Posts Tagged Child Trends

Meet the Class of 2013 Through Child Trends’ Lens

Published by — If the 3 million-plus grads were 100 kids, here’s what their backgrounds would be:

The mortarboards have been tossed. The “Congratulations Grad” balloons have withered. Grandma’s gift check has been cashed — and likely spent. In short, the high-school class of 2013 is launched into official adulthood.

So, who are they?

Child Trends, a respected research group, crunched massive national data sets to paint us a portrait of these grads. To make the data easily understandable, they boiled it down to a summary class of 100 grads. (You can also think in terms of percents. For example, 11 of the 100 kids or 11 percent of the sampled grads have asthma.) The point of this statistical exercise is to help us wrap our heads around who’s coming out of the nation’s high schools these days.

Every newly-minted adult has a lot to figure out. But quite apart from the super-yucky job market, the class of 2013 seems to be facing a ton of adversity. See for yourself.

Since there’s so much data, I’ve curated a collection, “curating” being the useful new buzzword for making personal selections.

If the 3 million-plus grads were 100 kids, their backgrounds would be:

54 white; 23 Latino; 15 African American, and 8 are something else.

22 are living in poverty; 10 in deep poverty

The goodish news:

68 will go on to a college or university.

53 have parents who say their neighborhood is “always safe.”

51 used no alcohol, cigarettes, or illicit drugs during the past 30 days.

38 have a reading achievement-test score of “proficient or above.”

35 volunteered in the past year.

35 eat meals together with their families 6 or 7 days a week.

26 have a mathematics achievement-test score of “proficient or above.”

17 are employed.


71 have experienced physical assault.

27 were in a physical fight last year.

28 rode in a car during the past year with a driver who had been drinking.

16 carried a weapon in the past year.

3 were victims of violent crime in the past year.

Sex ‘n drugs:

64 have had sexual intercourse; 48 are sexually active.

27 used a condom and 12 were on birth control pills the last time they had sex.

28 have been victimized sexually; 10 report they’ve been raped.

23 smoked marijuana in the past 30 days; 7 smoke marijuana every day, or nearly every day.

21 had a sexually transmitted infection in the past year.

8 used an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past 30 days.

Of the females, 3 or 4 have been, or are, pregnant. One has had an abortion.

Abuse and Neglect:

32 have experienced some form of child maltreatment.

1 or two are in foster care.


34 are overweight. and of these 18 are obese.

29 felt “sad and hopeless” continuously for at least two weeks during the past year.

24 were binge-drinking in the past two weeks.

18 have special health care needs.

17 are current cigarette smokers.

14 thought seriously about attempting suicide in the past year; 6 went through with the attempt; and 2 required medical attention afterward.

11 have asthma.

8 have unmet dental needs.

4 have an eating disorder where they’ve vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight.

2 have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

1 used steroids in the past year.

Really? To my mind, Child Trends has laid bare that the richest country in the world just doesn’t bother to take very good care of the kids, or at least a huge number of kids. Far too many are depressed and fat. Almost half have used alcohol, drugs or smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days. More than 1 in 5 was treated for a sexually-transmitted disease last year? Sheesh.

That’s an awful lot of baggage for a kid to carry into the future. You would think we could do at least a somewhat better job of sending young people off to solo as adults.

What I find most painful about the continued sad state of America’s kids — no, not the marvelously well-kept third to a half, but the rest of them — is that they’re someone else’s problem. Blame abounds; responsibility does not. Even if you really do believe that these messed-up kids are the parents’ fault, or the schools’ fault, they are still members of our community and our workforce, now and for the foreseeable future.

Hopefully Child Trends will do this exercise every year to hold us — and I mean all of us — accountable for making things better for kids as a whole.

You bet I’m a drag at social events. I think and talk a lot about how we’re not adequately loving, disciplining and caring for the kids. Such neglect is expensive in the long run in so many respects. It’s at all times inexcusable. Child Trends totally kicked up my obsession with this topic. Shame on us.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street.


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What Does a Flourishing, Healthy, Competent Kid Look Like?

Published by — Child Trends is working on a new project to track positive trends among children and youth.

