As a former educator who saw the scribbling on the wall in the 1970s, when schools started soliciting rock stars for anti-drug-abuse videos (which my eighth-graders, predictably, laughed at), I see today seven factors turning out this nations first generation of killer kids.
Among talk-show hosts who interview on education issues, the topic du jour is school violence. Kiddie terrorism has superseded discussions about curriculum, teaching methods and even school choice. Funny how what once was obvious about juvenile misbehavior is bewildering in the "Therapeutic Age," when more clinical data on what makes people tick supposedly has been collected than in any previous era. Childhood meanness always has been a part of growing up taunting other youngsters, playing malicious practical jokes, including in gossip and put-downs, vying for pecking order in snobbish (or rebel) cliques. Adults, especially parents, used to reign in such conduct, being ever vigilant of youthful excesses. They looked around when they changed the beds, paid attention to the company their offspring kept (and idolized), said "No!" to inappropriate apparel and entertainment, quashed disobedience and punished foul language. Fast-forward 35 years to when our nation's leaders split hairs over the definition of the word "is." One has to ask: Are weapons really so much easier to obtain than they were, say in 1946? Or have the taboos simply vanished? Or, more sobering: Have our kids suddenly become certifiably nuts? As a former educator who saw the scribbling on the wall in the 1970's, when schools started soliciting rock stars for anti-drug-abuse videos (which my eighth-graders, predictably, laughed at), I see today seven factors turning out this nation's first generation of killer kids:
- Promotion in schools, parenting texts and product advertising of an authoritarian peer subculture which has replaced adults' long-abdicated role in the areas of leadership and guidance (i.e., adults aren't the authority figure any more.)
- Decision-making based on consensus rather than on principle as a response to important dilemmas and issues.
- A daily routine that has youngsters spending more time with each other than with adults.
- Approaches to education and child-rearing that focus on emotional temperature-taking instead of developing conscience or intellect.
- The tendency to give smaller offenses a free pass, as in "don't sweat the small stuff," especially in areas such as tact, propriety and orderliness, so that a child views life as a constant challenge to test the limits of parents' and society's tolerance.
- Proliferation and emphasis on the gruesome, ugly and prurient in all entertainment mediums: music, film and print. Geared toward ever-younger ages, such fare not only desensitizes children to deplorable and demeaning acts, but creates the impression that one's darker nature should be fully explored.
- A burgeoning legal drug culture which implies that no self-discipline need to be applied to behavior, since character is determined by a plethora of syndromes and brain-chemistry imbalances.
Even toddlers recognize that, for the most part, adults today just go through the motions of child-rearing, occasionally mentoring, not wishing to appear unyielding, inflexible, or dogmatic. Having succumbed to counterproductive notions of child management for some 35 years, gullible parents and educators, who no doubt would have apoplexy over the idea of children being seen not heard are, ironically, settling for compliance at any price, even if it means drugging every kid who squirms.
Would anybody have dreamed 30 years ago that parents would some day be intimidated by school and day-care staff into placing kids, including preschoolers, on prescription stimulants, antidepressants, tranquilizers and other legal mood or mind-altering drugs? Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders are just the beginning. New mental-health breakthroughs reveal an evolving pattern of absurdity: for example, a psychotropic drug (a selective serotonin-reuptake-inhibitor) for shopaholics (oniomania) and therapies for nerds. In the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, experts now purvey the view that vengeful nerds may belong to the three out of every 100 children who suffer from a mild form of pervasive developmental disorder (i.e., don't fit in).
The same experts who promote drugs for docility still caution parents against lecturing and scolding, advise turning toddlers into decision makers before they have acquired either values or maturity of judgment and admonish parents who complain of messy bedrooms, immodest apparel and coarse language. Carrying an aspirin for a headache, of course, is a serious matter to school officials. The bomb thrown to postwar parents by psychologists proved to have longer half-life and greater destructive force than the one that fell on Hiroshima, Japan. Awash in 35 years of moral hypocrisy and therapeutic zealotry, a confused and self-absorbed baby-boom generation today perpetuates the dynamics of violence, even when it purports to do the opposite through a frenzy of legislation, media campaigns and character curriculums. The violence will continue until we rediscover our common sense.
B.K. Eakman "The Seven Deadly Sins of Parental Irresponsibility." Insight (August 7, 2000).
Reprinted with permission of Insight Magazine.
B.K. Eakman is executive director of the National Education Consortium and the author of the book, Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education.Copyright © 2000 Insight
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