about them/positively involved in their lives (39%); Children in America are emotionally healthy/cope well/help others/accept help from others (37%); Children in America are physically healthy (24%) [Note: Once again, a notable difference opinion arose across gender lines with 31.9 percent of men and just 17 percent of women agreeing].
Opinions on What Government Should Focus On
Based on the concerns adults expressed in this survey, we asked their thoughts about what government should focus on to ensure a healthy future for America’s children. Educational issues were runaway top responses (42%), followed by issues affecting physical and emotional well-being, government and environmental issues (11%), financial problems (7%), and government intervention in parenting (5%).
Are Children in America Valued or Exploited?
Americans are divided when it comes to an overall assessment of how children are treated in this country. When asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Childhood in America is valued,” 51 percent said they “agree” or “strongly agree.” As with their assessments of children’s safety, there was a notable difference of opinion on this point between men and women. Nearly seven in 10 men (68.1%) felt childhood is valued in this country compared to just over a third of women (35.8 percent). Similarly, when asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Children in America are exploited,” more than half (51%) said they “agree” or “strongly agree.” As with the previous question, women had a bleaker view than men with nearly six in 10 agreeing (58.5%) versus four in 10 men (42.6%).
In a nation that has long cherished and even idolized childhood, these are bleak, even startling results.
“American Humane Association has been assessing problems and developing protections for children and animals since 1877,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, the organization’s president and CEO. “To better understand the challenges children face today, we created The State of America’s Children research study to gauge American adults’ perceptions of threats, fears, or issues facing children and youth. It is critical for us to find where those perceptions are correct and where they are misinformed so that we may continue to develop meaningful programs and protections that aid our most vulnerable. Through a series of studies on the key factors affecting our nation’s young people, we hope to provide parents, social scientists, policymakers and others who see the condition and future of our youth as inextricably intertwined our own with data and insights that may lead to a better collective understanding of the State of America’s Children.”
To see the full report go to http://www.americanhumane.org/children/state-of-americas-children-research-2015.pdf.
This research study explored more than 50 questions on a wide variety of topics involving a geographically, ethnically, and age-diverse sampling of 100 parents, step-parents, grandparents, step-grandparents, grown siblings, aunts, uncles and other adults. Our survey research partner was Fieldwork, a respected leader in world-class marketing research services and facilities for over 30 years. With 16 state-of-the art facilities across the United States, and a multi-market project management team that covers the globe, Fieldwork brings a credible research engine to the study. We gratefully acknowledge the work of child psychologist Dr. Caren Caty and Dr. Sue Lohrbach, children’s programming specialist, both senior fellows at American Humane Association’s Children’s Innovation Institute in designing and refining this survey instrument to capture a wide range of physical, emotional, and situational issues facing today’s children. We also wish to acknowledge the contributions of Dr. Mabel McKinney-Browning, children’s advocate and member of the American Humane Association board of directors.