In a series of discussions over at Elk Grove Patch, I’ve been criticized for my belief that it is very difficult to raise children in a time when adults, be they other parents, teachers, or just random adults in the neighborhood and community, refuse to take responsibility for their own actions and act like the role models they are. There appears to be a belief that all I have to do is say “no” to my kids, set and enforce limits, and things will be taken care of, regardless of the direction the rest of our community is going in and regardless of what other adults are doing and saying.
Well, surprise, surprise. I’m not convinced. I still believe it takes a village to raise children and July 4th provides a great example of the teenage-ification of our community and culture, much to the detriment of those of us trying to raise kids into responsible adults.
When I was a kid, I grew up in a middle class neighborhood remarkably similar to the one I now live in and in which I am raising my two boys. Back then, there were two aspects to the 4th of July. First, there were the teenage boys running around in the days leading up to the 4th, setting off firecrackers and a few larger type of illegal explosive. It was all done surreptitiously and without the approval of parents. Second, on the 4th at the neighborhood BBQs and gatherings, the fireworks displays, overseen by adults, were almost entirely of the legal variety. You see, back then, adults still acted like adults and at least tried to act responsibly.
What happens now? This year, on the 4th, I left the BBQ I was at early and got home shortly after 9:00 p.m. For the next two hours, there was a barrage of the sounds of fireworks. The crackle and pop of the legal stuff set off by the family who lives across the street and the boom, crack and night sky flares of the illegal stuff all over the neighborhood. The pervasiveness and length of the illegal stuff tells me a simple fact. This isn’t done by teenagers outside of adult supervision. Instead, it has become a part of the adult supervised neighborhood BBQs, block parties, and get-togethers that are a staple of the 4th of July.
And, here are the consequences in our neighborhood.
It’s real simple. Adults are role models for children–theirs, mine and everybody else’s–whether they want to be or not. I remember a number of years ago, Charles Barkley was quoted as saying that he was not a role model. He’s right in one respect. The fact that he was a basketball player didn’t make him a role model. What made him a role model, whether for good or bad, was that he was an adult. Or, as Karl Malone said after Barkley’s famous statement: “Charles…I don’t think it’s your decision to make. We don’t choose to be role models, we are chosen. Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one.”
Unfortunately, in today’s world, adults are too busy trying to retain their youth, they’re too busy wanting to participate in the fun of teenagers, they’re too busy wanting to do what they want to do instead of setting a good example to be the role models they need to be and our kids need. When I was a kid, my parents could be relatively comfortable with the idea that if I went to somebody else’s 4th of July get-together, there wouldn’t be illegal fireworks putting me or the neighbors at risk. These days, I can be relatively comfortable with the idea that if my kids go to somebody else’s 4th of July get-together, there will be illegal fireworks and the “adults” will be just as involved in them as the teenage boys are.
Yes, I should just say “no”. Please. It is incredibly difficult to raise teenagers to be responsible as they see adults in virtually every environment acting irresponsibly and without a care in the world for how their behavior may be modeled by children.
Trust me, I don’t think I grew up in some kind of idyllic Mayberry world. However, when I was a kid, I’m willing to bet there was a 75/25 split in favor of adults and parents acting responsibly in front of and around children and that split is now reversed. This generation of parents has grown up in a world where we haven’t been asked to sacrifice for the common good. Where, because of the increasing consumerization of our economy and culture, there are increasingly fewer and fewer limits. As a result, we are raising a generation of children, who are completely clueless with respect to responsibility and limits.
That picture above is just one small consequence of the growing teenage-ification of America. I wonder how many other families in Elk Grove or in Sacramento are homeless today as a result. Individual responsibility is a beautiful thing. I’d like to see a little bit more societal responsibility.