Helping Our Kids Live Better
All good parents want their children to enjoy a higher quality of life than they did themselves. We want our kids to live longer, be healthier, make better decisions and have all of the things that we might have missed out on. Interestingly enough, parents (and grandparents) also like to remind the kids about the "good old days" – that golden era when kids respected their elders and everything cost a nickel, whether it be a gallon of gas, a trip to the movies or a loaf of bread from the corner market.
It is great to be optimistic about the future and nostalgic about the past, but what are we doing to improve the present? Isn't it possible to have a great life and still hope that our kids have an even better one? And just how good were those "good old days," anyway?
In our quest to help our children achieve that higher quality of life, here are a few things that we are doing better today than yesterday. Of course, that doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement tomorrow.
Nutrition and Disease Prevention
Dr. Charles Shubin, the Medical Director of the Children's Health Center at Mercy FamilyCare in Baltimore, Md., identifies improved nutrition and huge advances in disease prevention as the biggest strides we have made in caring for our young people. True nutritional deficiencies are rare in the United States, and we know more than ever about the importance of eating healthy foods as opposed to junk food. "I tell my patients that if they eat junk, they will become junk, and if they eat healthy, they will become healthy," he says.
In terms of disease prevention, Dr. Shubin points out that many previously common and serious diseases, like polio and measles, have been markedly reduced. Great strides are being made in preventing and eliminating other diseases through the development of vaccines. "The future is bright," he says. "With many vaccines against viral illnesses in the works, I tell my medical students that their practices will be as different from mine as mine is from my dad's, who started in 1938 when there were no antibiotics."
We know more than ever about the dangers of obesity and the importance of fitness, especially for children. However, despite this awareness, the rates of childhood obesity continue to rise.
"I think some people are aware of the importance of regular activity for our kids but unfortunately, there are still a lot of parents who don't realize the extent of the problem when their children are overweight," says Karen Merrill, president of Body Resolve, Inc.
Named 2004's Personal Trainer of the Year by the American Council on Fitness, Merrill would like to see parents limit sedentary activities like watching television and become role models for more physical activities like sports, walking and bike riding. When parents get involved with their children, everyone gets healthier and the family gets to spend more quality time together.
Merrill is also glad to see that parents are making healthier choices about food, especially meals and snacks at school. Soda and candy machines should not be a student's only choices at lunchtime. "Giving kids healthier options allows them more opportunities for choosing better foods," she says.
Hello, Harry Potter
With so much competition for their entertainment time and money, kids are not spending a lot of time reading for pleasure. What is the largest weapon against this decline? The Harry Potter series, the ubiquitous boy wizard is just one of the stars of challenging and engaging literature that seem to be drawing kids back to books. These huge-selling books may be aimed at youngsters but their universal appeal leads not just to reading, but to a shared experience with the whole family. Daunted by the number of pages or uncomfortable with some of the subject matter from Harry? No problem, just pick something more appropriate in terms of vocabulary, tone and content. The goal is to have a child who is a good reader and who enjoys doing it.
Remember the days when writing an elementary school report on a foreign country meant breaking open an encyclopedia and copying down whatever it said about imports, exports, populations and the national flower?
These days, such an assignment would be more like developing a Web page dedicated to that country, e-mailing or chatting with some actual citizens and downloading a picture of the national flower for use on an in-class PowerPoint presentation.
"Our children are now much closer to being citizens of the world because of technology," says Susanne M. Alexander, a marriage counselor and mother of four in Cleveland, Ohio. "They not only meet people throughout the world, they can maintain relationships with people globally. It is highly beneficial for them to have a world view as they move into their lives independent of us, and it is also great that they have friends of many cultures to learn from and appreciate."
Yes, there are risks to technology and Internet usage, and caution and careful parental monitoring are of the utmost importance. That said, our young people have access to an unprecedented amount of information and are using it to develop the skills that will push technology, and society, even further into the future.