Over the past year, I have time again come across examples of young people—children and teenagers—making questionable decisions, and involved in questionable behaviors. Forget about the children I see in working with at-risk youth and their parents; I’m talking about those engaged in decisions which have become newsworthy human interest stories that illustrate a certain social pathology in behavior among our youth. What’s more, many of the questionable decisions I have witnessed children make today have had the tacit or explicit blessing of their parents. This leads me to conclude that the reasons today’s American youth are so trapped in an ethos of negative decision-making is due to the adults in their lives as both negative influences and as mentors.
Take for example 19-year Miami native Amanda Rodriguez. A day before her 17th birthday, she underwent the radical medical procedure—radical for a teenager—known as gastric bypass surgery. Watching the health segment on NBC’s Today Show from a June airing spotlighting Rodriguez’ decision, I decided to research not only her case, but those involving other teenagers either considering or having undergone the final-option procedure for weight loss. I was surprised to learn that something under 1,000 teens a year have some kind of medical procedure related to stimulating weight-loss in dangerously obese children.
Surgery usually requires preliminary weight loss and then a strict postsurgical regimen of dietary changes, vitamins, and exercise. If the teen and his family aren't fully committed, the results can evaporate quickly or fail to materialize in the first place (see: "Surgery Is No Quick Fix for Obese Teens").
In addition, there are other possible post-surgery complications based on unrealistic expectations of the radical and often irreversible surgery, including an “increased likelihood” of nutritional and vitamin deficiencies, possible follow-up surgeries, and anemia. Teens receiving this surgery “must be committed to becoming more active and eating healthier for life,” indicating that there are life-long obligations and consequences of having to undergo such a radical means of confronting childhood obesity. The funny thing is that the same level of healthy and active lifestyles required after such procedures could have been employed by responsible parents prior to the decline of their overall health by simply monitoring their children’s diets…things parents are supposed to do.
A superimposed photograph of a teenager from the 1950s and today.
Instead, we have a nation of parents who enable such deleterious decisions by their children by shirking their responsibility to directly parent to their children, opting instead to avoid the conflicts and tantrums inherent in opposing their desires. In the case of fattening our children, it should come as no surprise that many parents often reward their children with food for various reasons. In addition, many parents do nothing to discourage laziness in today’s crop of youth; I can’t tell you how much I have heard older teenagers whine and complain about having to actually walk someplace as opposed to being chauffeured by parents who have too-little time to spare for such menial tasks. Furthermore, we are no longer a nation of manual labor; we have not only become too dependent on technology, but actual work—especially that consisting of breaking a sweat of even minimal amounts of physical exertion–is almost unheard of. And then we wonder how is it that our children have become so fat and lazy…! Our inexplicable addiction to watching the misadventures of “Honey Boo-Boo” anesthetizes us to the health-related dangers of over-indulging (and in Boo-Boo’s case, exploiting) our kids for whatever reason!
What I found so astonishing was Evans’ unapologetic attitude about her sordid past; she was literally a “working mother” at the time of her involvement in her former profession. She proudly defended her decision to seek out such work in order to “take care of her children.” While I agree that being able to put food into the bellies on one’s children is important, so too is what we feed their hearts and minds. A sense of morals and responsible parenting is just as important a contribution to a child’s upbringing as ensuring their nutritional and material needs are met.
My mother used to say that “all money isn’t good money,” and perhaps no level of questionable decision-making illustrates this notion than this (and other related) instance. The problem with being able to justify our actions, our responsibility to take care of our children is that it fosters a sense that making money is the most important thing in the world—no matter what the moral and/or social implications. This mentality doesn’t make much room for being able to look our in children in their eyes and explain to them that we were able to meet their needs in ways which don’t (or shouldn’t) foster a sense of embarrassment in having to explain one’s choice. And one can only think of the stigma Evans’ children would have to endure because of her ill-thought-out decision to take on a vocation with such negative social connotations attached to it. In short, just being able to house, feed, and clothe a child doesn’t necessarily make one a good mother. Yes, it sounds a little judgmental, but maybe judgments are what we need in order to become better models for our children. How many of us would really want our children to mimic our mistakes in judgment? “Legal” doesn’t necessarily mean “right.”
When I was a teenager, my mother took me and my younger brother out with her to farm fields to help her pick fruits and vegetables in order for us to pay our rent and utilities. She didn’t have to resort to such a morally bankrupt vocation in order to take care of us…and I have nothing but respect for her for not having to do anything she would be ashamed to tell us about. Bottom line, there are always options which don’t emotionally scar our children as we fight for their souls trying to raise them. However, too many adults don’t consider the consequences of their often selfish thinking when it comes to how we influence children today. And then we wonder why our children think it’s ok to lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want…! It's because of our often selfish decisions as poor role models for teaching children that the ends justifies the means.
To be concluded...!