I am sick to death of children being used as an excuse for our horrible behavior. They’re used as pawns in nasty divorces. If we want to eat junk food, we claim we bought it for the children in our lives. Those children also become a handy excuse to get out of social obligations. Adults hate to admit to breaking things, so they blame it on the 3-year-old.
All those things are unacceptable, but even worse, in my opinion, is that we use children as political chess pieces as well. Want to control what people learn? Ban books and prevent certain subjects from being taught by saying that children might get their feelings hurt or be confused or get the wrong idea about what’s appropriate. If you wish to marginalize the LGBTQ+ community because they scare you, all you have to do is claim that they might just indoctrinate your children, as if anyone can run counter to one’s own orientation just by receiving some sort of nefarious (and completely fictionalized) pep talk.
These political shenanigans may seem like they’re on the rise these days, because hate speech and manipulation have become more mainstream since 2016, but the truth is that we’ve been carrying on like this for decades, if not for centuries. For some reason, this song from the Music Man just popped into my head. Yes, ya got trouble. Allowing your kids to play pool will corrupt them for life!
We’ve also claimed that dancing leads to fornication, and that kids who watch too much television become autistic, and that strangers are always much more dangerous than relatives. None of these claims are true, but once you throw the word “kids” into the mix, logic flies right out the window. We have to protect the children!
Protecting children is one thing. Sheltering them from the real world is quite another. Learning to coexist with people who look and behave differently than you do is mission critical if you wish to become a fully functional member of society. Teaching children intolerance makes them spend their lives attempting to exist within a narrow set of rules, and watching everyone around them break these rules on a daily basis will simply make an intolerant child turn into a bitter, reactive, selectively judgmental adult.
Your kids are a lot more resilient than you think they are. If you ever get the opportunity to be around kids that aren’t your own, in that moment when they’re able to drop the façade that they’re forced to wear when they are around their parents or guardians, you’ll quickly see that they are, and will always be, their own people. They will form their own opinions whether you like it or not. You can try to force them to go through life with blinders on, but that will only cause them to turn their heads at sharper angles the minute you leave the scene.
It is much healthier to expose your kids to as much as you can in life. Give them the opportunity to think things through and ask questions while they have caring adults in their lives to help them figure things out. Allow them to approach life with curiosity and enthusiasm rather than hate and fear. Instill in them the importance of having a moral compass and compassion for others, and then trust that they will be capable of making good choices for themselves.
Otherwise, you are forcing them to become hollow vessels that can easily be filled with fear and hate. You’ll turn them into tools to be manipulated, and believe me, there will be plenty of people out there who are willing to manipulate anyone who has not been shown how to think critically. That’s no way to go through life.
Here’s an example from my own life: I lived with someone for 16 years without getting married. My born-again Christian sister (who had been married three times and used to live in a hippie commune), informed me that her kids wouldn’t be allowed to come to visit me anymore because we were living in sin. My response was, “If you do that, I refuse to take part in the lesson you will teaching them, which is that people who do not have the exact same belief system that you do should be shunned, avoided, and judged. That sets them up to become intolerant of the vast majority of the people in the world, and will cause them to have lives that are much more puny and monochrome than they deserve.”
We continued to visit eachother a couple times a year, and the subject never came up again. I doubt my sister got the lesson, though. I just think it suddenly occurred to her that she really wouldn’t fare well if I started throwing stones at her glass house.
The reason I’m thinking about this subject is that I just stumbled across a fascinating article on the History website about how some major cities were banning pinball machines in the 1940’s. Politicians decided that pinball was a menace to society. The article goes on to say:
“While law enforcement and civic groups looked askance at pinball for its gambling connections, churches and school boards also argued that it corrupted the morals of America’s children by encouraging them to steal coins, skip school in order to play and even go hungry by wasting their money on the frivolous pursuit.”
Imagine. There was once a time when police in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee were raiding candy stores, movie theaters, and bowling alleys, confiscating pinball machines, and then smashing them with sledgehammers. This, of course, simply drove pinball machines underground and gave them seedy reputations that they didn’t originally have.
The Republicans attempted to sully the reputation of a Democratic Presidential candidate by claiming he was closely linked to pinball. That candidate was John F. Kennedy. It’s amusing how yesterday’s scandals seem so ridiculous today.
It seems that sucking the joy out of children’s lives is a heady, powerful feeling for some. Not since Burgermeister Meisterburger have we been more shameless in our pursuit of control at the expense of our children than we seem to be at present. See his irrational proclamation in the image below. It’s a difficult responsibility, indeed.
But here’s an idea. Stop being a bully. Pick on someone your own size. Don’t use false childhood fragility in order to try to force your agenda on the world. All you’ll do is narrow every child’s horizon to match your own narrow mind.
Instead, teach them to cope with the complex, diverse, ever-changing world in which they will be living. Change is inevitable, no matter how many tantrums you throw. So set your progeny up for success, and mind your own business when it comes to minors who aren’t under your supervision. Then maybe you’ll get lucky and your sons and daughters won’t look back at you and bitterly laugh at the rigid and ignorant world you attempted to force upon them.
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