We know exactly what children need to grow up happy and well and it's so, so simple.
1. To feel loved, safe and secure
2. To have good food and drink
3. To run around and use their bodies
4. To get enough sleep
5. To be encouraged and helped to learn about the world
What they don't need is:
1. To be brought up surrounded by stress and inconsistency
2. To be fed junky food and sugary sodas
3. To sit in front of screens for hours every day
4. To go to bed late, and go to sleep even later
5. To be put through endless high-pressure tests and exams
So what do we do? We give them exactly what they don't need - then wonder why there's a crisis in childhood health and welfare.
In the UK, where I currently live, a report has just come out saying children as young as 10 are getting more and more stressed-out by the pressure put on them by parents and teachers to do well in school tests, and are turning to junk food, energy drinks and even cigarettes to deal with the rising strain. Yet this is the country where 10% of children aged between five and 16 already have some sort of mental health problem, according to official figures. At the same time, the head of the National Health Service has warned that the tide of obesity is condemning children to a raft of avoidable diseases - diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
So, how much more stress and ill-health do we think they can take?
Almost any amount, it seems. Because these are our children, and the problems they are exhibiting are ones we are giving them (and by we, I mean all of us living in the developed world - these problems cross countries and continents). They aren't born with widespread obesity and mental health problems. They are getting them because we choose to prioritize our own needs and comfort over our children's wellbeing
As parents, we ask them to live in fragmented, frantic homes. We feed them a lousy diet. We put them in the back of the car and drive them everywhere. We let them have televisions and phones and tablets in their bedrooms so they never get to sleep. Then we push and pressure them over their 'school performance'.
And even if, as individuals, we try hard not to do these things, as citizens we collude in societies that do them all in spadefuls. Profit, competition, commerce and adult wishes are always more important than children's need to be happy and healthy, and we can be absolutely certain than any small moves to encourage, say, increased vegetable eating, or more active outdoor play will be always counteracted by much more powerful and well-funded moves to develop more enticing chocolate bars, or more compulsive computer games. Any attempt to bring in family-friendly work hours will be countered with a further ratcheting up of the 24/7 work pressure, and any lobbying for more relaxed classrooms will be opposed by politicians seeking to prove how effectively they are 'driving up school standards'.
What hope then for our kids, who simply need to be fed and watered and hugged and talked to, then given space and help to grow and learn at their own child pace?
Not a lot it seems. We know what they need. We just don't choose to give it to them.