IN A WORLD FILLED WITH BROKEN FAMILIES and vulnerable children, the Adventist Church is distinctively qualified to offer social
support and holistic health. That message highlighted two plenary sessions presented by Dr. Kiti Freier Randall at the 2017 Reach the World conference in Budapest.
Randall, a pediatric neurodevelopmental psychologist from Loma Linda University Health, works extensively with at-risk children. In
her talks she emphasized the role of the home in childhood development. “Although other supportive institutions in society play a role, it is in the family that nurture is effective and meaningful.”
Randall contrasted that idyllic statement with the reality that children around the world are at risk from a great number of factors, including but not limited to malnutrition, abuse, lack of access to education, and obesity.
One of the risk factors Randall highlighted was technology addiction. “Too much, or misused technology can impact a child’s physical and mental health,” she explained, leading to negative impacts such as sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. To spontaneous applause from attendees, the pediatric psychologist challenged parents not to expose children under two years of age to technology. “It is wrong when technology is raising our children,” she said.
In her second presentation, Randall offered a bright spot to the daunting realities she began with. Science is focusing increasingly
on the idea of resilience, “the capacity to maintain or develop competent functioning in the face of major life stressors.” Factors such as social support, connectedness, meaningful activity, and exercise all lead to increased resiliency.
Randall said that in her 30 years of working with the highest at risk children in the world, she realized that “what they need, our
church has to offer. Our church has all the elements that we need to change trajectory to a positive one. We have the ability
to provide meaningfulness and hope in life. We have the ability to provide nurturance and relationship with healthy adults, and
access to health activities. If you look at the scientific literature of what we need for resiliency in our children,” concluded Randall,
“those can all be answered as a mission of our church, and I believe we’re called to do that, to give of our ourselves in a positive healthy relationship to spend time with young people and make a difference in their life.”
Mental health professionals in the audience agreed. “I completely agree with what Dr. Randall said,” shared Dr. Gabor Mihalec, a practicing family therapist and the director of Family Ministries for the host Hungarian Union Conference. “There has to be somebody who breaks this chain right here and right now. And I think that we as a church, we as pastors, as members, as family life educators
have a very special gift and a very special opportunity to have insights into the lives of families where the things are happening.”