21st Century rights and responsibilities

Challenging the parent’s authority over today’s teens
By T Martin (as Escritor X)

Hear a kid no taller than a student desk curse out her teacher; or read about a disruptive student pulling the door off the hinges of his 4th-grade classroom. Get a phone call about your angelic child’s truancy rap after you faithfully dropping her off at school on time every morning; or witness a bloodbath at the local elementary school playground as tow or more kids gang up on an unsuspecting classmate.

Read about Philadelphia School District CEO Paul Vallas’ hope of having at least two armed Police officers at high schools in the coming school year.

Get my drift?

If any of this sounds remotely familiar, then at some point you’ve asked yourself or others what is becoming the most popular question repeated throughout U.S. cities today, “What is going on with our kids?”

More specifically, “Who (or what) is to blame for the violent and irrational behaviors of our youths today?”

Many have theories, but no one has the answer, except to say that it’s a vicious cycle. Anyone raising, educating, servicing or employing today’s youths has experienced some fallacy of the new culture, or lack thereof. So what is the source of young people’s problems and is there any hope of correcting the problem?

Source: unknown. Fix: not a chance. It boils down to rights and responsibilities and the imbalance between the two. The question, then, isn’t who or what is to blame, but how can society begin to balance the rights of children and the responsibilities of the adults charged with preparing them for the world they’ll face soon.

If it were all about blame, I’d just as soon blame the parents after hearing one frustrated parent say straight up, “You know, you really can’t blame the kids; it’s their parents. They don’t raise their kids right!”

But these are tough times for raising a teen, so I’d have to look at other reasons when someone tells me what they overheard on the streets from a teen: “It’s not that I can’t read; it’s just hard. It be givin’ me a headache!” Oooh, what he said!

Pointing the finger
Theories are great. They offer such a peace of mind for some of us. As long as we have something that helps us sleep better at night, the world’s problems can fade away for at least a short while. While I consider the following points to be theories about the source of today’s lack of culture and identity, I do not deny the evidence that these things have contributed to our crumbling youth society.

If you want to rile a few celebrities and record companies, start blaming the entertainment industry. Blame the hours and hours of television that children watch. Blame the rap, hip-hop and commercial licks that kids hear day in and day out. Blame the movie industry for producing films that expose kids to things considered taboo even for young adults only a few short years ago. Blame celebrities in general for failing to provide role models for our youths to follow. The accusations go on and on, and I see a valid basis for the complaints against the entertainment industry and celebration of “heroes” that give kids the wrong impression of what life is really about.

But the industry can only take so much of that, and they also point the finger. “We’re not at fault,” says Entertainment. “Where are the parents in all this? Don’t they control what their children watch, listen to, etc.?” Good question. Hey, parents! Where are you? What are you thinking? Your kid tells you – not asks you – tells you that he’s going to play b-ball with some friends, and out the door he goes. Your daughter says she’s sleeping over a friend’s house. She doesn’t ask either; she just lets you know her plans and goes. That might be fine if they’re over 18, but these are minors doing this.

Today’s kids smoke and drink and talk about their sexual encounters openly and freely – and sometimes in front of their parents! Is there a grim look from the parent with those “we’ll talk about his later” look? Nah. Are there any gasps of disbelief and a disciplinary hand flying? Yeah, right! And get DHS up in arms? No, better yet… just blame the kind of education urban children are getting when they can’t afford Catholic, charter or private school. That’s right! Blame public education.

After all, they don’t teach real history anyway. They teach “white American” history – the history white America wants its poor, underprivileged children to learn. They don’t teach what really went on with those heroic early Presidents that fought so hard for the freedom of slaves or the 60 years of bombing in Vieques, Puerto Rico. So… blame public education. Our youths can’t speak proper English, nor do they seem to care to. Blame public education. They can’t read or write. Blame public education. They never seem to have any homework to challenge their hungry minds. Blame public education. They don’t provide a meaningful system to prepare their children for college and the working world beyond. Blame public education.

