Forget the questionable (and often rash) decisions that young people can and do make—sometimes leading to tragic consequences. Forget about cyber- or actual in-the-flesh bullying that some teenagers perpetrate against one another. Don’t even think about the last time you witnessed a fight between teens in high school hallways. When you think about the safety and well-being of today’s youth, think about the shock-value inherent in the actions Jerry Sandusky and the whole Penn State crew. Or think about Jessica Ridgeway, the 10-year-old Colorado girl who went missing for a week before she was found dead and dismembered. If you want to know the source of the issues today’s youth have to deal with, you needn’t go further than the nearest mirror.
Many so-called adults in America are simply bad parents! And while I know that questioning the child-rearing capabilities of many of today’s mothers (and fathers) by a man is the female equivalent of telling a man his penis is too small, many simply are doing a terrible job at raising today’s kids…the results of which we see as part of many a human interest story on the evening news. Take for example the recent story of Jessica Stilwell, the Canadian mother who recently made news by “going on strike” in order to “teach her kids a lesson” (yes, I know Canada is not a part of the United States, but I used this particular news item illustrate my overall point, which Stilwell’s actions illustrate). The frustrated mother, proclaiming herself to be tired of “constantly reminding, cleaning, and nagging her children” about cleaning up the mess they would make of the house daily, refused to clean up behind her 10 and 12-year daughters, videotaping the results of her refusal to clean up the residence and posting them on Facebook. An online article of the story at the Huffington Post supported the mother’s actions by reporting that “the results will make you want to pump your fists and do a solidarity dance.”
Quite the contrary, as I read the story I imagined kicking my feet off in their backsides to illustrate the roles and responsibilities of responsible parents. This kind of lazy parenting and overly-liberal attitude toward modern child-rearing does nothing more but reinforce a child’s thinking that they are the ones in charge of our homes. I actually found myself thinking, “Who’s the child in this family?”
Today’s parents—due to time constraints, laziness, irresponsibleness, guilt, or stupidity—are simply too afraid to apply and instill any measure of discipline in their children, and the rest of us pay the price. As a former camp counselor for at-risk teens, I would see and experience the results of such questionable parenting up close and personal (I spent 24 hours a day, anywhere from 7-15 days at a time, sleeping, eating, and using the bathroom out in the woods for 2 years with these teens—I dare you tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about). I also saw how others in society are eventually forced to clean up the mess that other parents make when I was a long-term substitute teacher. Parents are all-too willing to accept any excuse for the behaviors of their children (a dubious clinical medical diagnosis, social trauma, or simply “being different”) other than the most reasonable explanation…they are simple not doing what they should be doing to raise children to be responsible adults.
No parent should have to go “on strike” in order to encourage their children to clean up. First and foremost, children should be taught how to clean up from the earliest moments they are able to hold a broom handle competently; I know that was the case in our house. My mother taught my siblings and I how to clean a house from top-to-bottom. In addition, she taught us how to iron out clothes (including how to align the hems in pants), and cook. During my stint as a camp counselor, teenage boys (and girls) would tell me how they didn’t know how to make up a bed because they usually had such a simplistic chose performed by them by over-doting (and irresponsible) mothers. If there should ever be a “strike” in a house, it should be the strike of a belt or an open hand against an unruly backside! Call it “barbaric,” call it “outdated,” but I’ve seen how spankings used in conjunction with active parenting works (See: "To Spank Or Not To Spank? Hell Yes!"). Back in the day, the police would pick up unruly children, and take them home to an expected meeting of hickory switch and butt by a responsible. Now in a perverse role-reversal, police are expected to jail parents who care about their children enough to ensure they aren’t a danger to themselves (or others). For the sake of any children that I might someday raise (and the nieces and nephews I helped to raise), I would hope that the local authorities would adopt an equivalent to a witness protection program in the event that one should decide to call the authorities on me for doing my job as a parent...and that's the attitude most parents and guardians should have! And I’ve talked to many parents who quake in their shoes at the prospect of going to jail for administering a spanking to their children. In effect, their children are in control of the household, coming, going, and doing as they please.
The result is a generation of children who have little respect for adults. It’s one of the reasons an incident occurring at the end of the last school year in New York caught so much attention. Almost everyone remembers the story of 68-year old former bus monitor Karen Klein, who was taunted at the hands of disrespectful middle-schoolers to the point visibly crying. The entire incident was captured on video tape by others on the bus as it occurred.
If parents do not do their jobs, they should expect others to take the initiative to do so. This happened earlier this year in Texas. A 6-year old kindergartner attending Salinas Elementary School, near San Antonio, Texas had developed a reputation for being a bully at the school (and it’s only reasonable to believe that the parents had been notified of their child’s status as a school bully). So his teacher devised a lesson for the class’s resident terror; the teacher had each of the “24 other students in the class line up and slap Neely one-by-one” (See: "Mom Says Teacher Had Students Slap Her Son"). Granted, such an overboard action has its risks, it also illustrates how society will develop ways to correct aberrant behavior in children whose parents fail in their responsibility to instruct them in how to interact with others. Sadly, the teacher was fired by school officials (you guessed it...I applaud such actions as instructional objects in the pitfalls of bullying). We need more adults willing to take such hard approaches in order to teach life-long lessons to such kids who parents are obviously not up to the task!
But today, even when parents are responsible and aware enough not to treat their children like fragile glass, other over-doting parents tend to overact. In La Porte, Texas, a stay-at-home mother was arrested on a charge of child abandonment after one of her neighbors called the police because on the complaint that her children to play outside their mother’s immediate presence, which was not true. On its face, the case was eventually dismissed by authorities. The mother is in the process of suing the local police for false arrest (See: "Mom Sues Police After Being Arrested for Letting Her Kids Play Outside").
If this was the worst the mother can do in regards with raising her kids, she could do a lot worse. Many Americans see far worse on a weekly basis in the form of parents who exploit their children for fame. The Learn Channel’s “Toddlers and Tiaras” and the “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” spin off caters to the lowest in decadent parental behavior. Such shows sexualize and objectify underage girls, and puts their emotional and physical health at risk for the same of fame…of a sick perversion of it. And the fact that such shows garner so many viewers is indicative of how far we’ve such as a society in how we validate and enable bad parenting.
"Honey Boo Boo" from TLC's series of the same name
The bottom line was parenting and parents was much better back in the day. When I was younger, playgrounds were covered with rocks, not padding. We weren’t mandated to wear bicycle helmets. We stayed away from our homes for hours at a time. There was an underlying element of minimal danger, but our parents were OK with it all. Parents spanked, and police would often collaborated with the dynamic. It didn’t mean parents were less responsible; quite the contrary, they were more responsible. We didn’t have courts, interloping social services organizations on hair triggers for any perceived sign of “abuse” (to which, the scope of what constitutes such has become so wide as to encompass everything short of yelling “boo”), or interfering paranoid adults who bring their personal judgments and prejudices into how others responsibly raise their children. Our parents weren't parading us in front of the world in order to gain the notoriety of an audience who couldn't give a damn about our emotional and physical health. And we as children were definitely more respectful to not only our parents but most adults.
We need to get back to the spirit of tough love in raising children, allowing them the privilege and opportunity of exploration in order to facilitate both their independence and growth. But at the same time, being cognizant of the need to restraint impulsiveness and disrespectful attitudes, as well as ungratefulness for having their immediate needs (not wants) met. And we definitely need to get back to the understanding that what you do in your house with your children definitely affects how the rest of us have to deal with your mistakes as parents!And this is something every adult can do, not just parents.