Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities (Executive Summary)INSTITUTE FOR AMERICAN VALUES
Authoritative communities are groups that live out the types of connectedness that our children increasingly lack. They are groups of people who are committed to one another over time and who model and pass on at least part of what it means to be a good person and live a good life. Renewing and building them is the key to improving the lives of children and adolescents.
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report is about rising rates of mental problems and emotional distress among U.S.
children and adolescents. Written by a group of 33 children's doctors, research
scientists, and mental health and youth service professionals, the report does
identifies the crisis.
presents what these experts believe to be a main cause of the crisis.
it introduces a new concept, authoritative communities, intended to help
youth service professionals, policy makers, and the entire society do a better
job of addressing the crisis.
crisis comes in two parts.
The first part is the deteriorating mental
and behavioral health of U.S. children. We are witnessing high and rising rates
of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide,
and other serious mental, emotional, and behavioral problems among U.S. children
The second part is how we as a society are thinking
about this deterioration. We are using medications and psychotherapies. We are
designing more and more special programs for "at risk" children. These approaches
are necessary. But they are not enough. Why? Because programs of individual risk-assessment
and treatment seldom encourage us, and can even prevent us, from recognizing as
a society the broad environmental conditions that are contributing to growing
numbers of suffering children.
In large measure, what's causing this crisis of
American childhood is a lack of connectedness. We mean two kinds of connectedness
— close connections to other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual
Where does this connectedness come from? It comes from groups
of people organized around certain purposes — what scholars call social institutions.
In recent decades, the U.S. social institutions that foster these two forms
of connectedness for children have gotten significantly weaker. That weakening,
this report argues, is a major cause of the current mental and behavioral health
crisis among U.S. children.
Much of the first half of this report is a
presentation of scientific evidence — largely from the field of neuroscience,
which concerns our basic biology and how our brains develop — showing that the
human child is "hardwired to connect." We are hardwired for other people
and for moral meaning and openness to the transcendent. Meeting these basic needs
for connection is essential to health and to human flourishing.
in recent decades we as a society have not been doing a good job of meeting these
essential needs, large and growing numbers of our children are failing to flourish.
What Can Solve the Crisis?
can help most to solve the crisis are authoritative communities.
communities are groups that live out the types of connectedness that our children
increasingly lack. They are groups of people who are committed to one another
over time and who model and pass on at least part of what it means to be a good
person and live a good life. Renewing and building them is the key to improving
the lives of U.S. children and adolescents.
is a new public policy and social science term, developed for the first time in
this report. It is intended to help all those in our society working to understand
and improve the lives of children.
Much of the second half of the report
is a definition of authoritative communities, an analysis of their role in society,
and proposals for strengthening them.
Is To Be Done?
The report proposes three big goals and 18
recommendations. All of the goals and recommendations focus on renewing and building
The goals and recommendations ask something
of all of us. Youth service organizations and youth service professionals. All
levels of government. Employers. Philanthropists and foundations. Religious and
civic leaders. Scholars. And families and individuals.
goals and implementing these recommendations would constitute fundamental social
change in our society. The report argues that nothing less will do.
New about this Report?
Among scholarly reports on children at risk, this
report is distinctive in several ways.
what may be the first time, this project on children's mental and emotional health
brings together prominent neuroscientists and children's doctors with social scientists
who study civil society. As a result, this report represents an early serious
effort to integrate the "hard science" of infant attachment and child and adolescent
brain development with sociological evidence of how civil society shapes outcomes
for children. Call it a new — watch out, big word coming — bio-psycho-social-cultural
model of child development. This new model is intended both to deepen our understanding
of today's crisis of childhood and to provide practical help to youth professionals,
policy makers, and others working to improve the lives of our children.
what may be the first time, a diverse group of scientists and other experts on
children's heath is publicly recommending that our society pay considerably more
attention to young people's moral, spiritual, and religious needs.
is not new, but it is not common either, for doctors and other professionals involved
in the delivery of social and medical services to recommend a fundamental social
change model, as opposed to an improved service delivery model, as a key to improving
the mental and emotional lives of children.
authors of this report have come together from across the philosophical and political
report introduces and argues for the importance of a new public policy and social
science concept: authoritative communities. This concept is the report's major
innovation and, potentially, its most important contribution. What's new is not
just the term itself, but more importantly, what it seeks to designate. For what
may be the first time, a concept has been developed to help policy makers, youth
service professionals, scholars, journalists, philanthropists, and others to identify
the specific traits across social institutions that are most likely to produce
good outcomes for children.
Commission on Children at Risk is a group of 33 children's doctors, research
scientists, and mental health and youth service professionals. Our mission is
to investigate empirically the social, moral, and spiritual foundations of child
well-being, evaluate the degree to which current practice and policy in the U.S.
recognize those foundations, and make recommendations for the future.
methodology has included interdisciplinary deliberation (including a conference
in June of 2002 at Dartmouth Medical School), a comprehensive literature review,
and the evaluation of 18 commissioned papers. This report, Hardwired to Connect,
is the summary and culmination of our work to date.
The Commission is an
independent, jointly sponsored initiative of YMCA of the USA, Dartmouth Medical
School, and the Institute for American Values. The commission's principal investigator
is Dr. Kathleen Kovner Kline of Dartmouth Medical School.
Around the Children: A Response to “Hardwired to Connect”
by the Mothers’ Council Task Force on the Needs of Children
To order Hardwired
to Connect, click here.
American Values. "Executive Summary." Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific
Case for Authoritative Communities (September 9, 2003).
permission from the Institute for American Values.
Copyright © 2003
Institute for American Values