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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Tomorrow's Children

Aired January 3, 2000 - 8:20 a.m. ET


COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: They've got endless technology and more promise than any generation before. But is that enough? Do the children of 2000 need something more?


MELVIN KONNER, ANTHROPOLOGIST: We now can design whatever childhood we want. We now are on the threshold of the golden age of childhood, which we can create.


MCEDWARDS: Growing up will never be the same again.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: At the dawn of this new millennium, we're reminded of an ancient but always renewing truth: The future belongs to our children.

MCEDWARDS: As we focus on the children of tomorrow, there are some important lessons to be learned from the past.

CNN's Pat Etheridge takes a closer look at how childhood has changed over the years.


PAT ETHERIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Childhood: In some ways, it is now as it always has been, a mix of wonder and joy, hope and despair, suffering and a remarkable resilience. But how did it begin? How much has it changed? And what's it like to be a child then and now?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's not really hard at all.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's pretty fun because you get to have lots of toys, too.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's kind of easy because you have a lot more freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of like asking adults what it's like to be an adult: Just living but you're kind of -- I guess you're younger and you're -- you've got more experiences and you've got a while life ahead of you. ETHERIDGE: That was clearly not the case throughout most of human history. Until about 200 years ago, one in five babies, 20 percent, died in the first year of life; a staggering 50 percent, half of all children born, died before reaching adulthood. That had a huge influence on the way children were raised in the age of hunter gatherers.

KONNER: They wanted to keep as many of their children alive as they could; they desperately wanted those children and they did everything they could to keep them alive.

ETHERIDGE: Melvin Konner is an anthropologist and author of the book "Childhood."

KONNER: They were just very indulgent compared to many more recent societies, nursing till age 3 or 4 years, nursing on demand, sleeping with the child, allowing children to play pretty much freely.

ETHERIDGE: Families spent their nights and days together. Back then, there was a dramatically different concept of time.

KONNER: Pretty much all of their time was free: play time, down time, imagination time, and nobody was trying to control their play, either. That's very important.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It might have been funner, I don't know, because you can make up your own things, have things your own way. There wasn't any set rules or games.

ETHERIDGE: Little changed in the life of most children for many thousands of years. At the turn of the last millennium, the struggle for survival was still very real during the agricultural age. Disease wiped out entire populations. In the mid-1300s, the Bubonic Plague killed 75 million in Europe alone, many of them children.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: You could die because they didn't have any doctors.

LINDA POLLOCK, HISTORIAN: They had lots of ailments from earaches to dissentary to rickets to small pox to boils and worms, things that we could now treat, but in the past they couldn't. The children had to suffer till either the infection went away or they died.

ETHERIDGE: There were even during these difficult times children of privilege who were able to make lasting contributions. Consider the accomplishments of a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who, in 1764, composed his first symphony at age 8.

Linda Pollock is a historian who has written extensively on the subject of childhood. She says the major milestones, the most sweeping changes in the lives of children begin in the industrial age.

POLLOCK: That's when you begin to see the great decrease in child mortality, you see the rise of small pox inoculation. Most people who died from small pox were under the age of 16, so small pox inoculation really protected children.

ETHERIDGE: And for the first time, an emphasis on education for all.

POLLOCK: Compulsory education is very important. It takes the child out of the household and into a different kind of peer group. It increases the role of other people over the upbringing of the child, and it does give children more of an equal opportunity in life if they can get access to the education.

ETHERIDGE: But despite many advances, there were also new forums of abuse.

POLLOCK: For the poor child, life was much worse. You were now working in the factories instead of helping out on the farm, the hours of work were longer, you were no longer supervised by your parents but usually by some factory overseer, and life could be cruel.

ETHERIDGE: Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, some cultures held on to the concept that children were inherently evil; they had few, if any, rights.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Sometimes there were good times and sometimes there were bad times. They didn't have all the rights that we do now.

DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: For a long time, people felt like inside the family was sacred. You had -- you did not have a right, the government or anyone else, to go beyond that family wall.

ETHERIDGE: Dr. Alvin Poussaint, an educator at Harvard University, says childhood, despite its many challenges, was never meant to be perfect.

POUSSAINT: Let's say a child went through childhood without any conflicts or crises. Would that be perfect? No, because you would want to raise a child to be able to deal with the conflicts and crises and problems that they would be facing in the real world.

ETHERIDGE: The 20th century ushered in better nutrition, sanitation and medical care, including vaccines to prevent disease. But these improvements did not reach the majority of the world's poor, and many still died young.

Time did not stop the chilling atrocities. In 1944, a Jewish girl in hiding at the height of Hitler's reign wrote this entry in her journal, an eloquent expression of a child's will to live:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us all too. I can feel the suffering of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again."

