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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy January 16, 2013 01:07 PM
Our first task as a country, said President Obama today, is "keeping our children safe."
"This is how we will be judged," he said. I couldn't agree more.
They say that nations are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable. Twenty of our most vulnerable were shot dead a month ago, in their first grade classroom. If this is how we are to be judged, we aren't doing so well.
It's not just Aurora or Sandy Hook. The president said that in the month since those beautiful children died, 900 people have died because of guns. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for 12 to 19-year-olds--and guns are a big part of that. We may have the right to bear arms--but at the same time, as Obama said, with rights come responsibilities. And our greatest responsibility is to our children. We need to make changes that keep our children and youth safe from guns.
But it's not just the guns. There is a culture of violence and disconnection these days that worries me so much as a parent and pediatrician. There are so many reasons--violent video games are certainly part of it, and I was heartened to hear the president say he wants the Centers for Disease Control to study this--but it's more than that. It's bullying and cyberbullying; it's the way we are often more involved with our smartphones than the person next to us. It's the ways we are often so isolated, even when we are surrounded by people--and this is affecting our children. We seem to have forgotten that, as Obama said today, "we are responsible for each other." Somehow, we need to change our culture so that it nurtures our children.
It's not just the violence and disconnection, either. Our children are less healthy. There is more obesity, more asthma, more autism and more of other health problems. Some reasons are clear--like the super-size portions, sweetened beverages and sedentary lifestyle that lead to obesity, or the pollution and infestations that make the asthma of inner-city children worse. But some reasons, like those for autism, are less clear. We need to understand all the reasons our children are less healthy--and make real changes.
And it's not just the health of our children: it's the health of the world we are leaving them. Air pollution, mercury in fish, global warming, polluted soil, polluted water...what kind of future does this give the generations to come?
In his speech today, Obama said that we need to say: Enough. He was talking about guns and violence, and I agree with him, but while we're at it, let's say "Enough!" to so much more.
If our first task as a country is to keep our children safe, if that is how we will be judged, we have work to do.
Let's do some thinking--and roll up our sleeves. Each and every one of us can do something that makes a difference in the life of at least one child.
Try it. Get someone else to join you. Throw out a violent video game. Support sensible gun control legislation. Invite the shy kid for a playdate. Stop buying plastic water bottles. Go for a walk. Shut off your phone for a bit each day. Talk to your congressmen--ask them what they are doing to help keep children safe and healthy.
"The only way we can change," Obama said, "is if the American people demand it."
Let's start demanding.
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About MD MamaClaire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »
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