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The Unintended Destination - Have we lost control of the youth of America?
Robert Burns once wrote "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" in his poem "To A Mouse". John Steinbeck appropriated this line and made it somewhat more memorable in his work "Of Mice and Men". Steinbeck turned the phrase slightly, and it became immortal. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry". It has been quoted, and mis-quoted, many times during the intervening years. It has also proven itself to be the standard by which many people live their lives. No matter what the intention, somewhere along the line intention gave way to reality; and the reality is not what was intended.
Take the photo of my house. Christmas lights awry, hanging as though placed there by some drunken sailor; or by someone who cared not what the result was. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Saturday my wife and I worked for hours in the beautiful sun, hanging lights across the guttering; wrapping lights along the porch railing; setting up a Christmas Tree on the porch for all to see and enjoy. We put the tree together, hung lights all around it, placed a large amount of ornaments on it, and placed it just so. Then, that evening, a mighty wind arrived and virtually destroyed that which we lovingly created. The tree was thrown onto the ground, ornaments scattered along the ground, lights torn from their positions and we were left with the remnants. So, the next day we picked the tattered things back up, and attempted to put them back into place. But as you all know, something repaired is not necessarily something fixed. While the tree and its ornaments were able to be placed back into some semblance of order, the lights along the guttering were not. I am now faced with the task of finding parts to replace those damaged or destroyed in the wind storm, and the stores are not assisting. So, I will improvise. No idea how just yet; I'll figure it out along the way.
Perhaps some of you are smiling, thinking this is a humorous hub, written about my folly of desiring a beautiful exterior to my home for the holidays. It isn't. I use this minor example as only the latest in life's challenges to indicate just how many times we end up where we do not intend to be. My intent, rather, is to expound upon a somewhat more serious vein of our American life. I will give a small example of my thoughts, then speak a bit more on the subject.
Alright, class; get out a clean piece of paper; a ruler; and a pencil. On this piece of paper, place the ruler and draw a line along it. Done? Alright, now while holding one end of the ruler firmly in place, move the other end slightly and then draw another line. Remove the ruler and look at what you have drawn. If you performed the exercise properly, you should have two lines emanating from the same point, yet diverging as they move across the paper. Now in your mind's eye, take those two lines and continue them onward, years into the future. Stop and look at them now. Can you even see one from the other? Is the distance between them so great that you cannot tell they are related in origin? Now, think of this in terms of parenting skills and techniques.
Huh? you might be saying. You've lost me, Mike. What do these divergent lines have to do with parenting? Well, I'll tell you, friend. To me, they represent the starting point for two dramatically different lines of thinking on how best to go about parenting. One states that a firm hand and hard demeanor will create the best child, most able to think, and fend for themselves. The other states that a kind heart, and gentle mien will create a more loving, more nurtured child, better suited to think of others and therefore become a more thoughtful leader in society. In my estimation, the former is what was status quo for many, many years. The child was expected to follow directions, work in and around the family home, and generally be what the parents were in terms of where they stood in society; be it on the uppermost rungs of the ladder, or barely hanging on to the bottom rung. The latter created the hope of allowing all children the opportunity to become whatever they desired to be; encouraged them to dream, and not become fettered by the same chains that held their parents in place. To rise above and conquer.
Many credit, or blame, Dr. Benjamin Spock for the status of children in the country today. This began in the '60's as a result of misinterpretation of his book "The Common Sense Book Of Baby and Child Care". The thought was that the book encouraged permissiveness, and individualism in children. To a degree, that is correct. But not in allowing children to do as they desire; rather as a way of raising children to think for themselves, and to be cared for as individuals, not the same each and every time or child. Dr. Spock desired for children to become all that they could be, and for parents to encourage them to do just that. Somewhere along the way, the message was scrambled and he was blamed for generations of children raised to be selfish, and who think of no one but themselves. Parents were blaming Dr. Spock for their failures. He fought that misunderstanding until the day he died.
Generally speaking, people do not like to be reminded of their failures, or to be held accountable for them. I am no different; but I will accept blame when it is mine to accept. In my first marriage, I did my best to be a parent who expected my children to do the same; if you made the mistake, you need to make it right. However, my "wife" was cut from another cloth, and blamed everyone but herself for her mistakes. Unfortunately, our sons followed her example, and became that which I detest: people who refuse to accept fault in themselves, rather it is everyone else's fault for their shortcomings. I hate to say that of my own flesh and blood, but it is what it is. Don't you wish you could take a peek at the future, in order to make a more informed decision? If only...
That ship has sailed, and has blissfully sunk off the coast of shattered dreams. I set sail in a small lifeboat, and drifted aimlessly for years until Tina rescued me. But in my position in our school district, I see the very same types of children daily, blaming anyone and everyone for what is ultimately their decisions. And still I wonder: where is this coming from? Is it something inherent, this blaming others? Is it a hereditary defect, or is it something determined after the womb but before the grave? The age old question of which wills out: genetics or environment? As the owl in the old Tootsie Pop commercial used to say: the world may never know.
