Sorry for the delay between posts for all you Toxic Fans out there, but I've been a busy boy. I'll try to be a lot more diligent in getting this out on a monthly basis.
What I want to talk about today is the way that we're raising our children. It's something that has been really pissing me off for a while now, and while I was working on a piece about drugs for Newtopia Magazine, I found myself continuously thinking about this one topic. It seemed like an excellent choice to resurrect the ole' Toxic Thoughts Syndrome with, so here goes.
I'm afraid of the sort of children that we're spitting out into the world. It bothers the hell out of me to see kids getting into more and more criminal acts at younger and younger ages. That said, it isn't my intention to write a "These Kids Today" piece and be done with it. In fact, I don't think the issue is around our kids at all. Nor, for the record, does it have anything to do with Marylin Manson, The Basketball Diaries, or that pussy Eminem. If we're gonna face facts, then we have to put the blame squarely on the way that we perceive ourselves in this society.
Think about it. We in the West are the most intensely selfish people in history, with the possible exception of the Romans at the fall of the Empire. With all of the technological advances we have made, we have stopped thinking about our actions as being a part of anything larger than our own, small-minded surroundings. Science has learned to throw comfort in the face of any of our needs and wants, and as a result we've become slaves to our own surroundings.
Now, how that relates to our children is easy. In the past, our parents and their parents before them were cruel dictators, the sort of harsh bastards who would set clearly-defined yet rigidly-oppressive rules for us, and then actually expect us to meet them. It wasn't just our parents, though; it was everyone. You didn't lip off to the big kids on the playground because if you did, they would beat the everlovin' crap out of you. The threat of personal violence was all around us, and since it was very real, we were always aware of it.
The parents in the last few generations, though, they made a change. They decided that they would throw down the gauntlet passed down from their ancestors. They approached 20th Century Parenting with 20th Century Ideas. Was the cruel and harsh treatment that they had received in their collective past working? Could it be that other ideas might open the door to better children? And was it possible, maybe just maybe, to have children who were on the same level as the parents? Was empowerment the answer?
Seriously, no. It wasn't. Oh, wipe that look off your face. Talk to someone else's kids today (yours aren't going to tell you the truth anyway) and you'll be surprised about how they view their parents in the same light that you viewed yours in, that they viewed theirs in, and that all children have viewed all parents in since time began. Guess what? Nothing changes. No matter what lines in the sand you wind up drawing around your child, no matter how much room you give them, you're still a tyrannical jackass in their minds. Have you seen the Osbournes yet? And that's a family that's probably ten steps more healthy than your family is.
What we did was we took our developing selfishness and applied it to our children. We didn't really want the job of disciplining them because it made us feel like our parents. We convinced ourselves through the work of people like Barbara Collaroso that we could be friends first and parents second. But you know what? That doesn't work. Aside from those children, are there any other people 25 years your junior that you think you might like to start up a friendly relationship with? The key word is relate, people. At 40, your concerns are slightly different than those of most 15 year olds. You've already found a date for the prom, and hanging out in the mall just doesn't have the same cool ring to it, does it?
We didn't want to discipline, so we created methods to encourage. Encouragement was the new best hope for Western Civilization. I mean, think of how far our kids could go without all the "No" crap in their lives? Why, they could be incredible little members of society. And wouldn't that be neat? Well, folks, the truth is that we missed out on one important key. Socially, people go through three basic stages. They start off doing whatever they like because they don't understand that there are consequences to their actions. Then, they develop into people who don't do certain activities because they know that mommy, daddy, the police, or whomever is going to punish them for it. Finally, we encounter self-actualized people who are able to do or not do things based solely on their recognizing that the thing is good or bad in a larger social context.
The trouble is, you can't jump steps. If you don't offer your child that second stage where they see ramifications to their actions, it's not realistic for them to advance any further. If you never punish, they'll never grow. That's just the way the world is.
So what we've done as parents is remove discipline. By the time we put our kids into school, they're already on the path. It's not too late, mind you, to correct them, but we have decided to hamstring the people who could make the corrections. Let's take an example. Little Johnny (that rat bastard) is pulling Little Suzy (that sweet, pie-eyed little cutie) by the ponytails. Mrs. Jorgenson comes along and says, "Now, Johnny, please don't pull on her braids." Little Johnny says, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, you skank. What the fuck do you think you're going to do about it? My parents pay their taxes and that pays your salary so don't mess with me, bitch." Perhaps I'm over dramatizing, but it's funnier that way. Mrs. Jorgenson then calls the parents up.
Mrs. Jorgenson: "Your son has been pulling hair."
Parents: "And did you compliment him on his excellent grip strength and cunning?"
Mrs. Jorgenson: "No, actually, I've sent him to the principal's office to think about what he did."
Parents: "WHAT? How dare you raise your negativity to our sweet, horribly misunderstood lad. Why, he's such a sweet, sweet boy, and I refuse to allow the cruel institution of modern education to make him into some kind of babykilling monster. Fascist! Fascist!"
Mrs. Jorgenson: Okay, what do you want me to do about it?
Parents: Do your job! Point out his many strengths and accept his foibles. He's just a little person, not some lab rat for your nasty pleasures. I've half a mind to remove him from the public education system. Yes, home schooling does sound excellent. Our nanny taught herself most of the English Language, and she can teach our baby boy while we go to our demanding but personally rewarding careers.
When the school finally loses its capacity to handle the child, they will suggest drugs to fill the void in his tiny little heart. They'll hook him up with Ritalin or Valium, or some other pill to cure what ails him. From there it's more and more pills, more and more trips to the psychologist, and more and more time spent stoned into submission.
Essentially, what we've done is replaced discipline with medication, and all the while fighting a war on drugs. Isn't that sensible? Can we finally call the experiment off then? I mean, it was a nice theory, but theories end with either proof positive or to the contrary. All I can see is evidence that this little theory didn't pay out.
I'm not advocating a return to the days of Corporal Punishment. I don't think that beating kids is the solution at all. What we've accomplished is sending that pendulum we all hear so much about into the opposite direction. Hitting our kids didn't work. Not hitting our kids didn't work. Surprisingly, the answer is just like every other answer in this world. It's a compromise.
First off, as a parent I've already accepted that I'm going to do a shitty job. That said, I'm going to do the best damned shitty job I can. I'm going to give my kids love when they need it, trust when they earn it, discipline when they deserve it, and be there to help them pick up the pieces whenever they need me. It's not rocket science, but it just might work. I'm going to teach them lessons, and when I'm not around I'm going to hope that things like the schooling system are there to protect them, both from themselves and from the other kids they encounter. I'm not pulling my kids out of public school because it was such a horrible experience that it made me the person I am today. How could I possibly hold a grudge? Most of all, I'm going to try to do the one thing that matters most. I'm going to stop myself from reacting out of anger and frustration, and instead ensure that discipline is as severe or as light as necessary for the situation. Yeah, it sounds like the same wish list every parent holds, but it's the best I have to offer. Nobody can live up to it, but if you don't even try, maybe you shouldn't be having kids in the first place.