WASHINGTON – Most parents hope their children will be better off than they were,and many children think they are smarter than their parents. But who is really better off?
Teenagers today are doing better than their parents were in the mid-1970s,according to a report issued Tuesday by the Foundation for Child Development.
The report,the 2008 Child and Youth Well-Being Index Project,based at Duke University,found that children had a 2 percent increase in well-being from 1975 to 2005 and a 0.88 percent increase from 2004 to 2005.
The project compiles data about seven factors for American children from birth to age 18 and calculates overall well-being relative to statistics from the base year,1975.
“The goal is to provide us with a big,comprehensive picture of how American children are doing over time,” said Ruby Takanishi,the foundation's president. “The picture is decidedly mixed,with some progress but not enough.”
The project looks at family economic well-being,health,safety and behavior,education,community connectedness,social relationships and emotional and spiritual well-being.
Statistics are taken from places such as the U.S. Bureau of the Census,the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education.
In 2005,which is the most recent data available,five of the seven categories improved slightly,while the categories of community connectedness and social relationships declined.
For the report,researchers compared an average of scores from 1975 to 1977 to an average of scores from 2003 to 2005.
The study found that teenagers are now slightly more likely to live in families below the poverty line and they are three times more likely to be overweight.
But it also found that teenagers now score slightly higher on reading and math tests; they are at a much lower risk of death from accidents,violence or disease; they are less likely to participate in risky behaviors such as violent crimes,smoking,drinking or pregnancy,and they are more likely to be in school than their parents were.
From 1975 to 1980,well-being was relatively stable. There was a sharp decline from 1980 to 1985 and again in the mid-1990s. In the late 1990s,well-being improved again to levels at or above those in 1975. Well-being has stayed about the same since 2000 at levels slightly above those in 1975.
Experts on a panel who discussed the report agreed that,while many things are getting better,there are still some problems and need for improvement.
Obesity and mental health are of particular concern,said Dr. Anisha Abraham,chief of adolescent medicine at Georgetown University Hospital.
She said that many barriers are keeping children from getting healthy food and physical activity as well as care for mental illnesses.
“Our work is not over,” Abraham said. “There is so much we have to do to make sure their generation is a healthier one.”
Teenage pregnancies are also a concern,said Kelleen Kaye,director of research for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Although the numbers have been declining,they are still large,she said.
“Teenage pregnancy is linked to a number of difficult outcomes for the teenager and the child,” Kaye said.
Studies show a small increase in teen pregnancies in the last year,she said.
Anita Berger,principal of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School,a public school in Washington that focuses on getting students into college,spoke about how the school is an example of a program that helps students succeed.
She said most of her students come from a poor background and many are first-generation college students. The school has a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate. She said a sense of community and committed,motivated teachers are the best way to help students.