Let Kids Find Their Own Path? Removing Guardrails from Their Road

By | January 4, 2016 | 0 Comments

While paging through Facebook, I came across a 13-year-old girl who declared that she is married to her girlfriend, whom she named. She didn’t say she planned to marry her friend when they grow older, but that she already is married. When I mentioned this to acquaintances, they merely shrugged and asked what the problem was.

● The problem is not the girl’s sexual orientation. That is her business and no one else’s.

● The problem is lack of a sense of privacy. What prior generations hesitated to tell their best friends, the Oprah generation now splatters all over the Internet. Orwell was an optimist. He thought Big Brother would have to watch us. But we make the job easy by blabbing to everyone on the Internet. Can freedom survive if the government knows everything about us? We’ll see.

● The problem is a combination of premature sexualization and delayed maturity. We see a 10-year-old model posed provocatively in Vogue, and middle-school kids “sexting.” But at the same time, our president elicits loud cheers by promising young “adults” that they can stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26. Can a nation survive with citizens who remain adolescents into their twenties and beyond? We’ll see.

● The problem is that this girl is not a three-year-old who says she wants to marry her babysitter. She is 13 and should understand what marriage is. Can civilization survive if girls don’t aspire to marry boys and raise a family? We’ll see.

● The problem is that she probably has been exposed to sex education since kindergarten. She was taught that it doesn’t matter whether she marries a man or a woman; or whether a child has a mother and a father, or two mothers, or two fathers, or one parent, or whatever. But does “whatever” include polygamy, as now seems likely? And to the girl, apparently it already includes a lowered age of consent. How far does “whatever” go? We’ll see.

● The problem is that “whatever” is not a plan for stable families − or a stable nation. Those who are redefining the nuclear family are undermining the foundation of civilization. But will their good intentions prevent them from weakening the whole structure? We’ll see.

● The problem is that if the girl was serious, we may have a case of sexual child abuse. There was no photo of the friend, so there was no way to judge her age. For all we know, she is several years older. The problem is that even if this were true, many people would still ask, “What’s the problem?”

The problem is that the 13-year-old Facebook girl is growing up in a culture that removed the warning signs and guardrails from her road. The dangers are still there − only the warnings have been removed.
Have you ever driven on a winding road in the mountains? There were signs warning of sharp curves and steep grades. And where there were dangerous drop-offs, there were guardrails. Often the rails were marked with scrapes, indicating that careless drivers had damaged their paint jobs, but were saved from plunging off a cliff.
What we accept with gratitude on mountain roads we often resent on the road of life. We resent being warned of sharp curves or steep grades. We even resent attempts to keep us from going off the road and over cliffs. We resent these efforts as assaults on our autonomy.
But what is autonomy? To teenagers, and those who think like teenagers, autonomy means doing whatever they please. To adults, autonomy means being in an optimum state of mental and physical health, so that they can think clearly − and then be fully informed of possible risks and benefits − and only then make up their own minds.
Regrettably, the popular concept of autonomy is that of a teenager: “Leave me alone!” We pass by a man lying on the sidewalk, telling ourselves that we are respecting his autonomy. But our behavior is no different from a person who is so selfish that he doesn’t even notice a prostrate human being.
If we truly respected the horizontal man’s autonomy, we would stop and risk being late for our lunch date. We would kneel down and risk dirtying our clothes. We would determine whether he was sleeping, or drunk, or unconscious from an illness or injury − and call 9-1-1. We would see that he was returned to his optimum state of physical and mental health, so that he could make rational decisions for himself.
That’s respect for autonomy. Passing by prostrate human beings is merely apathy.
A similar principle applies to raising children. Letting them “do their own thing” isn’t parenting, it’s merely apathy. Teaching them that all relationships are equal to traditional marriage isn’t education, it’s merely indifference. Letting them “find their own path” isn’t respect for their autonomy, it’s merely laziness. The parents of John Walker Lindh let him “find his own path.” How did that work out?
John was a teenager in affluent, liberal Marin County, California. His mother dabbled in Buddhism. His father was a lapsed Catholic. They gave John no religious education. But his father did give John a gift − he left John and his mother, and ran off with his gay boyfriend. Imagine how unpleasant that made John’s time in high school. Imagine the teasing he endured. So John joined the Taliban, who teach that gays should be stoned to death. John was captured fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is now in serving 20 years prison. How’s that for “his own path”?
John was left empty of ethical values, so he filled his emptiness with whatever he could find, no matter how toxic it was. The vast majority of kids who are left to “find their own path” will not turn out nearly this badly, but that is hardly a reason to rejoice.
Allowing children to “find their own path” is often highly selective. Would Lindh’s parents have allowed him to smoke cigarettes? Would the 13-year-old Facebook girl’s parents have allowed her to eat chocolate-chip cookies for dinner? Of course not. What enters children’s lungs or stomachs is important even to “progressive” parents. But what enters children’s minds and spirits? Not so much.
The 13-year-old girl who proudly announced on Facebook that she is married to her girlfriend is an order of magnitude less destructive than a John Walker Lindh. But there are many more like her than there are like Lindh, so the damage that they do may exceed the damage that the few Lindhs can do. A few people with bad values may be less damaging to civilization than many people with no values. If you doubt this, consider the young people who rioted in American cities recently. Consider the young people who continue to disrupt our universities and interfere with education.
All the 1.2 million lawyers in America will not suffice to right the wrongs perpetrated by people who do not know the meaning of contracts, marriage certificates, or oaths of office, much less a handshake. All the 1.2 million police officers will not suffice to repair the damage inflicted by people who believe that their own feelings are more important than the property or even the lives of others.
Buying more buckets is only a temporary remedy for a leaking roof. At some point, we must repair the roof. As a first step, we need to recognize that the problem is not a deficiency of buckets, but an excess of leaks. As a first step, we need to recognize that the problem is not “mass incarceration,” but too many people committing crimes.
From ancient times, women have civilized men, or tried to. We talk endlessly about fatherless boys brought up without discipline or moral principles. But girls brought up without moral principles may be even more destructive. Who will civilize the uncivilized young men? Who will civilize the next generation?
We can argue about where we want to go, what road we should take, and how fast we should proceed. But if we want young drivers to be safe, we should spend some time restoring the warning signs and guardrails that helped us navigate the sharp curves and steep grades safely when we were young. Why should today’s young people be less fortunate? Why should we allow the dangerous roads to remain unmarked?

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

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