Childhood, regardless of one’s background, ethnicity, or country of origin, should be a time of wonder and joy. Unfortunately, this is far from the case for so many of our youth today. In fact, we took a look at this dilemma a few years ago. Now, several years removed from that initial accounting, we decided to revisit the topic.
It seems that while some issues have certainly improved, new problems have risen to the forefront, while others continue to be a nagging problem. It is also interesting to note the interrelationships of many of the foregoing issues in terms of cause and effect – hunger, for example, has relational ties to the burgeoning health crisis. This begs the question: has our world improved the plight of its children? You can be the judge after considering the ramifications of 10 more enormous issues facing today’s youth.
10. Culturally Induced Bias of Gender Inequality
The problems of adulthood begin in childhood. When we think about issues of inequality, in whatever form it takes, we tend to think of the struggles that adults face every day. What we tend to miss is that these persistent issues have a genesis in predisposed assumptions and lessons that many cultures impose on childhood experiences. In layman’s terms, we become perpetrators and victims of inequality as children. Whoa, right?
Essentially, children learn that there is a distinct difference between boys and girls very early. Think about it. In a number of countries around the world, for example, cultures actively deny girls an education. While boys are in school, learning to read and write, young girls stay at home. Internationally, about 62 million girls are deliberately uneducated. Upwards of 15 million young girls find themselves forced into marriages by their families with no input into the matter whatsoever. When we talk a little later about the horrors of human trafficking, understand that 4 out of 5 victims are young girls. This list, obviously, goes on.
The culturally imposed message is that boys have value and girls are just a commodity. Developed nations such as the United States are not immune either. In American schools, how often are boys singled out over girls for special attention, leadership roles, and given preference in general activities? It’s the new millennium, yet we see many of the same practices that set the stage for gender relations in the 1800s. The implicit messages are similar – boys are smarter, more prized, and more capable than girls are.
For young girls, this cultural bias engenders issues such as low self-esteem, victimization (physical and emotional), and minimization of personal growth opportunities. Considering the fact that women make up roughly 50% the world’s population – this represents a significant number of individuals who can find themselves disadvantaged at an early age. Males who buy into their culturally imposed gender indoctrination develop an unjustified sense of superiority that perpetuates the dilemma. Just imagine the progress that our societies could make, the wonders that we could achieve if we harnessed to full potential of our population, instead of only half of it.
9. The Tragedy of Teen Suicide
Few events can so thoroughly shock a family or a community than a child who takes their own life. Yet the scope of the problem is truly and shockingly prevalent. In the US, approximately, 5,000+ children (from ages 7 to 12) attempt suicide – a day – resulting in a little less than 5,000 deaths a year! This stunning number is greater than what kids face from such tragedies as cancer or AIDS. In fact, it ranks as the second leading cause of death among those 10 to 24 years of age. Worldwide, suicide accounts for an estimated 800,000 deaths a year – making this tragedy the fifteen leading cause of death in the world. Not surprisingly, firearms are the preferred instrument used to take one’s own life. Suicide is a clear and present danger lurking in the midst of our youth.
Yet, we don’t really hear a lot about this silent killer. True enough, this is a tragedy that families will often internalize in response to their grief. Experts, however, make the point that suicide is often preventable. This is possible because suicide is not typically an impulse reaction and detectable warning signs usually signal when there is a problem. Symptoms such as unexpected reclusive behavior, prolonged sadness, and communication about death are common. Dramatic changes in a teen’s life, such as a death of a loved one, intense bullying, or major family disruptions can trigger suicidal thoughts. In many instances, there may be a previously unaddressed, underlying mental health issue. Nevertheless, research shows that a high degree of success is possible for troubled teens who receive help in time. For a child, death should never be an option of resolution.
8. Inadequate Health Care
In this modern age of medical technology, many of the world’s children needlessly suffer from health related maladies that are easily treatable if they simply had access to the proper care. Unfortunately, too many do not. As a result, approximately 7.7 million children die unnecessarily every year – roughly 29,000 kids a day! Consider the fact that the primary causes of death for children under the age of 5 are: pre-term complications at the time of birth, pneumonia, birth asphyxia, diarrhea and malaria – all of which are largely preventable and treatable. It is not a surprise that the world’s poorest countries, primarily in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa suffer the most. Many of these nations simply lack the financial means and infrastructure, not to mention the social stability to tackle the problem. It is also worth noting that in many of the countries with the highest child mortality rates and subsequently substandard health systems have recently or are currently engaged in armed conflict.
Conversely, while inadequate health care related problems are typically associated with developing countries, developed nations such as America are not immune (no pun intended). Poor families in America struggle to provide their children with such necessities as basic vaccinations and regular check-ups. For many, medical care is non-existent except in the direst of emergencies. In fact, financial considerations that often delay parents from seeking out medical assistance significantly contribute to the deaths young children suffer.