ETHERIDGE: "The Diary of Anne Frank" stands as a poignant, powerful reminder of a child's wisdom, strength and undying optimism.

POUSSAINT: Children, in fact, are going to not only going to carry on the legacies of society, they're going to change them. Children represent the fresh blood that you need to keep society and the world not only going, but also growing and taking us to the next level and next stage.

ETHERIDGE: Today, there are global efforts to protect the rights of children. The United Nations oversees an international treaty established 10 years ago, yet many children struggle still.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the Convention on the Rights of the Child, child rights were seen as something optional, a matter of charity. With the convention, there's now an obligation on the state to ensure that all children receive their rights every day. So it means that services like health and education should be made available not only to those most easily reached, but the most difficult to reach.

ETHERIDGE: In modern society, parents worry youngsters value television and toys too highly. But listen to the children answer the question: What's the best thing about being a kid?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I like having a home. It's best having a home and food and clean water to drink.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: You get to be with your family a lot and you get to be with your mom and dad a lot, and it's very nice to be with your mom and dad.

ETHERIDGE: Their greatest needs, wants and wishes are noble, universal and timeless.

POLLOCK: We've got a lot of the history of childhood wrong. We assumed it was markedly differently from today and, in fact, we stress the differences and ignore the similarities.

ETHERIDGE: The wonder of childhood: It is, in many ways, as it was in the beginning.

Pat Etheridge, CNN.


MCEDWARDS: So how do we prepare our children for life in the 21st century?

For some insight we turn to Harvard professor and renowned child advocate, Dr. Alvin Poussaint. He's also the director of the media center of the Judge Baker Children Center. Dr. Poussaint joins us live from Boston.

Dr. Poussaint, thanks for being with us.

POUSSAINT: Thank you. MCEDWARDS: I feel like we should start globally because so much attention has been paid lately to child poverty, children involved in conflicts, the state of the world's children. When you look around the world, how well are human beings doing at protecting and raising and caring for their children?

POUSSAINT: Well, I think in some ways they are doing well and doing better, particularly in the Western industrialized nations. But in many spots in the world, children are really suffering, there are in war-torn situations, they are suffering from hunger, from famine, starvation. They are also suffering from the AIDS epidemic all around the world, there are millions and millions of children, particularly in Asia and Africa who are now orphans with very little mechanisms for survival. Services not available. I think it is a mixed picture, but I think that we really have to do much more internationally and globally to help all of the children of the world and to protect them.

MCEDWARDS: And at the family level, how has parenting changed and raising children changed and how do you expect it to change?

POUSSAINT: Well, I think parenting, again, we have a split between developing countries and the Western world. But I think here in the United States I think there's really an issue around parents being much too busy, whether they are two-parent families or single parents, they are too busy to spend enough time with their children. Their children complain about this. We are relying more and more upon day care and even infant and toddler care. We don't know, ultimately, what the results of all of this will be. But it seems to me that it's here permanently, and that there is going to be increased demands for child care, early child care, after school programs, because parents will not be able to fulfill the functions that they have in the past of behalf of their children.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Dr. Poussaint, we are going to pick up on those ideas in just a moment. So please stay with us. And we will also be joined by Sue Johnston in Toronto. She has been taking care of children in day care programs there for more than two decades, and she has a got a couple of her participants with here as well. We will also go to Nigeria to discuss the challenge of helping abandoned children, Augustine Adetola will explain the village concept. Stay with us.


MCEDWARDS: We're talking about the future for children in the new millennium with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is in our Boston bureau. And joining the discussion now is Sue Johnston. She is the coordinator for a day care center in Toronto. She has been in the child care field for more than 20 years. And with her are two children from the day care, Donovan Kay and Tamica Lewis-Vu.

Thank you very much all of you for being here.

Sue, let me start with you. Just tell us, please, what children need from day care and what parents need? SUE JOHNSTON, ORDE DAY CARE COORDINATOR: Well, I would say that what they need is a place to come to that is safe, reliable. The kids really want a place they feel they belong, a place there's a community, they can have fun, be with their friends, also where they can learn all kinds of new things and have new experiences, mainly a place that's safe and comfortable for them; and also for the parents that's what they want somewhere they can drop kids, know they can go to work and not have to worry, know that within a phone call they can reach their children.

HARRIS: Sue, this is Leon Harris in Atlanta. I am going to jump in here because I want to ask a question of Tamica and Donovan.

Donovan, how much time do you spent there at the center everyday. Can you say?

DONOVAN KAY, ORDE DAY CARE: Pardon, I couldn't hear.

HARRIS: I know, it is kind of loud back there. How long are you there everyday at the center?

KAY: This is my fifth year.

HARRIS: OK, and how much time everyday do you spend? Do you go in at 3:00 in the morning or in the afternoon and stay all evening or what?

