Monday, November 28, 2011

Does the American Work Schedule Harm Children? Part III

In the last segment I detailed how Americans are choosing luxuries over free time. Larger homes, more and bigger cars which they drive further, and more food which more of is being prepared by hired help. This need for greed is being driven by a proletariat and bourgeois envious of and striving to be the affluent, if only in appearance. Yet, the greatest needs are being neglected and that is having a huge and damaging effect on our society. The health, welfare and development of children as a whole is being damaged by parents who needlessly devote greater time, attention and dedication to the wants of their employers than their own children. This final installment will be the more didactic portion of this subject.

In the previous segment I told you about how the excessive need for greed is evident in the daily lives of most Americans. Today I will begin by telling you of the disastrous effect it is having on our children's physical health. I left off by showing you the rates at which adult Americans are overweight as a demonstration of the clear excesses that Americans by a large majority participate in. Now let's look at the children.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicates that an estimated 16.9% of children and adolescents aged 2–19 years were obese. That has remained relatively flat since the 1999-2000 survey indicating that progress has been made in at least stopping the upward trend. The 1976-1980 survey indicated a rate of obesity at around 5-6%. This coincides with numerous metrics of adolescent care. The development of consumerism and the "me" generation was in the period immediately preceding this explosion in the rate of childhood obesity.

Additionally, policy and practice began to dictate that children not exercise. You have likely heard the stories from an elder about how he or she had to walk five miles to school, in a foot of snow, uphill each direction. An exaggeration of course but it illustrates the point: that generation did not scoff at having to exert effort to accomplish a task. According to researcher Salon, [2004], in the 1960's 90% of children who lived within a mile of their school walked or biked to school. By 2000 that had been reduced to 31%.

Here is another of the contributors that coincides with the rise in childhood obesity. In 1988 about 15% of children in the age range of nine to seventeen years regularly prepared meals for themselves. 10 years later that had tripled and it is not getting better now. The rate of obesity and the rise in children preparing their own meals nearly parallel each other. This is the result of two factors; parents not supplying sufficient guidance about proper nutrition and parents employing others to prepare meals whose motivation is financial profit rather than the health of children.

As far back as 1990 having dinner as a family was significantly waning. Two-thirds of respondents to a CBS News poll reported having five to seven family dinners in the preceding week yet 85 percent reported having such when they were the age of their children. That downward trend has continued through today. If parents are not there to model good nutrition and healthy eating habits then it is difficult for the children to learn and do it on their own.

But most children are left to fend for themselves now. According to the Center for American Progress on the topic of work and family life balance, “in 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.” This has resulted in dependence upon baby farms. This general cultural ethos of self-centeredness, self-gratification, self-indulgence and materialism has relegated children to the position of an accessory to be brought out for show when needed.

Around 10 years ago a study by four universities found that only 15% of child warehousing centers were excellent while 70% were "barely adequate" and the remaining 15% were rated as abysmal. Do you honestly think that as their use is expanding that they are getting better? Parents that use these child warehouses know the answer. They know they are neglecting their children and harming them but choose to do so anyway. They try to rationalize their abuse through lies they tell themselves.

The biggest lie is that they need the extra money. If this was true then higher income families would not define their incomes the same as those near the poverty line. Both often cite their incomes as "enough to get by". The truth is though that many career oriented parents have elevated their perception of "needs" to match their income in an effort to justify their prioritization of career.

The reality is that secondary earners generally cost a family more than their incomes generate towards discretionary spending. The bulk of the earnings go towards higher taxes followed by transportation and institutionalized child warehousing. There are significant ancillary cost such as hiring food preparers and servers for meals, and stress related health costs which includes mental health counseling and more frequent general illnesses that children suffer when they do not have a stay-at-home parent. There are concomitant cost that can include higher rates of loss from theft of personal property, additional service cost such as lawn maintenance to home and auto repairs. Dual earner families also spend more on entertainment or toys to satisfy the appetites of children who are deprived of personal interaction with those parents. More important though is the costs that cannot be quantified in dollars.

