Children are at risk from factors including abuse, obesity and lack of education
On May 10-14, the Seventh-day Adventist church hosted a milestone conference in Budapest, Hungary focused on issues impacting families, women and children. Three General Conference departments—Family, Women’s and Children’s Ministries—came together to discuss and dialogue about some of the most pressing realities for these three distinct, yet interconnected groups. Close to 400 delegates from over 60 countries attended the event. The following is an excerpt taken from a longer article published about the Reach the World, global conference. To read the article in its entirety, click here.
A Generation at Risk
Two plenary sessions at this year’s Reach the World conference featured content presented by Dr. Kiti Freier Randall—a pediatric neurodevelopmental psychologist from Loma Linda University Health. Randall, who works extensively with at-risk children, emphasized from the beginning of her presentation the role of the home in childhood development. “Although other supportive institutions in society play a role, it is in the family that nurture is effective and meaningful.”
Randall contrasted the idyllic statement with the reality that children around the world are at risk from a great number of factors. Lack of access to education, especially for girls, is a significant risk, leading to other risk factors such as poverty, drug use and an increased rate of teen pregnancy and gang violence. Childhood obesity is another risk factor, leading to “serious lifelong consequences.”
Delegates and local Adventist visitors almost filled the lower floor of the Budapest auditorium on Saturday morning. [Photo: Costin Jordache]
Dr. Kiti Freier Randall presents on risk factors for children at the Reach the World conference in Budapest, Hungary. [Photo: Tibor Farago]
At the same time, malnutrition and starvation continue to present a risk to children around the world, in addition to abuse of various kinds. Randall explained in detail the effects of trauma and abuse, including showing a brain scan that showed a visible difference in the brain of an abuse victim. “Trauma, abuse and neglect actually change the architecture of the brain,” said Randall, who also informed participants that if a child is born healthy and they die before one year-old, the number one reason they will die is “because their parents will kill them.”
Randall also spoke to a controversial subject, the risk factor involving technology addiction. “Too much, or misused technology can impact a child’s physical and mental health,” she explained, leading to negative impacts such as sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety. To spontaneous applause from attendees, the pediatric psychologist challenged parents not to expose children under two years of age to technology. “It is wrong when technology is raising our children,” she said.
In her second presentation, Randall offered a bright spot to the daunting realities she began with. Science is focusing increasingly on the idea of resilience, “the capacity to maintain or develop competent functioning in the face of major life stressors.” Factors such as social support, connectedness, meaningful activity and exercise all lead to increased resiliency.
When asked by the Adventist Review how these insights impact the Adventist Church, Randall said that from her work of 30 years with the highest at-risk children in the world, she realized that “what they need, our church has to offer. Our church has all the elements that we need to change trajectory to a positive one. We have the ability to provide meaningfulness and hope in life. We have the ability to provide nurturance and relationship with healthy adults, and access to health activities. If you look at the scientific literature of what we need for resiliency in our children,” concluded Randall, “those can all be answered as a mission of our church and I believe we’re called to do that; to give of our ourselves in a positive healthy relationship to spend time with young people and make a difference in their life.”
Mental health professionals in the audience agreed. “I completely agree with what Dr. Randall said,” shared Dr. Gabor Mihalec, a practicing family therapist and the director of Family Ministries for the host Hungarian Union Conference. “There has to be somebody who breaks this chain right here and right now. And I think that we as a church; we as pastors, as members; as family life educators have a very special gift and a very special opportunity to have insights into the lives of families where the things are happening.”
Once again feedback was positive, even as delegates grappled with the realities presented. “Without knowing the risk that our children are going through, we don’t have the church of tomorrow,” said Zodwa Kunene, Children and Women’s Ministries director in the Southern Africa Union Conference. “I believe that it’s up to us as leaders, it’s up to us as parents to impact our churches; we can win back our communities.”