Children must be challenged to develop respect
September 2, 2003 Grand Junction Free Press Page 10
(c) Copyright 2003, Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall, All Rights Reserved Grammy's Axioms, Special to the Free Press
By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall
Anyone over 50 years of age finds today's world a bit overwhelming. Life in America, as those of us beyond that age once knew it, appears to be a thing of the past.
The changes have been numerous. They appear to have had more negative than positive results for the total social order.
Our public schools graduate young adults unable to read their diplomas. Kids graduating college cannot spell or write a grammatically-correct sentence.
Our policemen arrest criminals whose rights in our courtrooms outweigh those of the victims.
People made into heroes by the media are arrested for everything from gambling to drug and sexual abuse. Those deserving of the name "hero" because of their deeds are ignored.. No one wants real heroes these days, just people who act like heroes for brief periods of time in front of a camera. It does not matter if it is in a sports arena or in front of a camera.
Reality is out. Let's pretend is in.
Young people want what they want, when they want it, and see no reason why they should pay a price (like responsibility, time, work, and saving) to get it. What they define as music would put anyone who listened (let alone created) to it in prison in my era.
Our business leaders sell worthless bonds to the public, rape our business institutions, build cars that explode in flames when hit and manufacture tires that cause deadly accidents. Those in the "know" trade insider information for personal gain.
Because of taxation and high costs of living, both parents are often forced to work outside the home. Babies and young children are physically, mentally, and emotionally abused by parents, step-parents, day care centers, foster homes, and any other powerless person who preys on the physically weak to feel an undeserved sense of personal power.
Those of us old enough to remember Nikita Kruschev pounding his shoe on the podium at the United Nations, shouting that America would be defeated without the U.S.S.R. having to drop a single bomb should have listened. We thought our nation too strong to corrupt itself from the inside out.. We were wrong. Are kids today worse than those of 60 years ago, or just different? Is the social environment in which kids are raised so much worse?
They are complicated questions deserving of more in-depth attention than space allows. But a part of the answer came to me one day as I sat on the runway at a major Florida airport talking with my seat partner. He was a highly successful and affluent businessman. He owned several television stations and was on his way to Washington, D.C. to lobby for license renewals.
"I just attended my youngest child's graduation from college," he told me with a proud smile.
"I had two families...you know, divorced, remarried, three children by each wife," he said. Strangers on airplanes often share personal information with one another... moments of this kind truly represent two ships passing in the night.
We talked for a few more minutes as he explained how it had taken him until he was almost 35 to get his college degree. His family was poor, his father had died when he was very young and he was the oldest of several children.
He had to keep leaving school to go home and put food on the family's table.
"I'm so relieved all of my children were able to complete their educations by the time they were 22 years old," he said.
We talked a few minutes more. We were about the same age and discussed many of the social problems mentioned above. He made several comments about his children. They did not seem to have his sense of respect for and commitment to family, he said. He compared their lives to his, those many years ago when he kept postponing his own education to ensure his loved ones had food on the table.
As he spoke, an insight I never had before came to me. They were difficult words to say to a friend -- let alone a stranger -- but I thought they might give him some insight into a personal conflict that was obviously troubling him.
"It sounds like you are saying you made life as easy for your children as you could. You made things so easy, they had no opportunity to face challenges and develop character. Now you lack respect for them because they don't have the strength of character that overcoming challenges taught you... teaches all people."
As I said, people on airplanes say things to one another that would normally not be socially accepted topics of conversation. In the first class section of a DC-10, it is very unlikely someone will hit you for making a statement not meant as an insult, but taken as one.
He stared at me for the longest time. His eyes reflected first the perceived insult... that I was somehow telling him he had done the wrong thing. Then his look became thoughtful, questioning, then accepting. He nodded his head.
"I believe you may be right," he concluded.
I have thought many times about that conversation. I learned a great deal from it.
I believe one major reason a lot of American kids in the 1960s became unmanageable brats and teenagers was caused by battle weary soldiers as they stood on Europe's war-torn shores. They awaited a ship to take them home after WWII. They were so grateful to be going home alive, so grateful for the families or future families awaiting them. They made a promise: "My kids are never going to have to face the kind of hell I've just lived through. Things are going to be easier for them..."
Unfortunately, like my seat partner that day, they made life too easy for their children. It resulted in unchallenged kids and insecure, undisciplined youths. Kids need to be challenged. The only way to gain self-respect and a sense of self-reliance is to dare to take a chance on yourself. You start with small victories (or defeats) and grow from there.
I was eight when WWII ended. The generation of kids that came up right behind me were the ones protesting at UC Berkeley and at Yale and Cornell... upper and upper-middle class young adults. Abbie Hoffman and I once sat in a New York restaurant discussing what motivated the behavior of 1960's students.
Kids today are no different than we were. The only thing that has changed is the environment we allowed society to create for them.
We drank from the garden hose when we were outdoors playing. We did not drink filtered or bottled water. I believe we had fewer serious diseases, infections and sudden infant deaths then than we have now. We had no car seats for infants and young children -- no air bags, either -- but we had far fewer accidents then than now. Drivers were more responsible... seldom drunk and never high on drugs. In today's society, I certainly would not recommend going without them.
We were not raised thinking it was the world's job to entertain and amuse us. During summer vacation, we took part in reading programs at the public library.
We never heard of fast food restaurants. We did not get a weekly income for doing little or nothing. As a family member we were expected to be responsible and productive members of the unit.
Our boys were allowed to be boys with all male traits. We did not worry about whether they were sensitive to their feminine sides. We did not drug them to make them easier to control. They got rid of their energy through healthy competition with one another. Girls were allowed to be girls and were no more sensitive to male traits than the guys were to ours. We celebrated the difference.
Our music was about love not hate and violence. Dancing was an artistic rather than a sexual expression. Public education was free... but was available to us only if we performed to a defined level of quality.
Education was a privilege, not a right.
Dr. Spock was one of the earliest symptoms of what would happen to generations of our children with his "give them what they wanted when they wanted it" philosophy.
Though he admitted he erred before his death, in the 50s most mothers did what Spock recommended. We are still paying the price for his erroneous application of very misguided, destructive form of child psychology.
We did what my seat partner did. We created a risk-free society. Our kids did not have the chance to face challenges. We removed their opportunity to develop character -- and now we do not like the result or the society these "trade freedom for security" kids-now-adults are creating.
It is because the chance to develop character was removed from Generations X and Y that a large majority believe it is okay to cheat. That is our legacy to America's youth. How sad!
Someone ought to give the senior citizens who thought sixties' escapism into drugs was cool -- the people who caused this problem -- a good spanking!