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TeacherLore

Montana teens in trouble

What would your response be if you were told that Montana is the fourth worst state in the nation for teens dying of accidents, murders, or suicides?

If you’re the director of Montana Kids Count, it’s that “businesses don’t want to come to a place with high dropout rates, drug and alcohol problems, and child mortality rates. We need to look at attacking those problems as part of economic development.”

Yes, we need to do something about those teen suicides. They’re hurting business.

If you are looking for better answers, you might order a copy of Hardwired to Connect, a report issued by the Commission on Children at Risk and co-sponsored by Dartmouth Medical School, the YMCA, and the Institute for American Values.

A team of 33 medical doctors and mental health and youth counselors found that that humans are biologically “hardwired” to need close connections with others. Teenagers need to be part of what researchers call “authoritative communities"--strong families and schools, religious congregations and other associations that provide belonging, clear limits, and accountability. Without these, young people suffer.

One of the most striking finds in the study is that the longer children of immigrants live in America, the more “they tend to be less healthy and to report increases in risk behaviors. By the third and later generations, rates of most of these behaviors approach or exceed those of U.S.-born white adolescents.” According to Hardwired, childhood in the United States is “at best anemic, in the sense of weak and inadequate to foster full human flourishing, and at worst toxic, inadvertantly depressing health and engendering emotional distress and mental illness.”

Things have gotten worse for teenagers because community institutions that sustain connectedness between people forging shared meanings have “deteriorated significantly in recent decades.” This is “contributing significantly to a range of childhood problems.” Young people who live in poor and troubled families have the most difficulty coping with the effects of social disconnectedness, but even children from prosperous and well-educated families often have serious trouble.

Communities that work for young people have several characteristics:

1.  they include children and youth;
2.  they treat children as ends in themselves, not means to other ends;
3.  they are warm and nurturing;
4.  they set clear standards and limits;
5.  they are led by nonspecialists;
6.  they are multigenerational;
7.  they are focused on the future;
8.  they transmit a shared vision of what it means to be a good person and live a good life
9.  they foster moral, spiritual, and religious development; and
10. they promote the ideals of equal dignity of persons and love of neighbor.

We face a serious challenge. But meeting it would be neither hard nor unpleasant, if we stopped spending so much time and money doing unnecessary things.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/13 at 11:23 PM

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