KAY: I go at lunch time and I come after school for about two hours.

HARRIS: How about you, Tamica, what time do you come in?

TAMICA LEWIS-VU, ORDE DAY CARE: I go at lunch time, and in the morning at 7:30, and I leave at around 5:00.

HARRIS: OK, well, you know, what a lot of grownups talk about is all that time you guys spend there in the center, and a lot of us grownups wonder if that is good for you or not. Do you like spending that much time there everyday or would you want to spend more time at home with your parents, Donovan?

KAY: I like spending time here, but I also like spending time at home.

HARRIS: How about you, Tamica?

LEWIS-VU: I like spending time at day care and at home.

HARRIS: If you had to choose between the two, which would you choose?

KAY: I would probably choose day care for some of the time.

HARRIS: Really, how about you, Tamica?

LEWIS-VU: I would choose day care. MCEDWARDS: Dr. Poussaint, if I could ask you, is there still a fair bit of discussion or is there any evidence about the rule of day care in today's society, and whether children are better off or worse off?

POUSSAINT: I think it's clear that day care can be very -- very beneficial, particularly when parents are involved. I think studies indicate that children in day care, including programs like Head Start, do better in the long-run than children who don't get that kind of care or who in fact are in some way neglected by their parents or don't have adequate child care when they're working with the children are not in day care but they are off with friends or relatives for poor care during the day. So I think day cares is here to stay.

We should also mention, and it's not just day care of children 2 1/2 or 3 to 4, we are also developing infant and toddler care. And there are already onsight infant and toddler programs for people who are very busy. Even in hospitals they may have day care centers where parents, surgeons come in at 6:00 in the morning, 6:30, and drop off their children, and then don't pick them up until 6:00. And they will accept children as young as three months of age. No one knows what the outcome of those types of programs will be.

MCEDWARDS: Sue Johnston, is the day care system equipped to handle that kind of an influx, more children, younger children and older children?

JOHNSTON: Well, certainly, we are here in Toronto. It is a fairly well developed system, where we are regulated. We have the support of city with funding. Our center, for instance, is a large center. We have 160 children right from infancy up to age 12. And we operate within the Toronto School Board System, so we are very cooperative with the education system.

The only problem, I guess, -- the biggest problem is the funding and that there aren't enough spaces for the number of children that need care.

MCEDWARDS: A lot of parents complain about access, complain about the cost of it, and a lot parents choose to have care for their children at home. In the coming years, how do you see that trend developing?

JOHNSTON: Well, I don't think it's a bad think for children to be cared for at home. But I don't think parents are going to have that option so much in the future. More parents are forced to go out into the workforce to provide for their children. So I think what we need is to expand our services so parents have the choices whether they are licensed homecare centers that are in their neighborhoods, whether they are centers like ours that are more developed. All of our policies and procedures are in place to look after children in a most accountable way.

HARRIS: Sue, Leon Harris here in Atlanta. Just out of curiosity, what would you do with your children? JOHNSTON: I would put my children into child care. I have to say, I was a bit skeptical when I first went into the field around the infant care. But we opened our program last year to infants, and I think it's quite remarkable how well the children get along. I think for parents it is a very difficult decision to leave their babies. But the stimulation that the children receive, the way that they communicate with each other, and the group sizing within the infant care looked after children very well. And it's a nice support system for parents.

HARRIS: Interesting perspective from someone who works inside and outside the system, as you see there.

Now, we will take a break right. When we come back, we will talk some more about raising children in this millennium. We've been talking about child-rearing in the Western world. But coming up, we'll have more on that and a focus on developing nations as well.

MCEDWARDS: We'll get perspective from Africa, as we go live to an orphanage in Nigeria. Stay with us.


MCEDWARDS: In this hour's millennium segment, we're talking about raising children in the new century. Joining us from Toronto with more on child-rearing issues is Sue Johnston, she is a day coordinator; on parenting trends, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; and joining our discussion now from Nigeria is Augustine Adetola, the village father of the SOS Children's Village.

Augustine, thank you very much for joining us. Tell us what your organization does for children?

Can you hear me, Augustine?

AUGUSTINE ADETOLA, SOS CHILDREN'S VILLAGE: Yes. I can understand. I am hearing you.

Good. Can you tell me what your organization does for children, how it helps children?

ADETOLA: Our children, we try an alliance with the Minister of Social Welfare of the Federation of Nigeria, and then juvenile section of the Nigerian police station also, and the Ministry of Social Welfare (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and then maybe from private organization like the Red Cross. So those are the area where our donations are coming from.

MCEDWARDS: And what has happened to most of these children?

