This op-ed article, written by columnist Charles Blow for the NY Times, is a must-read. More than any other article I share with my readers, this one should be printed out and posted on every American’s refrigerator, alongside birthday party invitations and magnets from the last vacation taken, as a daily reminder that we are not doing enough for the children of the United States of America. We’re failing miserably as parents, as politicians, as neighbors and community members, and as a society.
In the article, Blow tells us “according to a Unicef report issued last week — “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries — the United States once again ranked among the worst wealthy countries for children, coming in 26th place of 29 countries included.” He gives us what little good news he can: that the United States has one of the lowest rates of children reporting they smoke regularly or have been drunk at least twice, and that our children are among the most likely to exercise. He also reveals from the study that we have one of the lowest levels of air pollution. In terms of overall educational achievement, Blow tells us “we’re in the middle” and that he was essentially “reaching” to say that he thought that could be considered “good.” He then goes on to reveal the bad news.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, so I’ll just give you some of it below in bullets (I’m tricking myself into thinking if I keep it short that it won’t sound as bad…no need to elaborate on such horrors). You’ll have to read the article to get a true whiff of the stink of how American children are faring. According to the Unicef report:
— The United States has the second highest share of children living under the relative poverty line, defined as 50 percent of each country’s median income
— The United States ranked 25th out of 29 in the percentage of people 15 to 19 years old who were enrolled in schools and colleges and 23rd in the percentage of people in that cohort not participating in either education, employment or training.
— We have the highest teen fertility rate.
— Although our children were among the most likely to exercise, they were also the most likely overweight.
After all the bad news, the worst of it, in my opinion, is yet to come: American children were in the bottom third for ranking their own level of “life satisfaction.” Blow tells us “our children were 28th out of 29 countries ranking their quality of their relationships (the French were dead last)” and that only 56 percent of children in the United States find their classmates “kind and helpful.” He goes on to reveal that 73 percent find it “easy to talk” to their mothers and 59 percent find it “easy to talk” to their fathers.
I would advocate for, just as Blow does, “smart and courageous parenting, as well as policies that invest time and money, love and understanding in our children.” But I would add a phrase that expresses urgency, such as “now” or “right away” or “beginning today” to his idea. The children of today are suffering. It’s not going to get any better without significant upheaval and change. We have to make children a serious priority right now. Otherwise, the United States will continue to be the underachieving, miserable black sheep of the global economy.