I have watched children over the past 30-plus years grow up and become a professional listener of parents and children, if you will.
We can intellectualize about what a father should be and what a mother should be, but most importantly, we need to understand it from a child’s perspective: When a 3- or 5-year-old or 15-year-old child looks at mom or dad in the evening, standing in the kitchen, what does that child see and what does that child need?
Our children are currently facing challenges that none of us in this room faced when we were growing up.
The average child spends more time on the [media] screen than he or she spends in school. The average amount of time a child spends with a parent is 34 minutes per day.
You add up the numbers and it’s pretty clear what is having a very large influence over our children.
I have seen personally, and the research confirms this, a swell in the amount of depression in children, anxiety in children, many other ills….
We are seeing increased violence in television and movies and music, not only the increased frequency but increased intensity
We also know that children are watching increased intensity and frequency of sex scenes on television and in the movies. This is a grave concern of mine — particularly because I have treated a number of teenagers — a lot of teenagers — with pain due to sexual activity too early. Specifically, I am talking about sexually transmitted infections … from children being sexually active far too early with too many sexual partners.
Ladies and gentlemen, our children need us to talk about hard things. Our kids are exposed to tremendous dangers out there. We know the answer — and that’s the great part about the work that I do as a pediatrician. We have the answers … research has told us.
A beautiful study called the ADD Health study began a number of years with 90,000 kids in America. And they determined to find out one thing: What is operating in a child’s life that keeps them away from all the bad stuff? What keeps them away from sex, drugs and alcohol?
The researchers found something startling: It wasn’t peers, it wasn’t school programs, it wasn’t getting our kids more involved in after school activities. It was something called “parent connectedness.”
In other words, again through the eyes of children and teenagers, our kids are telling us, “We need moms and dads in our lives, engaged and available, protecting us, teaching us, and setting us on the right path in life.” They wanted it and they are open to it.
The body of research is growing on the positive effects of children who grow up with their fathers — and the negative effects if they don’t have them. We know that teen boys and girls who live with a father in their home are far less likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, to get into sex, drugs and alcohol early, and they are far more likely to get better grades, to finish high school and to go onto college and graduate schools. And these are studies of not great dads; these are studies that show a dad in the home. His presence protects girls and boys.
Psychologists have also talked about the relationship between the mother and the father — interestingly, psychologists have thought that a child simply needs a relationship with a mother and a relationship with a father. But what we now know is that the children gain security from the relationship between the two.
We also know a lot about identity formation in children — that strong character development comes from having a diverse exposure of the masculine and the feminine …
This is because through a child’s eyes, when Dad tells a child something it’s very different from when Mother tells a child something …
Another factor that is proven to strengthen children and their sense of value is faith. Believe it or not, research says that God is good for kids. And there is a lot of research on that …It is the moral structure? In part. Is it having a faith community? In part. Is it because you have responsibility and accountability? Is it because you have a Higher Power that you believe is good and that you relate to? Probably all of those things.
But as a pediatrician who wants to do my best for children, I can’t ignore the faith factor with my children.
I have literally watched thousands of kids grow up and my personal experience affirms all of this research that I just talked about … I believe very strongly that the fullest opportunity that a child has to develop a strong identity and a sense of value as a person is to have the diverse exposure of a mother and a father and a faith, because then you have a complete picture for a child: the masculine and the feminine.
• Meg Meeker, M.D., (megmeekermd.com) is a best-selling author and leading authority on parenthood, children and teen health. She has a pediatric practice in Traverse City, Michigan, and is assistant clinical professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She is married and has adult children and two grandchildren. Her latest book is “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters Devotional: 52 Devotions Every Father Needs.”
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