The point, however, is that the vast majority of these deaths are easily preventable with such intervention as readily available vaccinations to combat outbreaks of measles and polio, proper levels of nutrition and something as simple as insecticide treated bed nets that can ward of malaria carrying insects.
7. The Serious Threat of Bullying
Our initial question when considering this topic for our list was simply, ‘is bullying really a serious issue facing our youth?’ Sure, it receives quite a bit of media attention, but the truth of the matter is that bullying is not exactly a new phenomenon. Well, one look at the numbers is all it takes to realize the seriousness of this problem. Over 3 million kids are victims of bullying every year. We are not talking about the generally harmless teasing that is a part of normal childhood social interactions. Rather, we are pointing out a much more troubling trend of serious behaviors.
The official definition of bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” In other words, we are talking about kids who physically, mentally, and emotionally intimidate and traumatize their peers. Using tactics akin to military psyops (psychological operations), bullies utilize fear, violence, and technology to harass their victims. So-called cyber bullying, for example, allows bullies to victimize their peers using smartphones and the internet. Harassment of this nature can range from the sending of threatening texts to posting unflattering or embarrassing photos on social media.
Whatever the means, the results of bullying can be devastating. Direct confrontation with bullies – a favorite solution of parents in the past – can turn violent. More than likely, victims of bullying will suffer in silence. A sad truth is that almost 70% of those bullied report feeling their school or trusted adults offer little in the way of assistance. As such, many victims attempt to endure the harassment in silence. This tactic, tragically, typically leads to issues such as low self-esteem, debilitating anxiety and learning difficulties. In the worst of cases, victims who feel trapped with nowhere to turn will resort to suicide. If we consider that upwards of 90% of our youth in elementary through middle school experience bullying, this issue is not only serious; it has reached epidemic proportions.
6. The Un-Virtual Reality of Internet Exploitation
The danger is real. In the US alone, an estimated 300,000 youths are directly at risk of becoming a victim of sexual exploitation. The advances in technology have intimately connected us with one another in a fashion unlike any other time in history. While this increased connectivity offers numerous advantages, it has also provided another perilous avenue for the exploitation of our youth. This is certainly the case with the World Wide Web. No longer confined to a closely and easily monitored internet hookup on a home computer, kids have numerous means of web access. With smartphones, tablets and pad readily available, kids can hop online literally anywhere, at any time. Just as troubling, even if parents place safeguards on a child’s electronic devices, there is no guarantee that the parents of a child’s friends will do the same.
It is not surprising, therefore, that over 90% of teens are actively online. Unfortunately, the online activities of teens are not restricted to benign activities. 40% of youths, for example, admit to watching online porn. Even more distressing, an increasing number of kids report exchanging sexual content – including nude photos of themselves – with people they have met online. This includes setting up accounts while claiming to be adults in order to circumvent age requirements used by many social media outlets.
Even in instances in which kids are not exposing themselves to potential danger, their unmonitored presence online presents an inviting target for child predators. Using chat rooms and other similar social media outlets where youths gather, child predators search for unsuspecting victims to befriend. These criminals will offer money, gifts and seemingly understanding companionship in order to entice youths into compromising situations – usually illicit sexual relationships. Suffice to say, the internet is an open forum wrought with danger for youths who simply do not understand the risk and pitfalls that lay before them.
5. The Collateral Damage of the Opioid Epidemic
We listed the war on drugs in our previous list and while the opioid epidemic is definitely center stage in this fight, its relation to our youth is a bit more involved than what you might expect. Make no mistake, however, in dismissing the opioid problem lightly. An estimated 2.5 million people are either abusing or dependent on this drug. Approximately 33,000 opioid abusers die annually; a number that represents 60% of all drug related deaths. Clearly, this is a problem of significant proportions.
Our youth, however, represent a very small percentage of opioid abusers. This doesn’t mean they do not suffer or are not adversely affected by this epidemic. Quite the opposite, in fact, as over 2 million children live in a household in which at least one parent abuses or is dependent on illegal drugs. Even more troubling, a survey conducted in 2007-2012 identified approximately 21,000 pregnant women who admitted to abusing opioids annually! The occurrence of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a possible health complication affecting newborns exposed to opioid use during pregnancy, jumped a staggering 300% between 1991 and 2013. NAS complications include impaired behavioral and cognitive development.
For those children in a household with drug abusing parents, neglect is a common occurrence. Neglected children quickly discover they have to fend for themselves for such everyday necessities as food and clothing. Consequently, the number of children placed in foster care due to neglect from a drug-abusing parent has risen dramatically, representing over 30% of placements. Without question, the opioid epidemic is a communal problem, affecting not only those who find themselves personally addicted, but for all of society as well.
4. The Shadowy World of Child Prostitution
For far too long, child prostitution has thrived in the shadows of the communities of the world. Yet, there is no doubt about the tragic nature posed by the global scale of this tragedy. Whether we are talking about seedy brothels that like those found in Thailand or neon lite avenues in the US, the child sex trade is widespread. Approximately 1 to 2 million children under the age of 18 are forced into providing sexual services for profit annually.