ADETOLA: Majority of them were abandoned, and then we have some who are destitute, and the we have some who are orphans. So when I talk of abandoned, it means they were abandoned along the streets, and marketplaces and hospitals, and then once they are bought to us, it's our duty to take care of them. And then we have orphans, those who lost both parents, been through the war, and then maybe through a good Samaritan also, or the head or the sheik (INAUDIBLE), once they make the recommendation, it is the duty of SOS to render a little assistance.

And then we have the destitute, those that are below poverty live, with their parents living on begging, or they are mentally retarded, and then the police are also one to help us for caring.

MCEDWARDS: Explain to us how it is different in Nigeria, how the approach, the way people raise children is Nigeria is different from the rest of the world?

ADETOLA: I don't think that it is any different from the way students have been abandoned in Nigeria and some other countries, also, because number one, we have extended family within the country, but not because of an economy factor. Most of this family, they don't want to live up to expectations. So all these are the one that are giving the government a lot of headache. And then that is why we have a lot of abandoned children and orphans.

HARRIS: Mr. Adetola, this is Leon Harris from Atlanta. You have mentioned extended families. As I understand it, that is the idea that you use there in the orphanage in your town, there, how does that work with the children?

ADETOLA: Upon my duty as a village father, my duty is to take care -- to advise the mothers of daily to daily activities, to guide the children also about the moral and social behaviors. And then to alliance with community to make sure that the children are living better life and then to make sure that they are attended better schools within the community. So and then we have a supporting team who are assisting me in the village also.

MCEDWARDS: Sue Johnston, I would like to bring you in here from Toronto to talk about the situation there, in terms of access, availability, and cost of care for children. What's it like?

JOHNSTON: Well, in Toronto right now, there's a subsidy system through the municipality that allows parents who are eligible to receive a subsidy before entering day care. The cost are very high. From an infant program, you're looking at anywhere from $45 to $50 a day. A school-age child, however, the costs are roughly between $15 and $20 a day.

And unfortunately, for parents, it is on a full-time basis. There is rarely the flexibility within the system right now for children to attend on a part-time basis or families to use it only as- needed. And on the subsidy waiting list, there are 14,000 children here in Toronto on that list.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Sue Johnston in Toronto, thank you very much for joining us, and also our thanks to Augustine Adetola in Nigeria. Thank you both.

And when we continue our special millennium coverage, some final thoughts from Dr. Alvin Poussaint. That's right after this break. Do stay with us.


MCEDWARDS: Once again, we are talking about parenting trends and raising children in the new millennium. And joining us from our Boston bureau is Dr. Alvin Poussaint, clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Poussaint, in some cultures, the idea of someone else taking care of a child is deemed almost offensive, that it really should be something that is kept within the family. How do you see that changing of that influencing other cultures in the new millennium?

POUSSAINT: Well, I think, as long as they can have an extended family structure, and that is more easily done in agrarian societies and rural types of societies, then that is very beneficial. And we had that here, of course, among many families, immigrant families, black families, Latino families. The extended family has been very important. But that's been breaking down, I think, all over the world. And when that happens then you have to look for other sources for child care. And then so-called strangers, or people trained to take care of children, or even friends, the village scene in a larger sense, have to become part of taking care of children and have to become surrogate parents in many, many ways. And that's what's happening here in the United States. That we have extended the extended family concept to include day care, nannies, friends, schools, all the activities now, which we have to help to support the family, including aftercare programs, community programs, and girls and boys clubs and other activities that more and more families are asking for additional help.

We've had an explosion of mentoring programs, for instance, in the United States because parents are not available to spend that kind of time with their children to help them in school work, to help give them recreation and so on. So I see more and more citizens, in fact, more and more citizens should become involved in taking care of children that taking care of children has to become everybody's business, and I mean not only the government sector but also the private sector. Because if that doesn't happen, then I think that our children will suffer.

HARRIS: Dr. Poussaint, Leon Harris here in Atlanta. I would like to see if you could briefly tell me how you think this -- what we also see happening in this culture, this fact that children have to grow up so much faster, so much earlier, how that complicates this whole process.

POUSSAINT: Well, I think it complicates it because children are exposed to so much more via the media, and they are going to be exposed to even more on the Internet. So parents can't control what information their children receive and can't completely control the values and role models that they are exposed to. This means that parents have to be much more active in instilling values and helping their children in moral development so that they are not under too much influence of the media, which sometimes of course slants off in negative directions, or under too much influence of their peers, who shape what they think. So I think it is, in some ways, it's a very difficult situation for parents, because they too have to keep up with the explosion of change taking place in the society. And also the -- just really intense kind of consumerism and pop culture and entertainment that are influencing their young people.

MCEDWARDS: Dr. Alvin Poussaint, lots to think about there, thank you very much for joining us today.

HARRIS: Yes, we have to leave it there unfortunately.


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