Sure, go ahead. Keep pointing the finger because educators say they can only work with what’s brought to them… from the streets. What? Is there no end to this? (Did I mention something about a vicious cycle? This is it.) Yes! Blame the streets! Kids walk into schools with street attitudes and street language and street clothes and street smarts. Educators blame the streets on which their children live; the neighborhoods from which kids come; the communities that fail to support these students; and the families that don’t stick together long enough to know the difference between the so-called norm and dysfunctional family life.

My tyrannical response to the failing public school system is to restore God and corporal punishment. Thank you, Paul Vallas, for your support of repetitive writing. My other theory about creating a police state was considered unconstitutional, though. Aw, shucks!

In the meantime, the Surgeon General publishes report after report about how public health factors into child behavior and youth violence. Communities point to self-esteem and self-identity. Churches point to spiritual wellness. Hospitals point to health awareness and education. Schools point to family and sense of belonging. Families point to the streets and the entertainment industry again. And in the middle of this big circle of what should be a support system for any given child, there is a serious imbalance created by the society we’re tearing apart: the disparity between the rights of children and the responsibilities of the adults charged with their well-being.

Balance the scale
During the time when talking back to an adult was unheard of – even for other adults! – there was a corresponding responsibility for every right a child had. Again the tyrant, I continue to preach that children have no rights, or shouldn’t, and that whoever started granting young children adult rights should be placed in a room with no doors or windows… just with North Philly’s top juvenile offenders. However, even I have to acknowledge that there some basic rights that belong to children. They didn’t ask to be born, and their reward for surviving birth is the right live the life they’ve been granted. This comes at a price, though, and I have my own theory about that.

My theory is simple: For every right a person has, there is an equal and corresponding responsibility. Expanding on that, for every right a child has, specifically a minor, there is an equal and corresponding responsibility of an adult to meet the needs that child rights call for. Children have the right to be fed, clothed, provided shelter, protected and educated. Parents, then, have the responsibility to feed, clothe, provide shelter, protect and educate their children. For bringing them into the world, parents owe their children that much. As with most theories, this works great in an ideal world. Reality is a splash of cold water on the face.

Enter the elements that make a child’s world complete – language, art, music, friends, etc. Children begin to pick up new things, either from family or friends. They exercise their right to education and their basic instinct to learn. Parents are expected to harness that right by teaching “right and wrong” so that children make mature and intelligent choices about how to process what they learn.

At times, children fail to “keep their end” of the bargain. They stray. Parents discipline. Not only can they not lay a hand on their child without the Department of Human Services breathing down their necks, but they also can’t expect the education system to do much in the way of discipline, because educators’ hands are tied too. The law piles more and more rights on very young children as a way to “protect” them from negligence and abuse, and that’s understandable. However, in the process, the law strips away the responsibility of properly raising their children. Yet, no matter how much disciplinary distance the law places between parents and their children, parents are held accountable for the actions of their underage children over whom they have lost almost all control.

Feel the balance tipping heavily in favor of you-know-who?

Who runs the home now? The kids. Who runs the school now? The kids. Who’s running the streets day in and day out? The kids. Guess who’s going to be running the very communities we’re watching go to pot in a few years? You guessed it! Not a pleasant thought for people who hope there’ll be any Social Security waiting for them when they retire in 20 or 30 years!

Face the fact that 21st century laws cater to this video generation by piling on their rights and stripping away their parents’ control. Instead of standing around in a circle of pointing fingers and continuing the vicious cycle we witness with increasing trepidation for the future, we’ll be standing in a circle and holding hands – like on Oprah – and singing “Kum ba ya!” Better still, maybe someone will cut an opening into that doorless, windowless room and release those North Philly teens with all their rights… just before they drag away the limp, lifeless body of whomever it was we stuck in there that gave kids rights in the first place.