Daily I see children who have been diagnosed as having Oppositional Defiance Disorder, where they are "unable" to be spoken to in a negative manner. Adults and peers cannot speak to or treat them with anything resembling constructive criticism, lest they react in an out of control manner, often harming themselves or others in their rage. Others react much less harshly, simply by arguing endlessly about a situation. A part of me wonders if this is a real diagnosis, or simply a tag placed on willful children. We have tags such as BD, or Behavior Disorders, ranging from mild to severe in nature. But still wonder how much is real, or how much is an affectation based in selfishness, resulting from something as simple as "I don't want to."
Another part of me wonders where we, as parents, went wrong. Was it in our genes, did we mingle the two strains of our being together and create that which is what we are faced with? Has our race declined to the point where every person carries a gene which creates children which do not conform to society? I speak not to those who have children who are truly disabled; who are beyond the capacity for understanding what society expects of them. I speak to those children and parents who endeavor to abuse society and get "theirs" without working for it or earning it. Or did we fail by allowing too much freedom, not enough structure. Is it society's fault, these defiant children? Is it that we as humanity stood on the sidelines as our children slowly took over the world? Or could it be something else? Is it that our country has been derailed by corporations, agencies and such in the name of the Almighty Dollar? Has chasing the American Dream cost us more than we thought?
There was a time in days of old where Fathers went off to work, and brought home the bacon. Then came a time where one income wasn't enough to suffice; more needs meant more income needed. Mothers began to work, and children who benefited by having that solid motherly influence at home daily were left adrift. They found one another, after school and during the holidays, and as all too frequently occurs, the weaker, less socially acceptable person influences the more innocent into following their lead. Why is that? Who can say why something like this occurs? I suppose I can say it is like the mixing of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The Mississippi is a lady, running cold and clear before meeting with that roughneck the Missouri. He's a roustabout, carrying a load of mud from the mountains. When they come together, I have heard that they literally run side by side for miles, separate but one. Then, the Missouri finally forces the lady to allow him to mingle with her, and he turns her waters dark with his mud. Have we as society allowed our children to run with a less than acceptable portion of person while we worked to become successful? I have to wonder.
Over time, this has become much more prevalent. Electronics now allow our children to access one another around the clock in a myriad of ways. And while encouraging them to become more and more open and involved, it is at a level which does not include face to face acceptance of others. As a result, we have become a society of beings which are more closely interwoven than ever before, while having the dubious distinction of becoming more separated and not invested with one another. Our dream of informed, intellectual children well behaved and able to take our country in a new direction has diverged along a line of selfish, immediate goal oriented behavior benefiting none but themselves.
I will not be accused of saying this as a blanket statement, meant for all children and parents. Rather I intend this as a caution to America. We have allowed control to be wrested from our hands, and willfully delivered it into the not so capable hands of our children. They do not know what they do, for they are not prepared to know. They are simply reacting in a manner they have put themselves in, with our blessing as parents. And now we wring our hands and cry woe is me; my child won't listen; my child won't behave; my child is out of control. I know: I'm right there. My children are extremely quick to tell my wife and I "No." or "I'm not gonna.." or "I don't want to." on certain things. We have not raised them to speak thus, but they learned none the less. And with society telling us as parents we cannot do this or that, we are left with what we can do: speak to them, ground them, take away liberties. But those same liberties they have access to at school, or with friends on the bus, or in after school activities. We have to allow them to go to school, and there we have no control of them should they decide we do not matter. These things they do are minimal in scope, being only words, or mild actions; but the path they lead to concerns me. They are mid to late teens, and are developing methods which lead me to believe we as parents are less in control then we may like.
If this was isolated to only my children, I may not be so worrisome; but it is not. Last week I had a child in the school district which was put out of school for ten days due to some infraction. In my mind, it must have been somewhat severe to warrant that kind of suspension. This child, a high school-er, came back to school on Thursday, rode a bus home on Friday after wheedling a ride for their friend home, without verification that it was alright with the parents. I allowed it, after speaking with the school. That very ride home, this child was seen to be destroying a seat in the bus. When spoken to about it Monday, no lies, or hiding from the truth. Yes, I did it. So what? So, off the bus and maybe out of school for another period of time. Daily, I see this type of behavior. Daily, we see this more and more in our children. And it is not always just from the stereotypical sources, the poor, single parent household who have nothing but pain. It has reached epidemic proportions in all walks of life, and all types and levels of children. From kindergartners carrying knives to school to seniors becoming pregnant and dropping out. Where will it end?
In closing, I acknowledge I ask more questions than I answer, but I am what I am. The only thought I do have for correction of this divergent line is that we find a way to begin working our way back towards a more middle of the road solution, one generation at a time. We didn't arrive here in a flash, we won't fix it in a moment. Education remains a key, but so does a restructuring of our lives as parents, and of our children recognizing we are declining as a society and picking up where we left off.