When my children were growing up, I often wished I had a handbook for raising children.
Something like when they do this, you do this and all will be well with the world and the children will grow up happy and healthy.
Sure there was Dr. Spock and one I can’t even think of the name now that were must reads in the 1980s.
I just googled looking for the name and can’t find it, but I see today’s young parents have “Raising the Spirited Child” and “Raising Children who Think for Themselves” and even “Raising the Vegetarian Child.”
It just wasn’t easy, but then it never is, in any generation. Especially with the first child. You analyze every action and wonder if I do or say this will I cause him irreparable harm. I convinced myself for the longest time that I stifled my oldest son’s creativity when at 4 I refused to buy him red tennis shoes. Red? White was so much better.
All this to get back to my main point: This morning the associate pastor at my church handed me a single page of information that could have served as my playbook for childrearing. It was from Search Institute, a Minneapolis based non-profit whose mission is to promote healthy children.
On this sheet of paper was a list of 40 developmental assets children should have to be successful in life. Things like family support, caring school climate, service to others, creative activities, motivation, positive values, decision making, sense of purpose.
And of course there is self-esteem, which so many well-educated yet misguided people have mocked in recent years.
The list seems like common sense stuff. Tell the truth. Read for pleasure. Be creative. Serve others.
But here’s the rub.
Researchers were careful to say there was no magic number for how many attributes children need, but the data showed 31 of the 40 were “worthy, though challenging.”
Eight percent of the children studied had 31 or more.
Seventeen percent had zero to 10.
The average was 18.
And the number got worse as the child aged. In sixth grade, the average number of assets was 23, by 12th grade it was 17.8.
The research also showed it made no difference where the child lived – rural, suburban or urban. Socioeconomic status mattered not. Neither did race.
Here’s some more stats:
Of the children with zero to 10 attributes, 45 percent had problem alcohol use, 62 percent were violent, 38 percent used drugs and 34 percent were sexually active.
On the other end of the spectrum, 3 percent of children with more than 31 attributes had problems with alcohol, 6 percent were violent, 1 percent used drugs and 3 percent were sexually active.
As we try to teach our children, all action – parental and otherwise – has consequences.
The associate pastor gave me this information because he was telling me about the meeting of the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at our church, Pelham Road Baptist, April 23 and 24. The overarching theme of the meeting is being intentional about student ministry.
That means making student ministry a congregational effort rather than a department in the church. One session for student ministers is based on Search Institute’s study. The meeting planners know churches cant compete with new media and television and video games, but they can compete when it comes to relationships. Several of the assets Search Institute identified had to do with children having relationships with adults other than their parents.
It’s yet another stab at living that age-old African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child.