A Los Angeles Times poll found that women with household incomes that would exceed $75,000 now were more likely to say that children interfere with a career. Only 11% felt that their children suffer because of their career choice but 66% felt that they personally suffered. They also said that "working mothers are better mothers than stay-at-home moms." Can you conceive that this "it's all about me" attitude would not be transmitted to the children either through spoken words and actions whether direct or indirect? It hasn't been missed by the children.

Students at Annapolis High School in Maryland conducted a survey of what they thought contributed to violence by children. The number one answer was "lack of parental attention and guidance." A boy who is age 12 says, "I think that if the parents spend more time with their children, they will become better people in life."

When the Colorado Psychiatric Society came up with an essay topic for students the answers again reflected this. Students were asked "What are the issues behind [suicide, depression, eating disorders, drug addiction] that adults need to understand in order to be more helpful?" The consistent and practically universal answer was that parents should be more available to their children, "to listen to us", "Just talk to me . . .make more time in your busy schedule to learn more about me." This is consistent with the measures of harm to children from single parent homes, where parental involvement is often much lower than in comparative single earner, two parent homes.

Children in single parent homes have a greater risk of abuse and neglect, violence and living in poverty. Additionally, the children exhibit increased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, mental illness, substance abuse, delinquencies and poorer academic performance. These measures are now more closely being correlated to dual earner families also as their children suffer emotional and physical neglect.

Physical neglect is apparent based on Heymann’s Urban Working Families study. In that study more than 40% of parents reported that their working conditions negatively affect their children’s health in ways that range from a child missing a needed appointment with a doctor to a child failing to receive adequate early care and causing an illness or condition to worsen. This means that in 40% of the surveys parents were willing to admit to neglecting the healthcare needs of their children because of a higher priority placed on satisfying their employer.

A 1999 study found that high levels of work related stress for both mothers and fathers led to higher levels of conflict between parents and their adolescent children and lower levels of adolescent psychological well-being. Parents who have higher work demands seem to be unable to compensate for this and provide the care that stay-at-home parents do. This time crunch not only creates more hostile home environments but also leads to less interaction with the children and the use of more conveniences such as processed foods and non-stimulating leisure activities such as banal television viewing. A parent who comes home, heats and serves and then vegges out on the couch is not exhibiting a sufficient parenting role.

When parents overwhelm themselves with their careers, love affairs, image building and relationship problems they are more likely to be emotionally neglectful of their children. Their denial based perception that school programs, child warehouses, or organized sports and other structured activities will make up for that necessary one-on-one personalized attention is wholly misplaced. They rarely see it until it smacks them in the face.

It often takes a concrete ultimatum for these parents to set aside their need for greed. This may come in the form of an arrest, pregnancy or hospitalization. When the child's needs are of an emergent nature parents are then more likely to cut back on work to care for their child. In a 2004 study specifically focused on children with mental health disorders, 48% of parents reported that at some time they chose to quit work to care for their children. Another 27% allowed their employment to be terminated to allow themselves time to tend to care responsibilities. Some steadfastly held career as the top priority though.

The Los Angeles Times reported about a boy, age eight, who was suffering from migraine headaches lasting for months. Doctors were unable to find a cause. However, when his father transferred to the local Navy base the headaches disappeared. The doctors concluded that the extended absences of his father were the cause. His father's response, "It's my job. It's what I do. It's what I signed up to do. I love what I do, and I have to provide for my family." That is a man experiencing a tremendous amount of denial and selfishness.

When he became a father he signed up to be a father, for life. He loves his job more than his child. He doesn't provide for his family. His children need him not a bigger house, more toys or Happy Meals. Instead, his son got suffering which this father is prepared to reintroduce should his career demand it. Although this is an example of an acute response to neglect the broader responses exhibited by children are much more pervasive and long-lasting.