Many of these victims are young runaways who find themselves turning to prostitution out of perceived necessity. Runaways tend to be a prime target for pimps and human traffickers seeking to cash in on the vulnerabilities of desperate kids. In addition to luring susceptible victims into the sex trade, human traffickers will also literally force their young victims into sexual servitude.
Sadly, running afoul of human traffickers and sexual slavery is often the price paid by victims who are fleeing perilous locales around the world and hoping to find a better life in the US or other developed nations. Indeed, war torn areas around the world create tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people who are desperate for assistance and become the targets of human traffickers. Often, these lawbreakers are members of criminal organizations who are looking to capitalize on the estimated $32 billion generated in this unsavory enterprise. These organizations, in turn, operate quasi-legal strip clubs, massage parlors and escort services that in actuality cater to the desires of pedophiles and other similarly disposed patrons.
The children caught up in this haunting trade can be as young as 10 years. The impact on their young lives is dire. Physical and sexual abuse typically results in long-term health and psychological problems that extend well into adulthood. This can include life-threatening exposure to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Other issues such as drug addiction, traumatic stress disorders and emotional impairment are all too common in survivors of the child sex trade. The light of justice demands resolution to this dark practice.
3. Ravaging Effects of Hunger and Malnutrition
The number of children who suffer from hunger and malnutrition is heart wrenching. Worldwide, approximately 795 million people are suffering from hunger, with a significant percentage of this number being children. In some of the world’s poorest nations, such as those found in South Asia and parts of Africa, hunger is a prime contributor to the ongoing health crisis the inhabitants of these countries face. Just consider that 50% of the deaths of children under the age of 5 years of age are due to malnutrition.
The pervasiveness of hunger, however, is not restricted to the unfortunate souls that so many of us see on those disturbing infomercials soliciting charitable donations to combat the problem. Upwards of 13 million children in the US suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Needless to say, insufficient nutrition – especially for developing children – is problematic. A lack of needed levels of protein during the early years of a child’s life can lead to brain impairment. This can result in decreased motor skills, level of activity and exploratory responses. Ultimately, if left unresolved, malnutrition can lead to death. Hunger in older, school age children can lead to such issues as homelessness, behavioral issues, and chronic medical problems. In a world that is capable of feeding its population, hunger is a remediable tragedy.
2. Domestic Terrorism in the Guise of School Violence
Domestic terrorism, essentially, is homegrown violence that invokes fear in a local population. This unerringly describes the situation our children face in the wake of school related violence. Granted, school violence made it onto our previous list and unfortunately, it’s still a major problem. Since 2013, there has been an average of at least one school shooting a week in the US. This amounts to over 200 shootings! Keep in mind, this is in addition to the mass school shootings that tend to grab the news headlines when they occur. However, while those shootings are a tragedy, they are actually the exception to the rule. What many children face every day in urban setting around the US is a level of gun violence that has become commonplace.
The culprits of this upsurge of violence range from youth gangs to the mentally disturbed. The price of this violence is steep – there were 300 child deaths resulting from incidents of school violence in the past decade. Far from being a safe haven for learning, our schools are fast becoming war zones.
The impact of such a violent environment, aside from the obvious physical dangers, is ominous. Even young students never directly exposed to violence nevertheless have to be constantly aware of their surroundings. This heightened state of alertness and yes, fear, can lead to traumatic stress, depression and lack of educational motivation. After all, if the business of going to school is just trying to survive, then learning takes a backseat on the list of priorities. A substandard educational experience, as we all know, has its own devastating consequences. While radical religious or political extremists are not perpetrating this form of domestic terrorism, the overall effects are disturbingly similar.
1. The Horrific Nature of War
There are dozens of armed conflicts around the world at any given time, with devastating impact on the lives of our youth who find themselves caught in the crossfire. While the shores of many developed countries like the US are free from such horrors, a significant portion of the world is not as fortunate. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Mexico, and Yemen are just a sampling of areas that are touched by armed conflict. For children, war is the worst kind of living nightmare possible. Literally hundreds of thousands of children are killed annually in war zones. These deaths are often so-called collateral damage – essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, there are instances when children are actually target of armed aggression, such as the utilization of the young as soldiers or during attempts at ethnic cleansing.
Those children not killed outright in a conflict may suffer horrendous injuries and disabilities. The loss of limbs is a common outcome. Perhaps more harrowing is the loss of a child’s parents and loved ones, producing orphans who often have to fend for themselves is apocalyptic conditions. These children, with nowhere else to turn, often fall prey to sexual abuse, prostitution and other similar situations. The physical suffering, while unimaginable, leads to equally traumatic psychological problems. The sheer terror of a war zone can cause post-traumatic stress conditions, depression and emotional anxiety – issues that tend to carry over into adulthood. If it becomes necessary to flee their homes, the added disruption of community can further play havoc on a child’s psyche. With war, there are no winners.