How Can and Will Society and Communities Support the Development of Our Children?

By Huebner, Angela; Johnson, Janet M. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview
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How Can and Will Society and Communities Support the Development of Our Children?


Huebner, Angela, Johnson, Janet M., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


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"By most measures, teenagers across the country are doing well. Most teens, most of the time, make choices that protect them from harm" (Blume and Rinehart, 1995, p 9).

Can we relax with the thought that the above statement is true? Who's nurturing and providing mentoring for the teens and soon to be young adults? The examination of several current trends is helpful in answering this question. First, families experience much greater mobility today than in years past, often living miles from grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins. Extended family care, once the norm for the care of children and teens, has virtually disappeared. Additionally, frequent relocations make it difficult for families to establish a neighborhood network of support. After all, why should families spend their limited discretionary time meeting neighbors who might be gone tomorrow? Further, why should parents discipline others' children when they could end up being sued? Finally, the difficulty in raising financial support for declining schools via increases in property taxes provides further evidence of community members' unwillingness to take responsibility for each other.

Together these trends help to explain the decline of the concept of neighborhood monitoring. Neighborhood monitoring is the idea that neighbors watch out for each other and for the young people in their community. They feel a sense of connection and responsibility for each other. They provide the extended family concept in the absence of other relatives. To ensure the success of our youth, adults must make a concerted effort to become connected neighborhoods again- even in highly urban areas of mint-family dwellings. Further, adults must be willing to take responsibility and allow others to take responsibility for concern, correction and caring about young people.

How is this to be accomplished? With respect to youth, planners should strive to implement programs that meet young people's developmental needs. Researchers agree that, for youth to become successful contributing members of our communities, several developmental needs must be met (Pittman & Irby, 1996, Search Institute, 1995). First, youth must have a sense of safety and structure in their world. They must feel a sense of predictability. They should not have to worry about being violated either physically or emotionally. Second, youth must have a sense of closeness and belonging and they must feel connected to their communities. Third, youth must feel like they have important and unique contributions to make. They need to feel like their presence makes a difference. Finally, youth must have the opportunity to explore their abilities and to master skills. All of these areas are critical for ensuring positive youth development for our young people and must be a part of programs that provide support, opportunities, and services, often in the absence of extended family care.

Currently there seems to be a myriad of communities and organizations that address the risk issues of children and adolescence. Research reveals that problem behaviors tend to co-occur and that risk factors tend to predict multiple poor outcomes (Durlak, 1998). Because of this overlap, program planners can no longer afford to work in isolation from or in competition with each other. They must pool their efforts to target specific risk factors and provide promising protective factors. They must work together to help youth form strong connections to their families, schools, and communities.

In an on-going longitudinal study of adolescent health, Michael Resnick and colleagues (1997) found that such connections were critical for youth. Specifically, they found youth that reported feeling strongly connected to their families were protected against multiple health risks including emotional distress and suicidal thoughts and attempts, cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use; violent behavior; and early sexual activity.

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