Book Review: Hardwired to Connect

January 30, 2004

Book Review: Hardwired to Connect

Hardwired to Connect is a report released in 2003 the USA by The Commission on Children at Risk; it’s subtitle is “The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities”. Sponsored by the YMCA of the USA, Dartmouth Medical School and the Institute for American Values, the report has drawn on the work of many researchers. Its starting thesis is one that many religious groups, including Christians, will readily identify with: material prosperity does not correlate with happiness. The argument is that human beings are hardwired for relationships and that the rise in mental health disorders, substance abuse and other indicators of problems is directly related to impaired relationships. There is at the same time an emphasis on the treatment of such social problems rather than an emphasis on the prevention of them.

This is a common theme in many discourses at present but I believe that a major contribution of this report is the coining of the concept “Authoritative Community”. It is argued that young people raised in such communities are more deeply connected in their relationships and far less prone to some of the negative social consequences listed above. Strengthening such communities will protect young people.

Authoritative communities can be families with children and all civic, educational, recreational, community service, business, culture, and religious groups that serve or include persons under the age of 18 that exhibit certain characteristics.

These characteristics are:

  1. it is a social institution that includes children and youth;
  2. it treats children as ends in themselves;
  3. it is warm and nurturing;
  4. it establishes clear boundaries and limits;
  5. it is defined and guided at least partly by non-specialists;
  6. it is multi-generational;
  7. it has a long-term focus;
  8. it encourages spiritual and religious development;
  9. it reflects and transmits a shared understanding of what it means to be a good person;
  10. it is philosophically oriented to the equal dignity of all persons and to the principle of love of neighbor (p.52).

The report does not have a particular faith leaning and I believe that this is an advantage in using it as the basis of discussion with the secular world. However the section on pages 29-31 which deals with the positive effect on young people of religious faith is fascinating, and one that those involved in youth work should be aware of. I noticed this very interesting comment:

…for adolescents one religious quality that appears to be especially beneficial …is… the young person’s sense of participating in a “direct personal relationship with the Divine”.

Such statements ring true with both traditional Natural theology as well as Christian teaching.

As a scientist by background I am interested in some of the arguments in the report which link the development of moral thinking to biological attachment. There is a case here for the statements of St Paul in the first Chapter of Romans, in which he argues clearly that all human beings do have some innate understanding of the nature of God.

The report has implications for churches and for other groups in society. The emphasis on the value of multi-generational interaction challenges much of popular culture with its age segmentation; we so often emphasise multi-cultural pluralism and undervalue the richness of a multi-age society. There has been widespread discussion of, for example, the drain that an aging population will be on the tax base rather than on the resource of wisdom to which society will have access. The isolation of nuclear families in suburbs where there is no older generation to assist young parents or model successful value systems has also become an issue in Australia.

Although this report is not a Christian document, it provides general support for the practical reasonableness of the Christian worldview and is a resource for those of us involved in working with young people.


Dr Timothy Wright is the Headmaster of Shore School in Sydney.

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