I am often asked, “what’s wrong with our children?” Children having children. Children killing themselves or others. Children dropping out of school and roaming streets alone or in gangs. Children addicted to tobacco and alcohol, drinking and drugging themselves to escape reality. Children being locked up in jails with adult criminal mentors, bubbling with rage and crushed by depression.
Adults are what’s wrong with children. Parents letting children raise themselves or be raised by television or the internet. Children being shaped by peers instead of parents, grandparents and kin. Children seeing adults be violent to each other and marketing, glorifying and tolerating violence to them and preaching what we don’t practice. Adults telling children to be honest while lying and cheating and to be healthy while selling them junk food that undermines their health.
I believe it is time for adults of every race and income group to break our silence about the pervasive breakdown of moral, family and community values, to place our children first in our lives, and to struggle to model the behavior we want our children to learn. We don’t have a child and youth problem in America; we have a profound adult problem as children do what they see adults doing in our personal, professional and public lives. What must our children think as they see the craven greed of too many corporate leaders pillaging their corporations and the homes, pensions and life blood of workers, seniors and stockholders? What must they think as they see too many political leaders repeatedly say one thing and do another? And what dare they believe when they see some religious leaders enjoined by faith to protect them abuse them instead? It’s time to close the adult hypocrisy gap.
I urge every parent and adult to conduct a personal audit to examine whether we are contributing to the crisis so many of our children face or to the solutions they urgently need. And if we are not a part of the solution, we are a part of the problem and need to do better. Our children don’t need or expect us to be perfect but they do need and expect us to be honest, to admit and correct our mistakes, and to share our struggles about the meanings and responsibilities of faith, parenthood, citizenship, and life. Before we can pull up the moral weeds of violence, materialism and greed in our society that are strangling our children, we must pull up the moral weeds in our own backyards. So many children are confused about what is right and wrong because so many adults talk right and do wrong in our personal, professional and public lives.
- If we are not supporting a child we brought into the world as a father or mother with attention, time, love, discipline, money and the teaching of values, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the family breakdown today leaving so many children at risk.
- If we are abusing tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, or other drugs while telling our children not to, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution in our overly addicted society.
- If we have guns in our home and rely on them to feel safe and powerful, and don’t stand up to those who market guns to our children, or glamorize violence as fun, entertaining and normal, then we are part of the problem rather than the solution to the escalating war of American against American, family member against family member, that is tearing us apart.
- If we tell our daughters not to engage in premature and irresponsible sex, and not to have children before they are prepared to parent and support them, and do not tell our sons the same thing, we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births so many decry.
- If we profess to be people of faith but send rather than take our children to religious services, and believe that the gospels, prophets, Koran, or whatever religious beliefs we hold, pertain only to one-day worship but not to Monday through Sunday home, professional and political life, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the moral famine in our land today.
- If we tell, snicker, or wink at racial, gender, religious, or ethnic jokes or engage in or acquiesce in any practices intended to diminish rather than enhance other human beings, then we are contributing to the proliferating voices of racial and ethnic division and intolerance staining our land again.
- If we think being American is about how much we can get rather than about how much we can give and share to help all our children get a healthy, fair and safe start in life, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution.
- If we think it’s somebody else’s responsibility to teach our children values, respect, good manners, work and health habits, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to bullying and incivility rife today.
- If we or our organizations are spending more money on alcohol and entertainment than on scholarships, books, tutoring, rites of passage and mentoring programs for youths, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to ensuring positive alternatives and hope for children.
- If we’d rather complain about politicians than walk to the voting booths, school board meetings, political and community meetings to demand support for our children, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to voter apathy today.
- If our children of any color think that being smart and studying hard is acting white rather than acting Black or Brown and don’t know about the many great Black and Brown, as well as white achievers, who overcame every obstacle to succeed, then we are a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution to racial stereotyping.
- If we are not voting and holding political leaders accountable for investing relative pennies in quality early Head Start and pounds in the military budget, and for cutting effective child and family nutrition programs while protecting government welfare for rich farmers and corporate executives, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the growing gap between rich and poor.
- If we think corrupt and unaccountable Black and Brown leaders who neglect our children and communities are better than corrupt and unaccountable white leaders who neglect our children and communities or vice versa, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to voter cynicism and apathy.
- And if we think we have ours and don’t owe any time or money or effort to help those left behind, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the fraying social fabric that threatens all Americans and the very dream that is America. — (NNPA)
Marian Wright Edelman is a lifelong advocate for disadvantaged Americans and is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Under her leadership, CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families.