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Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities

NCJ Number
Kathleen Kovner Kline
Date Published
4 pages
Composed by a group of 33 children's doctors, research scientists, and mental-health and youth-service professionals, this report identifies the mental health crisis among U.S. children and adolescents, identifies the main cause of the crisis, and introduces a new concept, "authoritative communities," to help youth-service professionals, policymakers, and the entire society do a better job of addressing the crisis.
The report identifies a two-pronged crisis. First, there are high and increasing rates of depression; anxiety; attention deficit; conduct disorders; thoughts of suicide; and other serious mental, emotional, and behavioral problems among U.S. children and adolescents. Second, the strategies for addressing the problem (individual risk assessment, medications, and psychotherapies) seldom encourage and may prevent identifying and addressing the broad environmental conditions that are contributing to growing numbers of mentally ill children. This report concludes that a main cause of the crisis of American childhood and adolescence is a lack of connectedness, i.e., close connections to other people and connections to moral and spiritual meaning. Connectedness is rooted in bonds to groups of people organized around certain purposes (social institutions). In recent decades, the social institutions that foster these two forms of connectedness for children have become significantly weaker, which is a major cause of the current mental and behavioral health crisis among U.S. children. Most of the first half of this report presents the scientific evidence, largely from the field of neuroscience, of how our brains develop, showing that the human child is "hardwired to connect." When this basic need goes unfulfilled, then mental health deteriorates. This crisis must be addressed through the establishment and effective performance of "authoritative communities," which are groups that manifest the types of connectedness that children need and are increasingly lacking. These 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 and constructive life. Much of the second half of this report describes authoritative communities, including an analysis of their role in society and proposals for strengthening them. The report proposes 3 primary goals and 18 detailed recommendations, all of which focus on renewing and building authoritative communities. The goals and recommendations target youth-service organizations and youth-service professionals, all governmental levels, employers, philanthropists and foundations, religious and civic leaders, scholars, and families and individuals. The implementation of these goals and recommendations would lead to fundamental social change in American society. Nothing less, argues this report, will reduce the mental-health crisis for children and youth in America.