A Child's Health, A Child's Heart


Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Christian Headlines on March 12, 2015.

So, Burger King has dropped soda from its kids meals menu.  So have such other fast food restaurants as McDonald’s and Wendy’s.

Whether this is a good or bad idea is not my interest here.  Questions of nutrition and marketing reach well beyond the scope of my expertise. Rather, let’s consider our culture’s preoccupation with the physical well-being of children and its disinterest in their moral training and emotional health.
As my colleagues Dr. Pat Fagan and Christina Hadford have written, “Family structure profoundly impacts the lives of children. Seventeen-year-old adolescents on the brink of adulthood are particularly vulnerable as they are forming habits and making decisions that will last a lifetime. Whereas family intactness fosters an environment of belonging among youth that increases their likelihood of exceling in education, health, economic security, and religious practice, family brokenness creates a sense of rejection that can thwart proper growth.”
Yet despite the vulnerability of the children we bring into the world, far too many parents are willing to jettison their commitment to those children by rejecting one another.  Of course, in cases such as spousal abuse, there might not be much choice but divorce.  But such cases are the exception, not the norm.  As a result, note Fagan and Hadford in their recent “Fifth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection,” “the percentage of U.S. teenagers aged 15 to 17 who have grown up with both biological parents always married—is 46 percent.” For African American teenagers, it’s only 17 percent.  And for all American youth, “the likelihood of facing rejection increases with each year of age.”
The emotional trauma of divorce is well-quantified.  Writing in their paper, “The Effects of Divorce on Children,” Fagan and Aaron Churchill write that “The effect of divorce on children’s hearts, minds, and souls ranges from mild to severe, from seemingly small to observably significant, and from short-term to long-term ... There is no way to predict how any particular child will be affected nor to what extent, but it is possible to predict divorce’s societal effects and how this large cohort of children will be affected as a group. These effects are both numerous and serious.” 
In economic well-being, education, likelihood for emotional problems, participation in crime, incidence of sexual abuse, increases in adolescent sexual intimacy and associated problems (abortion, STDs, etc.), the children of divorce suffer greatly.
In tandem with this, our culture applauds the premature sexualization of our children.  Take one example: girls’ clothing.  In 2011, LiveScience.com reported that “Almost a third of girls' clothing for sale at 15 major retailers has sexualizing characteristics, a new study finds, a trend that psychologists say can encourage girls to view themselves as sex objects at an early age.” As Melissa Henson of the Parents Television Council writes in CNN.com, “For years we've seen adult sexuality being inappropriately and aggressively foisted on innocent young children, but kids today are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. A decade ago, parents worried about their teen daughters coming home from the mall with hip-riders. Now parents have to combat marketing forces that are telling their third-graders they need to have a padded push-up bikini top What have we come to when toddlers, not yet able to read, let alone make decisions for themselves, are getting schooled in dressing and acting sexy for adults?”
And we wonder why so many of our young people are depressed, promiscuous and often suffering from sexually-transmitted diseases.  Here are but a few of the consequences:  
Any teenager who is acting out sexually will begin to feel a diminished sense of value and self-esteem. In some cases, sex can be used as a weapon or defense. An adolescent might see promiscuous sex as a way of showing parents that he or she is "free," an adult, someone who can "do whatever" they want to do. Allowing a young person to continue to see sex in such an emotional immature and self-destructive manner can lead to long-term problems with intimate relationships, as well as the child's physical health. HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and cervical cancer have all been linked to promiscuous sexual behavior. The threats of sexual promiscuity to an adolescent's health are enough to warrant an intervention should you suspect your child is acting out in this way.
It’s good and wise and responsible to care about your child’s diet and the kind of exercise he or she is getting on a regular basis.  But should Christian parents not care all the more for the moral and emotional input their children are receiving, in the home, at school and from the culture?
Christian parents, are we building strong marriages that model the love and security and commitment to Christ our children need?  Are we watching what our kids are seeing and viewing, and how they are processing the multitude of disturbing messages our society is sending them?  Guard their tummies, surely, but be even more concerned with their hearts and minds. 
“Watch over your heart with all diligence,” writes Solomon, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).  Children have a hard time watching their hearts.  That’s why they have parents.  Let’s not forget that.