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Opinion & Essays - June, 2001 Issue #82

By Lon Woodbury

Many people make the observation that we are raising our children in a radically different world from the one in which we grew up. I often hear this sentiment, but usually it is expressed in materialistic terms with examples provided about technological progress or increased purchasing power of the average person. True, technological change and the growth of the economy have had an important impact on all aspects of our lives. However, there are other changes that have perhaps impacted our lives more profoundly, especially in terms of how we raise our children. As we survey the wrecked lives of the out-of-control children we encounter in our practice as educational consultants, it is obvious some of our modern children are not doing well at all.

Maybe some of those quaint customs we were in such a hurry to abandon had some redeeming values.

Remember “shotgun marriages?” This was a boundary adopted by our parents and grandparents in an attempt to ensure that every baby was born within in a committed relationship where two parents were dedicated to that child’s well being. It was their effort to maintain that any young man who got a girl pregnant could not dodge his responsibilities to her and the child he helped create. Today’s world doesn’t seem to be doing very well at helping babies or their single mothers, considering the expanding number of struggling single mothers due to rising divorce rates and 30 percent of our babies being born out of wedlock.

Remember when “children should be seen and not heard”? This reflects the cultural affirmation that childhood was considered as an apprenticeship for becoming an adult. Meaningful privileges were designated for adults, to be earned by children. Today we affirm the need to be more “child- centered” which seems to have resulted in an “entitled generation.” We have, unfortunately, many adults striving to be more youth-like, with children demanding unearned adult privileges. Of course this change has been good for my business, but that’s a sad commentary on contemporary society.

Remember the admonition to “respect your elders”? This notion has been honored throughout history, with the goal of reducing the chance of serious intergenerational conflict. Yet, a significant percentage of today’s children seem to feel they are the ones entitled to respect, harboring only distain for adults. If this sentiment increases, it can only tear society apart. A society with adults who fear their children and children who do not respect adults, has a very ugly future.

Remember “dinner at six o’clock sharp”? For children especially, this was a boundary that reflected our parents’ and grandparents’ insistence that family time was extremely important for enhancing family communication. It gave adults an important time to teach their children what the parents considered to be important. For the modern family, however, with each member darting frantically in many different directions, dinner is frequently just something to be bolted down as each individual briefly passes through. Does this have anything to do with the claim that families are disintegrating?

Remember the beach movies of the fifties where a girl was not supposed to even talk to a boy until they were properly introduced? Silly as that sounds to the modern citizen, what modern parent hasn’t wished for some way to prevent their curious daughter from hooking up with those smooth talking lowlife boys who sow heartache, and have no concept of responsibility and respect?

My sentiments should not be interpreted as an effort to revert to “the good old days;” in many ways they were not so good. Besides, times change and what might have worked for our parents and grandparents is no longer appropriate or feasible. The issue I’m raising is that our parents and grandparents maintained customs and boundaries for the purpose of providing a support system to help parents to effectively and responsibly raise their children. The attitudes I’ve mentioned reflect a culture where parents were free to carry out their responsibilities essentially any way they responsibilities, to be held accountable. Support that is either given or denied by the community is a very powerful force. In our modern culture, not evoking the power of community has allowed people much greater ease in dodging responsibilities in the name of freedom. That is not a change for the better.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we lost an important tool for the task of raising children when we tore down old customs and boundaries and didn’t replace them with new boundaries for children.

By expanding legislative laws at the expense of commonly accepted customs and boundaries, we now hear “there is no legal controlling authority,” where previously people said, “that’s not right.”

An essential element for raising our children has vanished in this cultural change! This is obvious every day in my educational consulting business. As a national community, we need to agree on some modern boundaries for children that will accomplish some of the things our parents and grandparents were trying to do. This requires building a consensus on important boundaries, and everybody in the national community needs to be involved in the discussion. Simply continuing to pass more laws with punitive enactment clauses and throwing more money at the problem, is too impersonal. It will just continue to be an exercise in frustration.

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