Marlowe's Shade

Monday, February 07, 2005

Hardwired for Joy

A very interesting report has come out recently from the Commission on Children at Risk. The commission is made up of a team put together by Dartmouth Medical School, the YMCA and the Institute for American Values.

It paints a bleak picture of children and teams growing up in the modern world:

The commission was convened because of a growing sense that children and teens today are facing a widespread and deepening crisis. "In the midst of unprecedented material affluence, large and growing numbers of U.S. children and adolescents are failing to flourish," the commission said.

Mental and emotional difficulties seem to have afflicted our youth at staggering rates, including depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, conduct disorders, and thoughts of suicide – and a wide variety of physical ailments that have their roots in emotional troubles, such as heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers.

The report said: "Despite increased ability to treat depression, the current generation of young people is more likely to be depressed and anxious than was its parent’s generation. According to one study, by the 1980s, U.S. children as a group were reporting more anxiety than did children who were psychiatric patients in the 1950s." (Emphasis in original.)

The report compares this profile of youth at risk with that of young people brought up with a strong moral and religious upbringing.

Morality was also one of the things emphasized by the commission’s report. In fact, Hardwired stressed even more than morality – it stressed religion. The commission said a significant body of scientific evidence is beginning to demonstrate that "we are hard-wired for meaning, born with a built-in capacity and drive to search for purpose and reflect on life’s ultimate ends."

The report stated that the human brain appears to have a built-in capacity for religious experience. Using brain imaging, for example, scientists have discovered that such spiritual activities as prayer or meditation actually increase the activity in specific areas of the brain.

Many scientists still don’t delve into those kinds of issues, but some are beginning to see the importance of religion. Psychologist Lisa Miller of Columbia University said, "A search for spiritual relationship with the Creator may be an inherent developmental process in adolescence."

While such science appears to be in the early stages, it does give some added weight to the theory that adolescents who are involved in religion are not simply responding to the way they were raised. As the commission put it: "[T]he need in young people to connect to ultimate meaning and to the transcendent is not merely the result of social conditioning, but is instead an intrinsic aspect of the human experience."

The report suggests that the emphasis on the spiritual makes for healthier, more resilient kids:

"Compared to their less religious peers, religious teenagers are safer drivers and are more likely to wear seatbelts. They are less likely to become either juvenile delinquents or adult criminals. They are less prone to substance abuse. In general, these young people are less likely to endorse engaging in high-risk conduct or to endorse the idea of enjoying danger," the report said.

It added that "religiously committed teenagers are more likely to volunteer in the community. They are more likely to participate in sports and in student government. More generally, these young people appear to have higher self-esteem and more positive attitudes about life."

The key to this is identified by the report as a family and social environment that they term an "authoritative community"

"Authoritative communities are groups that live out the types of connectedness that our children increasingly lack," the report said. "They are groups of people who are committed to one another over time and who model and pass on at least part of what it means to be a good person and live a good life."

Among the characteristics that define an authoritative community: It is a social institution that is warm and nurturing; establishes clear limits and expectations; is multigenerational; has a long-term focus; reflects and transmits a shared understanding of what it means to be a good person; encourages spiritual and religious development; and is philosophically oriented to the equal dignity of all persons and to the principle of love of neighbor.

The commission stated: "We believe that building and strengthening authoritative communities is likely to be our society’s best strategy for ameliorating the current crisis of childhood and improving the lives of U.S. children and adolescents."

This is a fascinating concept. From a marketing perspective the name might be a little loaded, I guarantee that if Bush were to use it in a speech tomorrow, the liberals and leftists would go nuts. From a parenting standpoint it makes perfect sense. From my own experience I would describe it like this: The high-road that a child travels on has two curbs on either side. One is Discipline [or Justice] and the other is Love [or Mercy]. If either is lacking the child will go astray. And if we were in the habit of naming roads after their destinations, we would call it Joy.
papijoe 9:00 AM