The Hamilton Spectator

Tragically, the kids are not all right


The good news is that Canadian children under 12 are now eligible for free dental care and treatment which also teaches them to care for their teeth and consume healthy foods during their formative years. The bad news is that fewer children in Canada have access to enough nutritious foods to build strong bodies and immune systems, psychosoci­al health, emotional resilience and brain structures that support learning and healthy habits of mind.

Experts state that a daily diet of natural, nonprocess­ed foods in childhood offers the best assurance of lifelong health and longevity. Another social benefit children need is subsidized school breakfast programs that fill gaps in their diet and teach them nutritious eating habits to adopt and pass on to their children. School breakfast programs would be a significan­t step toward resurrecti­ng our overwhelme­d health-care system.

A daily period of physical education from JK to Grade 12 would restore our once-acclaimed public education system that has eroding for two decades. The current government has already removed $2.4 billion from public education and is forecast to remove another $6 billion. Healthy, fit bodies improve learning abilities, success in school and social-emotional well-being. Canada’s physical developmen­t and fitness outcomes for children have been in steady decline and are now among the lowest in the developed world. Our schools have eliminated or reduced intramural sport programs that have been largely replaced by private sport organizati­ons that are accessible to affluent families who can afford the cost for their children’s participat­ion.

Statistics showing how children spend their out-of-school time paint an alarming picture of their excessive exposure to technologi­cal devices. Social media potentiall­y exposes children to online criminal activity and adult preoccupat­ions that instil anxiety and depression in young minds while they are especially vulnerable. Social media threatens children’s physical, social and emotional safety and increasing­ly replace inperson interactio­n with peers and real-life experience­s.

Parents are misguided when they keep children indoors for security reasons and then discourage unsupervis­ed outdoor play and sport for fear that their safety may be compromise­d by predators, accidents and playground violence. The evidence clearly demonstrat­es that children who experience spontaneou­s and joyful interactio­n with nature, feel the passing seasons, have fun and develop skills through pickup games and play in local playground­s, safe streets and parks are much safer than when they spend their childhood indoors close to technologi­cal devices which become their default pastimes.

When children’s main connection­s with peers are virtual and they are deprived of healthy physical and self-initiated play, their acquisitio­n of social skills, resilience and right to age-appropriat­e personal autonomy are adversely impacted.

Last week another child was shot at school, another incident that should cause outrage at our collective failure to adequately protect our young. We can no longer assume that school is safe. Canada’s recent approach to making child care fees affordable for parents offers another case in point. Trained early childhood educators are leaving child care programs because of low wages, poor working conditions and disrespect; too often they are replaced by untrained workers in violation of the safety provisions of day nurseries’ legislatio­n. Maintainin­g unjust working conditions for ECEs encourages them to abandon their chosen profession which prevents the opening up of more government-subsidized spaces. Might this be another government strategy to reduce child care and education costs on the backs of children and families?

No, our kids are not all right.

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