Memphis' Future Depends on Today's Children

Where are we going? It’s a question that communities should ask themselves every so often, to keep on the path toward their long-term goals. But there’s a second question, often overlooked: Who will we be when we get there? The answer is strongly related to the social and emotional development of our children.

Studies show that early childhood interventions are a boon to social and emotional development! Tweet this!

Today’s leaders are working to make Memphis and Shelby County better for business, better for tourism, better for healthcare, and better for higher education. But tomorrow’s leaders are today’s children, so we must also make our community a better place for childhood.

Too many children lack access to the developmental support they need in the first three years of life, starting them off with a deficit before they even start to dream the American dream.

Memphis has some great schools. We have dedicated non-profits and wonderful public attractions. We have parks and greenspace that are among the best in the nation. But we can’t promise our children equal access to these resources.

Adult success is rooted in early experiences.

Children that spend their early years under stress or with limited positive experiences face serious obstacles. Some manage to overcome them, but many continually struggle due to early social and emotional deficits.

A shamefully large percentage of our children don’t have enough of the positive early experiences that promote social and emotional development. The result is that as early as the first three years of life, they lag behind their more privileged peers in developing the skills that prepare them for success in school and throughout life.

Poor children are exposed to higher levels of stress, anger, violence, and substance abuse in their homes and neighborhoods than children from more affluent families.

Social and emotional development affects children, families, and the entire community.

Research shows that children who fall behind in social and emotional development in the earliest years of life are more likely be adults at odds with society. On average, they have higher rates of high school dropout, unemployment, and incarceration. Children who thrive socially and emotionally develop self-confidence, become motivated, and learn how to resolve conflicts.

By returning to the question of who will we be and looking at it through the prism of social and emotional development, today’s leaders can create a map for the next generation’s success, and start moving in the right direction.

Studies show that early childhood interventions are a boon to social development—profoundly so when provided to children in their first three years of life. They help children start kindergarten with a rock solid foundation, making them better learners and more empathetic of their peers. Early education programs are a powerful form of intervention, giving children a safe and supportive place to learn about themselves and their potential.

Public health and awareness campaigns directed at parents and their behavior can be effective too, with enough partners and funding. By reaching parents and caregivers, these programs can increase their knowledge about best practices at home and in childcare settings.

Children who have participated in well-funded programs in the first three years of life enter formal education primed and ready for learning. Eventually, they enroll in college or enter the workforce, with the purpose and the skills to succeed. A skilled, educated workforce is the key to a community’s economic development.

Who will we be when we get there? The answer depends on our willingness to make meaningful investments in programs and policies that support early social and emotional development.