Once upon a time I could leave my house, go out to a restaurant or a movie, and find the experience moderately rewarding. This isn’t to say that there is something wrong with the service industry or the movie industry today, per se, although both of those could be topics for posts unrelated to this one. No, the real problem is children. And by children, I mean their parents.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it seems to have been sometime between the Boomers and Generation Y. I don’t want to single out Generation X as the source of all the trouble, but let’s posit that there’s a huge amount of overlap. When I was younger, I got to go outside quite a bit. But outside meant in my neighborhood out in the woods or in a neighbor’s back yard so that we could yell, play kickball, fight mock wars and do all the things that kids do when their parents tell them to “take it outside.” And we did get to go out in public with the ‘rents, to public places, like movie theaters, playhouses and restaurants. However, I remember that things were a bit different then.
Were I or my brother perfect children? Not that I recall, but a line seems to have been crossed somewhere. We weren’t allowed to run freely about a busy restaurant while our parents occasionally glanced around wondering where we were or made a lame attempt to reign us in with a barely audible reprimand. We weren’t allowed to go out to a 10:00pm movie, never mind go to one, raise a ruckus and get away with it. And we surely weren’t allowed to talk back to another adult, swear, use all manner of rude gestures, or leave the table with uneaten vegetables.
There is an appalling lack of discipline and personal responsibility in our culture today. At some point it became taboo to paddle a child by way of demonstrating what’s right and what’s wrong. At some point it became OK to sue big businesses and family members for our own negligent or careless behavior. At some point it became the norm to label children with nebulous social disorders and medicate them into submission rather than identify children as children and realize they need structured upbringing and guidance.
There is an undercurrent of fear growing slowly but steadily because we’ve silently given away most of our ability to fend for ourselves. It comes to light rather starkly when you consider events like Columbine or the current state of air traffic security or when third graders conspire to kill a teacher in Georgia. Child-on-child violence is escalating, older kids seem to have no moral compass or fear of death, and parents want to wash their hands of all of it. And I scope all of this as a trend, not as a de facto standard. Are there good parents who are bringing their children up properly? Yes. Are there good children who will go to school and grow up to be doctors, scientists, teachers, laborers and good members of society? Yes. But there’s work to be done.
We have to reclaim our grip on reality. We need to have the freedom to discipline our kids, and we have to use that freedom. Discipline doesn’t mean corporal punishment, necessarily, it simply means impressing upon a child what is right and what is wrong. The method is irrelevant: religion, logic, life lessons, hard knocks, or a combination of all of the above are effective when used judiciously and consistently. Kids need to stay in school and schools need to teach them something. Kids need to be imbued with respect and humility and shown that it’s not a weakness to exhibit both. If we don’t go back to living up to our responsibilities and taking charge of the life courses we provide for our children, fear and violence are going to escalate until it’s uncontrollable and we tie our social fabric into an impossibly complex knot.