Late and lost in small town New Hampshire on a recent trip and perhaps contrary to the stereotype for my gender, I asked for directions. The whole town was the size of a postage stamp, how hard could it be to find a boarding school with dozens of buildings? But I had been walking in circles for half an hour; it was time to get some guidance. The gracious woman to whom I spoke gave clear, concise, accurate advice regarding the simple route I should follow. By the time she said, "third light pole counting on your left," it was clear I was completely and thoroughly turned about. Perceiving my befuddlement she said, "I have a better idea. It's only a ten-minute walk if you know where you're going. My daughter will take you."
So her 17-year-old daughter and I headed off across the square, chatting amicably. Upon arriving at the previously veiled boarding school, I thanked the young woman, met up with the other independent counselors in my group, and went about touring. It wasn't until I had seen the student union, perused the dorms, and checked out the new science lab that I had a moment to reframe the situation: A woman whom I had never seen before suggested that I trot off with her minor child.
I could have been anybody.
Admittedly, I suppose I don't fit the profile for a bad guy. I'm 60 years old and was wearing a long sleeved shirt from Nordstrom's. But still.
In my neighborhood, I would let my 17-year-old daughter walk off with an unknown, adult man under the following circumstances: she had an armed escort of Navy Seals, air support, and was packed in a three-foot layer of bubble wrap.
Half a century ago, I could ride my bike down to the bay and swim out a hundred yards to the barrier islands. The worst thing that could happen was that I might step on a dead sea urchin or a broken beer bottle. If I lost track of time, I might be late for dinner. My parents neither knew nor cared where I went after school. In 2017, I bet you can imagine any number of worse things that could happen to your child. Cold macaroni and cheese probably doesn't make the top ten. I didn't have access to drugs or alcohol in 1964; social media addictions, Internet pornography, and cyber bullying were the stuff of science fiction.
Which is not to suggest that by any stretch that childhoods half a century ago were idyllic. Race relations in the south were unspeakable. LBGT kids had a terrible time. Bullying was in real time, not on-line.
So, absent a Way-Back Machine, what can we learn from our idealized (not idyllic) childhoods of generations ago? We can certainly agree that we're not in Kansas anymore. The dangers of process addictions are present, real and unprecedented. But the past lessons of safety and security should not be lost. When people talk about working hard, they don't miss shoveling cow poop at 5:00 am. They are longing for the family and community, of "sobre mesa," of after dinner conversations. Simply stated, we have to keep what was good and keep away from that which wasn't.
- Violent, addictive video games are invariably bad. Few kids will choose to eat vegetables when offered chips and dip. Few kids will read books if "Shoot, Blood, Kill" is available. Your kids don't have any money. If you have a PlayStation in your home, it's because YOU bought it. Are you sure that your kids earning points for beating up a virtual hooker after refusing to pay her is what you want?
- Your child's friends are very likely--there's no way to put this politely--idiots. At the very least, your child's friends know less about your values than you do. Your opinion has to be more important to your child than are the opinions of the ten-year-olds down the block or the 14-year-olds out there in virtual world. Your daughter is less likely to be shamed about kissing a boy if she either
a) hasn't kissed a boy.
b) doesn't have access to social media
c) doesn't give a shit what is being discussed on Snap chat.
By keeping her close to you and to what you believe in, you can bring her up in a world where it's okay to show a stranger how to find the boarding school. You might start by focusing on who she is rather than what grade she got in geometry.
You can bring up healthy kids in this unhealthy world. You just have to allow them the opportunity to step on the right sea urchins.