I am often accused of being too “political” with my social media posts. The argument being that I should be careful and remain apolitical, that an advocate for children needs to be careful not to alienate folks while fighting for the children. I agree in principle with that argument but am concerned that such a stance can lead pediatric advocates to avoid necessary conflicts, to avoid fighting the good fight, or to avoid being the strong voice for children. And I have noticed that as I age, I worry less about my image per se and more about what I can do on behalf of children. My career as a pediatrician and medical geneticist has given me a chance to be a powerful voice for children, and I will not be silenced at this time. To the best of my ability I will be non-partisan, pro-children. I am not picking a fight but rather doing what I think can be done for our children. Why? Because I care about children.
Our previous president promoted multiple policies and actions that were detrimental to the health and well-being of children and their families. All presidents swear an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” I took an Hippocratic Oath after completing medical school yet sometimes more needs to be done on a social level. In practical terms as a pediatrician, I feel that it is my duty to the children that I have cared for and the children that I advocate on behalf of is to preserve, protect and defend these vulnerable citizens who represent our future. It takes work and I am committed to it.
So, what can I do to preserve, protect and defend them? The list is long and has occupied my whole career over the last 50 years since college. Let me go over some of my specific issues, and examples of concerns are given in parentheses.
- Truth – politicians must be truth-tellers and acknowledge that truth-seeking means looking for and accepting facts that will constitute truth. Misstating facts (or even worse overtly telling falsehoods) can often lead to policies that harm children. (Example – Not everyone seeking asylum at the southern border was a murderer or rapist. That characterization of folks led to fearmongering and grossly inhumane handling of children at the border.)
- Trust – politicians must be trust-worthy. This can be difficult for all of us yet worthy of our constant attention. And trust is most often engendered when the truth is told, and actions are consistent with that. (Example – Children have an inherent trust in adults, especially their parents. Interactions without trust are empty and teach children to be more skeptical than they should be.)
- Science – the scientific advances that I have seen in my career in medicine have been incredible for children. Therapies for childhood cancer have advanced. Vaccines have rendered many childhood diseases (some often lethal or debilitating) relatively rare. Science is to be embraced as we provide for the care of children. (Example – The COVID-19 pandemic should have taught us that public health measures, based on scientific inquiry and observations, are our best bet to minimize disease. The reluctance of many politicians to embrace masks in the first months of the pandemic before the availability of vaccines was to the detriment and unfortunate demise of too many people. And even now more folks should be vaccinated than currently are vaccinated as misinformation has been embraced by too many people.)
- Civility – an absolute quality/skill of adulthood should be the ability to be civil to each other. When politicians belittle, demean or mock others, they are setting the tone that such actions are acceptable, yet it is antithetical to what our children need to see or the lessons that they will be taught. (Example – the tenor of our interactions has deteriorated substantially recently because of incivility. Children see how easy it is to be a bully and see that is actually accepted in some quarters. By allowing that, we have harmed our children.)
- Diversity – the strength of our society is its diversity, yet “make America great again” slogan is a veiled remembrance to the good old days when certain folks were in charge and certain folks knew their place. We have a shared humanity that needs to be embraced and honored always. (Example – Recent efforts to change voter representation and to marginalize those with different sexual identity serves to ignore diversity and drive some folks to the shadows. These reversals to positive trends over my lifetime are disheartening and harmful to our children.)
- History – recent efforts to ban the telling of our true history (slavery, racism, or even potentially select war crimes [My Lai in Vietnam]) only serve to prohibit us from learning our past and how to avoid past problems and improve going forward. The lessons of history indeed tend to be appropriately uncomfortable. (Example – the practice of “redlining” [cordoning off certain areas in cities as high-risk for mortgage applications] effectively kept such groups, usually citizens of color, from becoming homeowners and eventually improving their financial lot going forward. This practice has not been widely known, and I suspect that certain jurisdictions would consider this an uncomfortable fact and avoid its discussion. We now know that generations later that the environment [water and air quality] in those areas is substantially worse than comparable areas and put the residents at greater risk for developmental problems and disease. And the children suffer.)
There are some political issues where there can be logical disagreement and people on both sides of the political spectrum can respectfully disagree. There are some political issues where there are not two sides of an issue, only right and wrong. When it comes to children, I tend to see the latter – things that are right for children and families and things that are wrong for children and families. Not every child and family have the resources and benefits that other families have. I will fight for such going forward. I will call out inequities that harm children and families.
Yes, I might be overzealous in my work on their behalf, but I will be unapologetic. Why? Because I care about children.