Children’s health

Bad joke: Americans really think sexting and internet predators are among the biggest threats to the young

In 2013, more than 1,500 children and teenagers were murdered (half by violence, half by fatal neglect), 200,000 were physically and sexually abused and raped, and 60,000 were criminally bullied in substantiated victimizations by parents and caretakers in their own homes. Eight hundred children and teens are killed, and 80,000 injured, every year by adult “overage” drunken drivers, and hundreds die and hundreds of thousands suffer health effects every year from the secondhand effects of their parents’ cigarette smoking. Sixteen million children and youth live in poverty, with six million suffering utter destitution, harsh conditions that underlie virtually every youth problem: murder, assault, rape, gun violence, sexual issues, violent deaths, traffic deaths, disease, HIV infection, school dropout, and obesity, and many others.

So, what do many more Americans think are bigger problems, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health? Internet safety, school violence, and peer bullying, to name three, with sexting barely edged out by child abuse and neglect. Childhood hunger ranked far below the splashy stuff. Child and youth poverty didn’t even make the rankings. Nor did parents’ and household adults’ alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse, criminality, instability, and abandonment.

Throughout the poll, respondents flocked to the easy, fun “threats” that blamed the personal behaviors of young people, such as drugs, drinking, smoking, bullying, internet behaviors, and school violence. Meanwhile, they exempted the much, much bigger, more disturbing dangers imposed by older generations’ abuses, addictions, mental instability, and selfishness. Put together, internet predators, sexting and bullying, and violence at school might, in a bad year, be linked to 40 documentable fatalities (including all murders, suicides, and accidents) – all tragedies, but nothing approaching the massive toll caused by poverty, parents’ troubles, and abuse.

Kudos to the fraction of grownups who saw through politicians’ and interest groups’ moralistic media splashes and identified genuine problems. Unfortunately, the refusal of top American authorities, including health and medical groups, and most adults to take children’s and youths’ health seriously remains a national shame. (Mike Males)