Imagine the amount of personal and societal financial costs that was incurred because these parents chose not to tend to their children's needs in a preventative manner. Compound that with the needless pain and suffering that these children have suffered and may affect future generations. Of course not all mental health problems can be eliminated through responsible parenting but the evidence consistently shows that children of dual earner parents suffer more mental health issues than those who have significant ongoing contact with a parent at home. It is not just the children who suffer emotionally though.

A national study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology demonstrated that individuals who faced work-family conflict were two and a half to three times more likely to suffer from a mood or anxiety disorder, respectively, than individuals who did not face such conflict. Parents who are unable to reconcile employment and family conflict become overwhelmed psychologically by this conundrum. Their mental distress additionally creates a more neglectful living environment for the children as well as increased substance abuse by the parents.

Adolescents who spend more than 40% of their time outside of school by themselves are more likely to have lower self-esteem, feel less happy and active, and are less likely to enjoy what they are doing. Children today generally have less respect for authority figures because parents have abdicated their parental responsibility. When they are not there to enforce limits on behaviour and the recreational activities of their children then the children are left to regulate themselves. These parents, who are focused on their careers, sex lives and other gratifications, are left to wonder why their children engage in often risky or destructive personal gratifications.

Amazingly, our society seems surprised when our inexperienced, immature, valueless, and undisciplined children behave in exactly the same way. Children don't respect their parents, care about what their parents think of their behaviour or even fear their parents. Instead of investing time -- which children correlate to love -- parents relegate the needs of their children below that of material acquisitions and employment. This communicates to the children a fundamental disrespect for them that the parents will pay for in the long run.

But that doesn't matter to most neglectful parents as long as they can pay with money. They are happy to have the so-called benefits of their employment; more money; higher social status, self-gratification, and freedom from familial responsibilities. Now they can hire a nanny.

Need more proof that it is all about the money? A 2010 report from the Georgetown University Law Center provides the following;
Having access to short term time off that is paid is the primary factor in parents’ decisions about staying home when their children are sick. Working parents who lack such paid time are one-fifth as likely to care for their children at home when they are sick as compared to parents who have such paid time. Said another way, 80% of parents surveyed said they would only take time off of work to care for their sick child was if their employers paid them to provide such care. Four out of five parents rated getting paid as more important than the child's needs. It's no wonder that children are suffering more illnesses and disease than in the previous generation.

There is an overriding theme that I see among parents of minor children. From media to courtrooms and across the span of my daily excursions into the world I see and hear this attitude; raising children is a burden. Some even go so far as to make the unbearable abusive claim that their children owe them something. Instead of providing the love, companionship, nurturing and guidance that children need far too many parents are trying to disguise their contempt for the child-rearing process by insisting that they need to work extended hours that interfere with their opportunity to fully dedicate themselves to their children.

Likewise children are starting to exhibit these traits. They participate in an unknown competition by displaying their most ostentatious material goods as compensation for the lack of love and dedication that should have been provided to them by their parents. A new generation is learning that children are not something which we make sacrifices for but instead that which is sacrificed for our self-gratification.

Clearly children are getting this message, be it through imitation or having highly marketed, pre-packaged garbage shoved down their throats by parents too busy to take the time to prepare a healthy meal for them. That message is that consumerism, materialism and the need for greed trump self-sacrifice and dedication to family and children. Homes are now filled with the milieu of materialism instead of the personal interaction and family time that makes a home, "home".

Parents who truly love their children and care about them can take the proactive steps necessary to show it to them. Turn off the televisions, put away the electronic gadgets, prepare and eat meals with your children and listen to them. Turn down the overtime or cut back your hours until you no longer tell your child, "I'm too tired." Let your children guide you while you maintain appropriate boundaries. Get them out of the warehouses and back into their home with you. Teach them from home or get more involved with their school and school work. Give them your time. Instill in them a sense of worth by demonstrating that they are more valuable to you than all others, especially an employer.

An investment of your time in your children will pay off in rewards far more than you can imagine. If you are still too self-centered and greedy to do it for your children then do it for yourself. Parents who invest in their children receive rewards for themselves.

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©2008, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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