A fundamental goal of good parents is wanting to ensure their children have the best quality of life possible. However, are today’s children better or worse off than kids of previous generations?
A new poll published by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital has found that most people surveyed believe that children are experiencing a worse quality of life today than in the past. Specifically, in regards to mental and emotional health, stress and quality family time.
Poll responders included just under 2,700 adults, who were considered to be a “nationally representative sample.” When asked if kids’ mental and emotional health is better or worse today than when they were kids, 55 percent said it is worse. As far as quality family time, 65 percent said that kids today have less. On the matter of quality personal friendships, 42 percent said kids today have fewer of these, as well.
Physical health was also in question. When poll responders were asked if kids today are more or less healthy than they were growing up, 42 percent said that kids today are less healthy.
Dr. Matthew M. David, professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and director of the poll, stated:
“We have seen major advances in medicine and public health over the last century that have greatly reduced children’s illness and death. On the other hand, conditions like childhood obesity, asthma and behavior problems have become more common.”
So, why is this the case? Why aren’t children today thriving, and enjoying better health than the previous generation? While there isn’t one blanket explanation, the following six factors sure aren’t helping:
Too much sugar
When it comes to our health, and especially children’s health, sugar is poison. Not only is this substance — which is in virtually every packaged food — linked to obesity, diabetes, and even certain cancers, it may also lead to depression and other behavioral problems. Plus, it’s addictive
Too many processed foods
Sugar is not the only evil lurking in processed foods. These foods contain an array of additives, artificial colors and flavors, plus a lot of unhealthy oils. Many kids today gobble up these foods by the ton, and it’s not only putting their physical health at risk, it may be affecting behavior, too.
Excessive screen time
According to a 2015 national survey by Common Sense Media, children between the ages of eight and 12 get about four and a half hours of screen time per day. That’s a whole lot of time staring at screens! Kids today have access to an array of technology, which can have many benefits, but can also damage health significantly.
To name just a few detriments, excessive social media use may actually lower social skills and communication skills, and contribute to anxiety and depression.
A sedentary lifestyle
Tied into too much screen time is too much time spent sitting. From the classroom to the couch, today’s kids sit around a lot. All that sitting not only takes time away from the exercise necessary to stay healthy, it can also contribute to a number of ailments, including joint and muscle pain, and a range of chronic illnesses.
Not enough time outside
Screen time, indoor classes and hours of homework contribute to kids spending more and more time inside. In fact, a recent survey found that many of today’s kids spend less time outside than prison inmates! This is a shame, as spending time out in nature has a world of physical and mental health benefits.
Kids today face more standardized tests than ever, and struggle with new social challenges because of the widespread use of social media. This can contribute significantly to stress. And, with their often busy schedules, they may not spend nearly enough time unwinding and simply being kids. It’s been shown that chronic stress is disastrous to health.
What can we do?
The solution to improving the health of our kids may lie largely in quality family time, and the healthy use thereof. It’s not just kids who are eating unhealthy foods, sitting around frequently and wasting hours glued to screens: Entire families often function this way.
In order to encourage optimal health in your child, and throughout your entire family, make healthy family time a priority. As often as you can, spend time outside doing something active with your loved ones. Talk face to face — instead of in a comments section — and be sure to listen to one another.
It sounds cliché, but prioritizing family mealtime — without screens involved — can also help a lot. Bonus points if you’re cooking healthy meals together. This teaches kids culinary skills they can use throughout their lives. All in all, everyone benefits.