AP NEWS

Today’s kids face new challenges

April 24, 2018 GMT

Can your child run a mile? According to the American Heart Association, the average child’s mile time is up 90 seconds from the 1980s, and children’s cardiovascular endurance has been dropping 5 percent every decade. Meanwhile, about 1 in 6 children is obese, and more are overweight or living sedentary lifestyles.

It’s not just the physical health of our children that’s in decline. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 30 percent of teen girls and 20 percent of teen boys will experience an anxiety disorder. Overall, the prevalence of anxiety and depression among adolescents has been gradually increasing for several years.

Child health experts point to various factors in today’s adolescent health crisis, but two big ones stand out. First, poor dietary habits have become normalized, and kids are eating higher-calorie, less-nutritious meals. In addition, technology and screens have come to dominate our kids’ everyday experiences.

Overall, parents and schools have prioritized convenience and cost while failing to provide their kids with healthy diets. If kids are going to a school with soda machines and pizza or chicken tenders for lunch, then coming home to eat instant macaroni and cheese, it would be no surprise they’re unhealthy. All things considered, adolescents are a product of their environment, and when they grow up in a state where 31 percent of adults are obese, our generation’s bad habits make their way to the next.

Although bad diets have been around since my childhood, smartphones and social media are another matter. Now nearly every teenager is carrying a smartphone — a source of constant distraction and anxiety. Research shows that after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, teen behavior changed dramatically: there was a precipitous drop in teen behavior like spending time with friends, learning to drive, dating, and sleeping. Concurrently, there was an increase in anxiety and loneliness. In essence, “social” media was not facilitating connections among young people but supplanting them.

What can parents do to ensure their kids are healthy and happy?

This question isn’t easy — it’s the bedrock issue under all of parenting, and there’s no panacea. Kids raised by divorced parents, grandparents, or foster parents will have different issues than those in nuclear families. However, we can at least identify the issues adolescents are facing and create healthy, supportive home environments.

Make sure your kids are getting to spend time outside, and have healthy meals prepared for them at home. Place reasonable limitations on technology, and make sure you’re communicating with your child and providing them with support if they’re anxious or depressed.

These issues may be pronounced among today’s youth; we shouldn’t evaluate previous generations through rose-tinted glasses. Rates of teen smoking have decreased by more than 80 percent in the last 25 years, drug and alcohol use has declined, and youth violence has declined dramatically. Just recently, teens across the country showed a remarkable degree of civic engagement as they organized against gun violence. The generation growing up today will be tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers and soldiers.

Let’s make sure they have everything they need to succeed.

State Rep. Tomas Uresti represents District 118.