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U Michigan Researcher Sarah Clark: Only 8% of 18 Year Olds Can Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment

This is the testimony researcher Sarah Clark gave last week in support of Let Grow’s “Reasonable Childhood Indepndence” law in Michigan. Read it and weep!

My name is Sarah Clark. I am a research faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, and Co-Director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, which we call the Mott Poll.

The Mott Poll measures parental attitudes, experiences and priorities regarding health-related issues and trends for US children, with the goal of representing the parental perspective in public dialogue about child health topics.

We field Mott Poll surveys several times a year through something called the Knowledge Panel, a nationally representative probability-sample panel of over 50,000 households across the US. Thus, Mott Poll reports are based on rigorous science; our findings represent views of US families.

We studied teen independence. The results were not encouraging.

The path to childhood independence is a gradual process of allowing children increasing amounts of freedom, with parents there to teach skills, explain key information, and help the child understand consequences of their choices. As children become more experienced and comfortable with tasks, they can assume responsibility for doing them regularly.

Increasing independence also is key to the successful transition from healthcare in the pediatric setting, where parents are very much a part of the process of arranging and obtaining health care, to the adult system, where individuals 18 and older are expected to engage in health-related interactions independently.

We explored this topic in a 2019 report about parents’ efforts to promote their teens’ independence in managing their own health and well-being. Parents rated which health-related tasks their teen age 17-18 years could do on their own. Results were not encouraging.

  • only 2/3 of parents felt the teen could manage getting enough sleep;
  • only half said their teen could handle a minor injury;
  • only 25% said their teen could take the correct dose of an over-the-counter medicine; and
  • only 8% said their teen could schedule a doctor’s appointment.

Are kids getting not getting enough practice in “real life” skills?

In describing why their teen wasn’t more independent, parents said their child wasn’t mature enough or didn’t know enough to take on more responsibility.

That prompted us to explore this topic among parents of younger children, to understand whether they were providing opportunities for children to do things themselves and develop that sense of independence. In our 2023 report, among parents of children age 9-11 years, 84% agreed that children benefit from having free time without adult supervision. But there’s gap between what parents say is good for kids, and they do on a daily basis.

  • only 58% say their child stays home for less than an hour without an adult present;
  • only 50% allow their child to go find an item in another aisle when shopping at the grocery story;
  • only one-third say their child walks or bikes to a friend’s house, or plays at the park with a friend without an adult present.

Why? The biggest reason is parents worrying that something might scare their child, or that their child isn’t ready to do these things.

But 1 in 6 parents believe state or local laws don’t allow children that age to be alone, and 1 in 7 worry that someone will call the police if their child is not under direct adult supervision.

This Mott Poll suggests parents may be impeding their child’s path to independence – in part due to fear of negative consequences even when they are acting in the best interests of their child’s growth and development.

The Reasonable Childhood Independence Bill is an important and much-needed step to support Michigan parents in their role of helping children learn, grow, and become more capable. Passage of this bill will give parents peace of mind and help to prevent unnecessary distress when parents allow their child opportunities to demonstrate capability, problem-solving, and expanding independence. I strongly support this bill.

Lenore here: Let’s hope it passes! So far, 8 states have passed our bill, usually with bi-partisan sponsors and in 5 states it passed unanimously. GO BLUE! 

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