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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

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Special Commentary--What Happend To Childhood? Part 2

Because of changing economic realities and our own selfish wants and desires, we adults have blurred the distinction between what was once childhood and adulthood. During the 1980s, the term “latchkey child” was coined in small measure, to express the unappealing nature of the then-growing practice of children left alone at home after school due to working and or otherwise absent parents. Now, especially in urban areas of the country, its not unusual to hear or read accounts about how children are not only left alone for extended periods of time sans parental presence, but because some parents engage in drug/alcohol/party binges (or some other hedonistic pursuits) older children are forced to regularly play the role of substitute parent, cooking, dressing, and otherwise watching over their younger siblings. Partially out of the guilt of not giving quality time to our children—especially in the case of single working mothers—some adults have attempted giving the empty substitute of the material…over-advertised video game consoles, over-priced “kicks” (“sneakers” for the un-hip) made by underpaid foreigners, oversized televisions with a gazillion useless cable channels, and the like. This counterproductive practice only causes the need for parents to work more to pay for more. It also contributes further to the erosion of childhood in that children alone, babysat by the likes of Sony, Sega, and MTV grow up with the mindset that, because they have managed—somehow—to “take care of themselves” with minimal supervision that this somehow makes them the equal of adults.In addition to a lost sense of place within the family structure, our absence as adults has created a lack of structure for today’s child. No supervised daily routine—school, household chores, homework…then play (preferably in that order)—translates to a lack of discipline. Under this new culture, children and especially teens become quite resourceful when it comes to getting into trouble, which most don’t even expect to be punished for unless it is of such a severity that police and the courts become involved. And for the responsible parent who is fully aware of his/her obligation to discipline their unruly children, their desire to do so is often prohibited by interference from elements of the law. Take for example the 2007 attempt by California Assemblyman Sally Lieber to introduce a ban on spanking in that state’s legislature. In many other cases, children threaten to (or have so) call the authorities on their own parents for daring to do what’s been done in countless households for thousands of years of human existence…discipline them. We adults have—by eliminating both discipline and the threat of sanctions—given children the inevitable impressions that they are the equal of adults. Now, it’s PC for parents to talk, negotiate, or in some cases, plead with their children to do what’s expected of them, so why shouldn’t they think they are adults? At the risk of sounding like an anachronistic throwback from some bygone era, but in removing structure and discipline from their lives, we’ve taken away one of the primary distinctions which separate child from adult.While the absence of responsible adults has eroded childhood on one front, the presence of irresponsible adults has done so on another. And on this latter front, there is in turn a two-pronged assault which is eating away at childhood. One unit in this assault is the battalion of officials affiliated with our schools—principals, administrators, school board members, and the like, making decisions with counterproductive intents. Long-cherished merits such as personal achievement and initiative have been rendered meaningless in the face of attempts to make every child feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only are “awards” for every little action of note by a child gratuitously dropped in our schools like millions of leaflets from an pre-invading air force, but we have unceremoniously expanded the former rite-of-passage into adulthood known as “graduation” to include nearly every grade set (junior high, 6th grade, 3rd grade, even Kindergarten) in order to make every child feel special. No longer is graduation a recognition of “the first day of the rest our lives,” but another jaded ceremony (like going to church) that we force children to endure.The flanking unit of irresponsible adults attacking childhood does so in a more stealthily manner, like a special operations military unit engaging in guerilla warfare. Ironically, these self-serving types are those who try to live their own lives vicariously through the experiences of a child. Take for example the way in which parents shamelessly exploit their little girls in pint-sized beauty pageants, complete with copious amounts of adult makeup, heels, and evening gowns. Once upon a time, parents grinned in amusement as they peeked, hidden from view from around doorways, into their children’s bedrooms at the sight of their kids emulating adults in such a manner. And it’s easy to imagine under this scenario how parents would relish their children’s innocence, and would have no hesitation—even if it meant killing—at protecting them from being hurt or exploited, especially in a sexual manner. Today, parents have no problem pimping their kids—for whatever self-serving reasons they dream up in defense of such shameless exploitation—in such “contests.” Furthermore, many adult women have no qualms about dressing up as schoolgirls or some such, in an attempt to magnify both their sexual appeal and pleasure.We are thrilled with the daring of law enforcement (and their willing decoys) as they remove a seemingly endless stream of would-be child predators in front of hidden cameras. But, is it any wonder why we have a society peppered with sexual predators that prey on youngsters? We dress our children up as adults for various reasons, dress ourselves up as children for pleasure, blur the distinction between child and adult, and then expect sexual deviants not to think its ok to be attracted to our children? Such a social waving of red meat in front “hungry” animals, and an expectation that children would be protected by reason alone reflects a peculiar social logic thats yields no surprise at the disorder our selfish desires have wrought on childhood.

To Be Concluded...

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