Book Excerpt: It Takes a Parent

Nor am I suggesting that the parenting culture thinks such behaviors as those I've described in this chapter are a good thing. Certainly many bright lights of the parenting culture would bemoan the very same behaviors and attitudes that I've chronicled. They might even speak to the need for parents to intervene. But what the parenting culture generally pays lip service to on the one hand, and how it actually encourages us to raise our children on the other, are, sadly, often two very different things.

So, What's Going On?

Is it perhaps that our culture is more stressed than in previous times? Sure, these things can have an impact. But living during the Depression or World War II would have been far more stressful than living in the "rush-rush" 2000s. In those periods in our history, many Americans experienced severe deprivation and uncertainty; but there is not the evidence of widespread child behavior problems like those we see today.

It's also true that American culture has coarsened terribly, and I'm the first to bemoan it. Particularly for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, the popular culture can be downright ugly, with depictions of violence and sex everywhere. Even children's cartoons and television shows are filled with kids disdaining one another and their parents. Rugrats and The Fairly Odd Parents are just a couple of examples that come to mind.

Finding a G rated move with no sexual innuendo or cynicism is increasingly difficult. In PG, it's impossible. Such things were rife, for instance, in the wildly popular (and yes, quite clever and entertaining) movie Shrek, and graphic in the "kids'" movie Scooby-Doo.

But, as parents, our job is to control what our kids see, not to blame what they see for a lack of our own hands-on attention. As our children grow older and by choice or necessity we no longer control what they watch or hear, our job is to help them think rightly about the culture, what they absorb, and what they should want to absorb. The authors of the Pediatrics study I referred to earlier partially blamed increases in divorce, single-parent households, and dependence on public assistance for behavior problems. But even these problems go back to the parents and how one or both of them are—or are not—interacting with their children. It's also clear, by the way, that there are many wonderful parents (single and sometimes married) who are doing everything they can to make up for the neglect of the other parent.

That has to have a huge impact for the good.

It Takes a Parent—and a Village—to Raise a Child

In one sense, I believe it does take a village to raise a child. For instance, my divorce is not just my business. It's a pebble in a stream and has a huge effect on others in the community, including on how children down my own street may come to view the permanence, or impermanence, of marriage. When both parents in the home around the corner work so many hours that their unhappy child goes to another family's home for companionship, his problems become that family's problems, too. We are not islands, and the way we adults lead our lives affects the children all around us. We have a responsibility to the little ones in our lives, not just the ones in our own family, to do the right thing. That's why there really isn't such a thing as "privacy" after all.

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