At seventy-two, I often hear myself say, “Well, when I was young…” followed by some judgment about the behavior of today’s kids. I seem to remember my parent’s expectations of me as a kid were quite different from what parents seem to expect today. Looking back, my parents’ expectations and boundaries hardly felt ambiguous.
All of which leads me to ponder how we raise and educate those who’ll take the reins from us and hopefully forge a better world. It’s a tall order to prepare our children to take risks, respect but question authority, create and innovate, procreate respectfully, and serve mankind.
Children learn by watching how adults behave and by listening to what we teach them at home and in school. For whatever reason, sometimes religious, we rarely teach our children about the physiology and ethos of love, commitment, contraception, and parenting skills. Nor do we teach them about the workings of democracy, their rights and responsibilities, or require them to serve their country and we’re just beginning to teach media and financial literacy and personal environmental responsibility.
And outside the classroom, our children learn mostly by our example. For better or worse, our kids will most often become who we are, not who we tell them to be.
Some parents today seem confused about their own roles, believing they must raise happy children rather than resilient ones. They crave the affection of their children often to the confusion and detriment of the children themselves. They see self-esteem as a gift rather than a hard-earned prize built on accomplishment.
We’re shocked when our children become teenage parents, get mired in debt, abuse drugs or alcohol, prey on others, or can’t be bothered to vote, and still we fail to see ourselves in our children. Countless studies detail the multi-generational persistence of abuse, addiction, poverty, and emotional dysfunction.
Our children are the future. As Marian Wright Edelman said many years ago at my son’s graduation, “A nation that does not stand for its children does not stand for anything and will not stand tall in the future.”
To raise resilient, capable, confident citizens and future parents, we must do better ourselves. STEM learning supports economic and scientific growth but if we don’t also raise rational, empathetic, responsible citizens living together respectfully, in time, our species will perish from this earth.