The other day I was watching a history program on television in front of my young children, and found myself muting the commercials because they were so obnoxious: filled with loud, demanding children, disrespect for men and authorities, “you should indulge yourself” product lines, sarcasm, cynicism, etc. They would look up every time a commercial break came, stopping what they were doing to pay attention to the ruckus on screen. I didn’t mind my children tuning into the program itself every now and then, but I really didn’t want them transfixed by the drama and temptations of the commercials. Lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, the boastful pride of life… a fleshly education right there! During a PBS child’s program later, the commercials were even worse, being geared specifically to kids.
Then I found myself doing the same thing–turning down the advertisements–when I was listening to a news radio station in the car. The reports were ok, but punctuated by the silliness, self-centeredness, and innuendos of obnoxious ads. It was almost embarrassing… I felt ashamed to be an adult! No wonder kids don’t respect us… we act, publicly, as childish as they. I turned the volume down while the foolishness passed.
Later on, I noticed the commonly-lamented barrage of candy at the grocery store check-out (just at child’s height and causing some problems for other moms in line), as well as the litany of soap opera and pop news magazines with their normal line of barely-dressed women, the world-shaking new diets, sex tips, celebrity gossip, and newest Hollywood scandals. Every now and then a family-oriented magazine spotlighted a new psychodrama in kids’ lives: depression, ADHD, bulimia, sleeping disorders, while encouraging us that the medical industry was now on top of kids’ new mental needs.
Then, to end the day, while tutoring a teenager close to our family and discussing the politics and pitfalls of applying to college, I was again confronted with shame as I described the way our secondary education system works: the grade inflation, the ethnic quotas, the rank and image of students, the idolatry of a school’s reputation, the pandering to the wealthy, the favor of liberal ideology. Not to mention the embarrassment of college culture where you work so hard to get in, only to be surrounded by the administrative winking at drinking, sleeping around, and general student narcissism. If you can hold your liquor and keep your computer addictions under control, you can get a great education. But nevermind that practically all the countries in the world, including Nigeria and China, are graduating students who far surpass ours. Nevermind that parents and banks are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to basically pay kids to party.
So it hit me: our culture abuses children. Not the way parents can, through physical abuse, but through something more sinister: permission and promotion. Permissive standards and relentless promotion of the wrong things is invisible, so you never see the abuse occurring. Your kids grow up, hearing and perhaps mentally assenting to the right rhetoric from you, and so you think they’re ok. But they’re not–they’ve had a steady diet of death from day one. While you fought to provide them good food, good doctors, Sesame Street, piano lessons, summer family vacations, and all the things you thought they needed to be healthy, culture fought against you. You may not have seen it–you may even have helped the problem–but the invisible abuse occurred and is now implanted in your children, waiting for expression and/or healing. Usually this occurs during the college years when kids are finally freed from adult supervision, or it occurs later when the child is trying to have their own marriage, family, and career. Then we seem surprised: “Betty’s having trouble? But she was always such a good kid! She had a little trouble as a teenager, but who didn’t?”
Simply, the average American child’s environment today is so toxic, and so saccharine, so mediocre, that their bodies, souls, and spirits have to fight and fight in order to grow up healthy. We have a largely R-rated, morally inverted, sixth-grade level society which our media and institutions support but our establishment is too afraid to challenge. It shouldn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be that in order to raise smart, loving, and hard-working children, that we have to continually screen out warping influences and comb the depths of the earth (or e-bay) to find good ones. Without trying to minimize the significance of parents’ love and teachings, it would be helpful if culture loved and taught our children a little better too.
Let’s examine some areas of concern:
I would submit that our above analysis indicates a highly toxic culture. But not just toxic in terms of poisoning… but toxic in terms of life-endangering. If our kids make it through adolescence without STDs, abortions, eating disorders, medicated psychoses, gang or dangerous peer culture, addiction to drugs or online pornography, theft, plagiarism problems, or simply moral deficiencies in the areas of honesty, self-image, industry, and charity, I would say that’s a miracle. Perfect upbringing is never possible, but that’s not the point… the point is that culture THROWS these things in front of our children day after day, hour after hour, and then SOMEHOW expects them to grow up healthy! Somehow expects them to become hard-working, law-abiding citizens! Somehow expects them to know how to love their spouses and children and the less fortunate. It isn’t going to happen. We are vastly being confronted with the upper limit of toxic shock that our children (and parents) can handle. The lip service our media, doctors, and cultural advisors tell us is vastly contradicted by the actual standards and customs we supply to build American childhood on. Let us not delude ourselves: we are shooting ourselves (and our nation) in the foot.