I went to a family picnic Sunday – sunshine, a sea breeze, hot dogs and hamburgers, laughing children playing with their cousins – even Despicable Me cupcakes, decorated with Twinkies© (sorry Michelle). It reminded me of my own childhood – a simpler time when Mom and Dad were the center of my universe.
That was a time before well-meaning “advocates”, government bureaucrats and Madison Avenue turned our children into commodities surrounded by an ecosystem that influences, encapsulates, isolates, and smothers them.
The child’s ecosystem is a community of interests that surround our children. While some of these interests may be well intentioned, collectively they’ve objectified our children. From public policy advocates, to a myriad of government agencies, the education system, academic researchers, plus toy makers, advertisers and marketers, all the way to entertainment producers; an ecosystem has grown up that collectively serves the needs of the adults involved rather than the children it surrounds.
From the early colonial period, American parents were responsible to nurture, protect and challenge their children. They expected their children to “climb the” social and financial “ladder” through education and industry. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s exposed the ugly secrets of institutionalized or situational “separate but unequal” whether the result of race or poverty or both. The government needed to intervene. But rather than addressing only that subset of children, bureaucrats expanded those protections until they included all children. This unnecessary intervention eventually became a barrier to parental responsibility and choice.
Schools develop and administer curriculum, use test scores to develop academic labels for children and assign students to classes or student groupings – based on those labels – with little or no parental input. In my recent experience, the parents’ concerns about specific teachers shared on the playground were never communicated to school administrators. The parents feared their child may be retaliated against.
The government meets every failure of individual parents to act responsibly toward their children with a new and expensive program – health care, child nutrition, education special needs. Too often, where a problem could be solved with a tooth brush, bureaucrats employ a paint roller. The broad brush has actually encouraged an abdication of parental responsibility. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that nearly half of children born in the United States last year were born out of wedlock. Government programs have become an accepted alternative to the nuclear family as the economic foundation of childhood.
In my mind, there is something really out of whack when the government requires parental consent for a 16 year old to apply for a driver’s license but not when that same child wants to abort a baby. Kids need certainty – a single standard of responsibility and accountability – to learn how to behave as adults.
If the exploitation of children by education and social welfare experts were not enough – Hollywood and Madison Avenue, equally, see our children as opportunities to maximize profits. There’s a children’s feature film almost every month loaded with product placements and supported by an infrastructure of merchandise. It’s no coincidence that toys or children’s cereals are on the store shelf at the child’s level! Even the most responsible and conscientious parent feels the pressure to indulge their child.
When I was young, kids dreamed of growing up to be a doctor, lawyer, a plumber – just like their dad – or a skilled athlete. Today kids aspire to become celebrities – just like they see on so-called “reality TV”.
I worry about the message our children get from television. Disney’s pre-teen and teen programs, for example, portray the parent(s) as either a buffoon, absent, or clueless.
Social media can be anti-social when it discourages genuine communication between children and parents. In my childhood, parents and children connected at the dinner table. We “checked in” to share the day’s events. The dinner table was where we asked questions and debated our parents’ answers. It’s where our personal and social values were developed.
I recently observed a family of five at an adjacent table at our neighborhood Red Robin Restaurant each texting on a separate device. There was no communication, no eye contact between the five family members. The parents were being “friends” to their kids instead of setting an example about the importance of communication in establishing meaningful human relationships.
Hillary Clinton suggested It Takes A Village to raise a child in modern America. I believe that we need to shrink the village down to a hamlet that puts parents and children together in the town square – just as it was for the first 200 years of American history.
Photo Credit: Economists Journey to Life