Lawrence, N. (1993/1994, December/January). What’s happening to our children? Midwest Today, pp. 6-14.
Many youth workers and parents are concerned about what is happening to children. Is being a child so much different than when our grandparents or their parents grew up? Are children any less curious, needy, vulnerable, or impressionable than a generation ago? Many believe that kids have not changed, but the world around them has. Most of those concerned assert that television and movies impose adult material on grade-schoolers long before they are emotionally equipped to assimilate it.
According to the article, children should exist in a "dreamlike" state until about age nine. Instead, they are being hardened too early, jarred into an adult consciousness that prevents the natural development of their imaginations. Many children struggle with high anxiety levels and learning problems possibly caused by the enormous pressure placed on them to think and speak like adults before they are ready.
Many parents are frustrated when their best efforts at teaching their children are constantly subverted by television, movies, peer influences, and the "troubled culture" in which we live.
In the world, kids are losing status. According to a United Nations report, the U.S. is one of the most dangerous places in the world for young people. In fact, other countries are becoming safer and healthier while America is getting worse.
According to Lawrence, Dr. Spock, "the guru of child-rearing in America for the last 50 years," has insight into what has gone wrong. Essentially, the problem boils down to excessive competition and the glorification of it. Today, children are raised on greed, consumption, and the "me-first" philosophy. The absence of spiritual values in our society has facilitated the chaos. Spock argues that permissive parenting, committed by most of the parents who are employed full-time, is responsible for many of our social ills.
Lawrence highlights several observations that form the backbone of the problem we face today: kids are not healthy. Lawrence cites those children who count the slice of lettuce on their Big Macs as their daily requirement of vegetables and who implore their parents to drive around until they find a closer parking spot to the mall. Child abuse has become an epidemic; child abandonment is increasing, as an estimated 22,000 infants are abandoned in hospitals each year. Violent games are increasingly popular, including "Mortal Kombat," where the object of the game is to kick, burn, and annihilate opponents.
Studies show that most video games actively encourage aggressive, competitive behaviors that value power, individual strength, violent problem-solving, and instant gratification. Younger kids are committing crimes. Violence is becoming a way of life.
Contributing to each of these trends are several risk factors:
- child abuse and maltreatment
- poverty and unemployment/welfare
- learning disabilities and illiteracy
- spousal abuse/history of violent behavior in the home
Teen sex has always been a curiosity; now, it is the norm for many teens. At one time, there was a moral mandate about saving sex until marriage. Today, such a notion is "outdated" and "prudish." In one year, teens typically observe 14,000 sexual situations on television, according to the Center for Population Options. These sexual situations rarely result in emotional growth. And since so many are having sex, having babies, and catching and spreading viruses, a large peer group has evolved that says it’s okay to be sexually active.
By age 15, one quarter of girls and a third of boys are sexually active. Among sexually active teenage girls, 61% have had multiple partners, up from 38% in 1971.
On standardized tests, American kids are scoring "high enough to compete," but there are a large number who fall out of the mainstream because their families are not functioning. Violence at school keeps an estimated 160,000 students at home. One cannot expect educators to teach "the three Rs" when one’s society is built around television.
Television teaches kids that parents rarely come in pairs, father knows least, and adults are just overgrown kids. According to experts at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, "television has great teaching potential; it’s just been teaching the wrong things." In the words of some, television has become a toxic waste dump. For others, TV stands for "too violent." MTV and "Beavis and Butthead" are among the shows noted for their reprehensible exploits and messages.
Lawrence concludes his article by pointing to the importance of good parenting. In the 1990s, home life includes single parenting, economic hardship, poor motivation, fatigue, low self-esteem, and insufficient instruction. Lack of responsibilities given to children at home enables children to remain lazy, unaware, and apathetic. It is time for parents to honestly assess their situation and become as actively involved in raising their children as they were in creating them.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- How is growing up today different from growing up a generation ago? What has changed? What remains the same?
- What topics from this article can you discuss with a young person?
- How might you approach these subjects without enlarging the distance or gap between you and the young people with whom you are speaking?
- How do you respond to the statistics regarding young people today? Do you believe them? How have you witnessed them?
- What do you think about Dr. Spock’s comments?
- There is a tremendous need to understand young people’s upbringing and perspectives. They see the world very differently than when you were their age. They likely do not want to hear how things were "back in the good ol’ days…"; they would rather talk about how life is for them now.
- More than ever, young people need a safe place to explore, ask questions, experiment, and discover on their own. Still, they need guidance to understand what it means to healthily come of age in a world that appears to discriminate against maturity.
Jennifer E. Kemp cCYS