Child Trends has started a “Flourishing Child Project.”

Ironically, Child Trends (CT) has long been among my most reliable sources of data about the state of American kids, almost all of which is depressingly negative.  Their briefs cover substance abuse, grandparents taking over for parents, obesity, and other sad social indicators.

But getting away from this intense negativity is precisely the point.  As their site notes, “There is a critical need to monitor positive development among children and youth.”

Yes.  What gets measured, gets valued.  What gets valued get attention and resources.

So they want to balance our obsession with kids’ deficits and problems — teen pregnancy, poverty, juvenile incarceration — with attention to the qualities we want to see in kids.  What do we hope for them?  Only to graduate and get good test scores?  Really?

What else does it look like when we’ve got it right?  Not for the schools, not for the tests, not for meeting state accountability standards — but for the flesh-and-blood kids themselves?

What, in Child Trend’s words, does a flourishing kid look like?

They’ve come up with a draft of 19 qualities, under six domains.  Under the largest domain, “Personal Flourishing,” includes Gratitude, Forgiveness, Hope, Goal Orientation, Life Satisfaction, Purpose, and Spirituality.  Environmental Stewardship stands alone in the smallest domain of the same name.

With these and other qualities in hand, the next task is to find or invent ways of measuring whether we’re getting better at helping kids develop them.  This will be a big job, to be sure.

But as the site insists, “It’s good science.  The study of child development, and of human development more broadly, encompasses both positive and negative developmental processes.”

Education as a field is terrific at measuring the negative.  Or at least coming up with negative conclusions thanks to narrow measures.

So, for example, the Project will develop reliable measures for characteristics like “educational engagement.” Test scores indicate what kids have learned, but tell us nothing about whether they actually give a fig about the stuff.

When educators, officials and the public — though definitely not parents — look to see if students meet goals, they look at a few bits of data.  Winning scores and graduation rates keep the state and federal accountability police at bay.  Schools with low scores are named, shamed and in some cases threatened with take-overs and job losses.

I’m all for accountability and test scores, but where on earth are the kids in all this?  We don’t measure whether students are kind, generous or civic-minded?  And if those qualities don’t matter, what does?  Do we just want schools to feed a workforce to the Economy — a goal that’s not working out all that well anyway?

I love Child Trends’ use of the word “flourishing.”  It’s organic, like juicy apples and happy babies.

Under the right conditions, all children can flourish.  They may not finish college, though there should be more of that.  However, they might thrive in a trade apprenticeship that will lead to good money and useful occupation.  They might be content supporting themselves in a dumb day job while pursuing an art or personal passion.  They might know how to gather a team around themselves to help the struggle through illness, a parent’s death, a bad break-up, or major disappointment.  They might develop the critical combination of altruism and thick skin allowing them to become effective leaders.

Whatever their test scores, these are adults-in-the-making whom we would love to have among us.

And it only stands to reason that kids who are flourishing would, oh btw, get better test scores.

So Child Trends will counter-balance miserable indicators with measures of healthy kids.  Qualities like self-control, empathy and optimism can all change for the better under improved conditions.

For example, it’s possible Child Trends’ research will show that girls with a strong sense of purpose reliably avoid premature pregnancies.  Okay.  Well, both community service and career exploration are very good at helping middle-school kids get their heads in their futures, sparking dreams and ambitions that give them a sense of purpose.  Both initiatives have slipped out of fashion in recent years.  But surely they’re a wiser, never mind cheaper investment than paying the expenses incurred over the lifetimes of the roughly one million babies born to unprepared teens each year.

The Project is hoping that documenting trends in such data will be able to convince the folks with the purse strings to invest in kids’ positive development, instead of spending gobs of resources on prisons and other failures to clean up our social messes after the fact.

The Flourishing Child Project is an overdue effort to shift to a more satisfying conversation about kids.  What do we want?  How do we measure it?  A love of learning is innate.  So the healthier the kid, the more she’ll take charge of her own learning, on her own, for her own reasons.

Given decent teachers, an optimistic focus, and juicy opportunities, students will make sure the test scores take care of themselves.

Accentuate the positive.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data.For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

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