What about the Children of Tomorrow? Report from the President’s Conference

Last week I pretended to be a celebrity, thanks to an invitation to the President’s Conference–Tomorrow 2012 at Jerusalem’s Convention Center.

The conference brought together world-class experts in politics, finance, publishing, technology, communications, and Jewish thought from all over the world. Ayaan Hirsi-Ali was one of the most focused and self-possessed speakers I have ever heard. I enjoyed learning about economic decision-making from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and poor medical judgment from Dr. David Agus. I loved talking about Jewish writing at a special session for bloggers with Alana Newhouse, the editor of Tablet. But when choosing sessions I was disappointed to find nothing on children or families. There were no sessions on parenting, Jewish education, or marriage. There was not a single session on women’s issues.  The closest were sessions on Jewish identity of young adults, Ruth Westheimer on sex, and last summer’s social protests.

I thought a conference called “Tomorrow” would have more to say about the welfare of children and families. You can see the full program here. I heard that Keren Leibovich, a seven-time paralympic medal winner and single mother of four, mentioned breastfeeding two sets of twins (not at the same time) while preparing for races.  In the session on internet technology, one of the speakers mentioned the new international language, “internet,” that is being spoken by 15-year-olds. I’d be interested to hear if issues relating to families and children came up at other sessions that I didn’t attend.

While waiting for the special blogger sessions with with Yossi Vardi and Shimon Peres, I mentioned my concern to blogger Jennifer Gutman. Jennifer works in a hi-tech firm and hopes to have a large family one day. She is distressed when she sees anxious young mothers clearing their desks at 4 PM to return home to their children. Of course, they are the lucky ones—Jennifer works for a family-friendly firm. We all want women to play more of a role in business, academic research, and public policy. There is a push for the government to provide more day care for children and from younger ages.  But we need to have a discussion about how to meet the economic needs of families and nations without sacrificing the needs of our nation’s, and our world’s, children. Before we can make policies we need to have accurate information about the following, just for a start:

  • What are the costs and benefits–not just economic–of lengthening maternity/paternity leave?
  • What should be the ratio of adults to children in daycare for different ages?
  • What training should day care workers and teachers receive?
  • What economic and social support will help young parents raise children in a happy and healthy environment?
  • What are the factors affecting  children’s health, including the rise in obesity?

If children are not cared for appropriately when they are small, we will pay a large societal and economic cost in the future. I urge the organizers of the President’s Conference to have a panel next year about the welfare of children. Here are some suggestions for speakers:

  • Miriam Labbok, MD, Professor of the Practice of Public Health at the University of North Carolina with a focus on maternal and Child Health and a member of US Secretary of Health Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality. She served as Senior Advisor for Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care, UNICEF HQ.
  • Professor Penina Klein, Ph.D. Professor of Education and head of the program in child development at Bar Ilan University. She won the Israel Prize in 2011 for research in education. She developed the technique known as Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers (MISC), which was adopted by UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
  • Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. is the Senior Fellow of The Child Trauma Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Houston (www.ChildTrauma.org) and adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago.  Dr. Perry is the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered, was published in April of 2010.  
  • Sharron Zabbary, Ph.D, Immunology Researcher and member of the biochemistry department at Tel Aviv University. She regularly speaks on the  properties of breast milk and the chemistry behind the early interactions between mothers and babies.
  • Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., the author of Playful Parenting and Mommy, They’re Teasing Me, a licensed psychologist specializing in children’s play and play therapy.
  • Kathleen Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is Fellow of the American Psychological Association in Health and Trauma Psychology, and is President-elect of the APA Division of Trauma Psychology. She is a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Texas Tech University School of Medicine in Amarillo, Texas and Research Associate at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She was a founding Associate Editor of Psychological Trauma and is Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Lactation.
The welfare of parents, babies and children today will have a profound effect on our lives “tomorrow.”
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  1. Jen Maidenberg says

    You are absolutely right. We definitely need to be having this conversation (everywhere, not just in Israel.) As a still new olah and a full time working mother, I am shocked by how little support there is for working mothers here, particularly as it pertains to school vacation (kids get off holidays that aren’t official holidays for those of us who work) and summer vacation in a country where inexpensive, but well run camp is not really an option.

    Furthermore, I’d like to add a whole panel on wellness, not just one speaker. I was pleased to see an environment-related session (but couldn’t make it as it conflicted with another). But where was health and wellness? Non-existent.

    • Agree with you both (Jen in the comment, Hannah above).

      It’s shocking that it could be so absent from the discussion. Maybe one downside to having an 84-year-old male mascot?

    • Jen, thanks for your response. You’re right about both the camps and the lack of health discussion. Well, Dr. Ruth spoke about sexual health. 🙂

  2. Nurse Yachne says

    “(kids get off holidays that aren’t official holidays for those of us who work) and summer vacation in a country where inexpensive, but well run camp is not really an option.”

    HAH! You got *that* right!! And what about reserve duty? No provision for working mothers when their husbands aren’t there. If you have no family around to help you, you are toast.

  3. I would love to have Alfie Kohn address the conference. We need people who focus on what we can’t measure on not data which will compare test scores and incomes. We need to get away from politics and the topics that characterize the president’s conference and talk about real people and their problems . More time and help is only part of the solution – we need to focus on what type of help , parenting and educational approaches that meet kids needs and not that of future employers

  4. Observer says

    Everyone is mentioning real issues. But I think that the lack of anything dedicated to children and families bespeaks a more fundamental problem. This article (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/?single_page=true) has been making a bit of a stir, but some of the points she raises are closely related. Basically, the idea is that at the core of the problem is our attitude towards raising a family. It simply is not on the radar as a distinct, rewarding and hugely important task that talented and “important” people would actually WANT to engage in. All too often it’s just not thought about, and when it is, it’s frequently seen as something of an “add on” that can’t be allowed to interfere too much with “real” work.

  5. Adam Neira says

    Three very interesting women who could attend a future international conference in Israel are…

    Judith Lewis-Herman
    Jennifer Freyd
    Lenore Terr

  6. Men should not be telling women how to be mothers. Especially psychologists.