As parents, we often bemoan how much harder life was when we were growing up — and, even more often, how good kids have it today. Sometimes we take this even further, pointing out the discrepancies between our fairly pampered offspring and the countless children in other countries who live in poverty, fear and mortal danger.
But, do we really know what we're talking about? I mean, do we check objective research and statistics before we just assume these things? (If our own teens were making similar assertions in their AP World History papers, wouldn't their lackluster grades reflect a lack of thorough scholarship?)
Last year, the Global Youth Index was published by the combined efforts of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, the International Youth Foundation and Hilton Worldwide. It ranked 30 individual countries across six "domains" of youths' lives: education, health, citizen participation, economic opportunity, safety and security, and information and communications technology.
As we might hope, the United States was in the top quarter of some of these domains. But, interestingly not all. We were number one in economic opportunity and third in both education and information and communications technology. In safety and security, we were eighth. (Not too great, in my opinion.) We really fell short in citizen participation. In fact, we came in 20th of the 30. And, in another important category, health, we were number twelve. Both of these seem like domains that could — and should — be improved here. Sadly, too much of our public policy caters to the country's wealth rather than its youth.
Citizen participation was measured by indicators such as the existence of a youth policy, volunteer frequency, youth perception of value in society, and youth feeling served by the government.
Health was measured by a mix of indicators, for some of which the U.S. has an advantage. Like water sources and life expectancy. Where we probably fell short were in tobacco use among youth, self-harm among youth, and perceived stress levels.
Nevertheless, we were the only country in the Americas that earned a place in the top 10. We were 6th overall, managing to squeak our way into the top 20th percent. Barely. Ahead of us, in order, were Australia, Sweden, South Korea, United Kingdom, and Germany.
As the sponsors of the index explain, "We have a genuine stake in the success of today’s young people ... (and) ... a shared belief that our future as a society is increasingly dependent on theirs."
As parents (and, especially, mothers), we need to let all of our hopeful (some seemingly hopeless) presidential candidates know that youth policy is a critical issue.
We have work to do.
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