Still, before we even try to
tackle the principles of responsible parenting, we really should
consider the observation made by the frustrated father in the
high school principal’s office.
There’s an important lesson there:
“Kids today just don’t have
the respect for parents they used to,” he said.
Is that true? Maybe. But even
though many would agree that he’s right, it’s useful to consider
why he’s right and what we can do about it.
Some commentators have suggested
that today’s youth are somehow genetically or biologically inferior
to kids from a couple of generations ago.
As evidence, they argue that
drug use among young adults in the 1960’s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s
— now parents of today’s kids — had a real impact on the quality
of inheritable characteristics these parents passed on to their
children. If pot-smoking rhesus monkeys have a higher percentage
of hyperactive young, they conclude, pot-smoking people probably
There’s another philosophical
camp out there, too, and they see things a little differently.
They’re more likely to view the
father’s statement through a matrix of cultural, rather than
They echo the sentiments of former
House Speaker Newt Gingrich or ex-Education Secretary William
Bennett, who believe that the problem really started with the
personal-liberation movements of the 1960s and ’70s.
They argue that such causes —
the women’s liberation and the gay-rights movements are favorite
examples — unleashed a devaluing of traditional social norms
concerning sex, drug abuse, and other core values, including
the role and primacy of the family in charting a child’s moral
Others blame the media for saturating
our culture — and our homes — with a steady stream of violence,
hypersexuality, and cynicism. And they’re right; the power of
the media in today’s world can’t be underestimated or overstated.
Still, while there’s certainly
something to be said for each of the above theories, they all
have one thing in common: They don’t really focus on the positive,
proactive things that each of us can do to help our kids build
character and ease their transition into adulthood.
Maybe it’s time to put these
theories aside — at least, for the time being — and focus instead
on fixing what’s broken: in our families and in ourselves.
To do that, it’s useful to make
an old-fashioned commitment to a simple proposition that’s both
new and old, logical and intuitive, framed as much in the Chaos
theory of modern physics as in the ancient faith of believers
everywhere: that what each of us does affects everyone else in
Viewed from this perspective,
it’s easier to see that family life really does matter, and helps
determine the values and norms of society as much as culture
and society shapes the content and form of our external lives.
If we affirm this simple truth
and act upon it, we can be assured that — regardless of how
things came to be the way they are — society really will change
as we change and as our family life changes.
And what we do to build character
in our children will, like ripples in a pond, eventually affect
the world as a whole.