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Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2006 / 3 Shevat 5766

Betsy Hart

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It takes a village — sort of


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | As a single mom of four young children, I've seen firsthand that it does take a village to raise a child.


So I wasn't surprised to come across the report, "Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities," published by the Institute for American Values in New York City.


Now back up — a village?


You bet. Only, not the kind of village that Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to envision, one with lots of federal spending and government programs and day care. That kind of stuff is easy. It doesn't really ask anything of us. I mean the kind of village where adults are committed to sacrificing of themselves for their own children and the children in the community. A village where we recognize that the needs of children are not for federal dollars or programs, but for human and spiritual connection, connection to something bigger than themselves.


That's what's too often missing in our communities, say the members of the Commission on Children at Risk who authored "Hardwired," a panel of leading children's doctors and research scientists combining both the physical and social sciences in a major report on children.


Here's what the commissioners found: "One of every four adolescents in the U.S. is currently at serious risk for not achieving productive adulthood, 21 percent of U.S. children ages 9 to 17 have a diagnosable mental disorder or addiction, 8 percent of high school students suffer from clinical depression, and 20 percent of students report seriously having considered suicide in the past year."


Just consider this startling finding: "By the 1980s, U.S. children as a group were reporting more anxiety than did children who were psychiatric patients in the 1950s."


One of the most interesting conclusions of the report was that as a society we typically focus only on treating the individual youth with the problem, instead of better comprehending that those youths with individual pathologies are, generally speaking, really just the tip of a very large iceberg. Perhaps that's because this would require the village to confront and finally challenge the social changes that in many cases are producing these pathologies, and that seems to be something the village does not want to do.


As the commissioners put it, unfortunately "the bias (in our culture) is consistently against recognizing and confronting those dimensions of a problem that are structural, systemic, and social, and in favor of interventions that are clinical, highly targeted, and oriented to individual pathology."


Bottom line? We need to move from a culture that just focuses on illness in some youths (which of course needs to be treated) and emphasizes instead promoting wellness throughout a generation currently at risk.


The commissioners used the term "authoritative" to mean deliberately created communities that provide warmth and structure. First and foremost is the two-parent, married biological or adoptive family. Flash: We must finally admit that this is the best environment for raising children, and that its demise is directly related to the rise in social pathologies among youths. Yes, sometimes that demise is inescapable and, of course, these pathologies can be overcome — but that's a lot harder to do when we don't first admit to the tragedy of broken families, the tragedy they are for all the children in the village.


Another major finding? That we are biologically primed to be spiritual people, and that "the human brain appears to be organized to ask ultimate (spiritual) questions and seek ultimate answers." No surprise here, the commissioners also discovered that "religiosity and spirituality significantly influence well being." Conversely, "denying or ignoring the spiritual needs of adolescents may end up creating a void in their lives that is filled by other forms of quests and challenges, such as drinking, unbridled consumerism, petty crime, sexual precocity, or flirtations with violence."


In other words, the more secular our society becomes, whether in the public or in the private square, the more we put our children at risk.


Is the village ready to tackle that problem?


The commissioners came up with a list of recommendations for individuals, neighborhoods, workplaces and private and public resources. But "Integral to the (proposed) efforts," said one commissioner, "is a philosophical commitment that young people are resources to be developed, not problems to be solved." And, he might have added, that takes real, personal sacrifice and commitment — not just federal dollars and government programs — from the village.

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