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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

If Not Now, When?

Given the success of the article "To Give or Not To Give" (9/12/11), I feel motivated to add to the present picture of American Society. The main question is: Are we raising a new generation of couch potatoes, corrupt politicians, greedy CEO's, lazy workers, incompetent leaders, careless parents, and unmotivated teachers? Or are we creating a group of Steve Jobs geniuses who will astound us with their creativity and inventiveness? The answer is complex, given that both possibilities are very real, dividing the population into two very separate categories of citizens.

The lack of traditional discipline in most families (not to be confused with physically hurting children, which is abuse) has created a generation of teens who feel entitled to total support without having to work for it. I asked some of my students who are close to 18 what plan they had to survive: Almost no one associated that milestone with becoming an independent adult. They shrugged their shoulders as if to say "Whatever happens, happens." Fatalism is a quality associated more with the Muslim religion than with the Western culture. It usually leads to a lack of ambition and effort, a sure road to welfare.

I vividly remember the heydays of sexual liberation and antiwar movements between 1969 and 1979. Hippies and communes sprang in various places in our country where smoking pot and enjoying free love was the norm. Everybody wanted peace in the world and a greater permissiveness in our society; we searched for the meaning of life through transcendental meditation with the help of Indian gurus. The Beatles were all the rage and colorful clothing changed fashion forever. College students had rebelled and wanted a voice in the governance of universities. Women were at last free to make love without fear of getting pregnant thanks to the pill. The suffocating bonds of straight-laced parents were finally broken, announcing a happier and freer society. However..

Reality asserted itself in the eighties with the recently discovered AIDS virus; families who sought the new freedom were broken up, divorce rate rose, and many young adults decided that marriage was not really necessary in order to have children. As a result, permissiveness turned to neglect and the loss of essential values which hold a social group together. Women wanted their place in the sun and tried to combine work with raising kids, a difficult proposition that created latchkey children. These came from school to find an empty home; others were raised by relatives, nannies, or daycare centers, where social values were not the priority. Deprived of parental love, many youngsters looked for attention and affection in other social groups where they learned how to reject the accepted norms.

There is nothing more important than a united family where lessons are taught with love, patience, and tolerance. I remember a single mother telling me that once a week she gathers all seven children around the dinner table to discuss and try to solve any problem that may have arisen. Everybody's opinion is welcome no matter what their age or gender. This type of strategy makes every child feel important and strengthens the bonds of affection and respect among its members. Whenever possible, close relatives such as grandparents should be invited to participate given their extensive experience and wisdom. elderly_lady6.gif

We have lost the ability to talk face-to-face in our modern society; we text mother that we will be late tonight. We send e-mails to friends, relatives, and acquaintances as a replacement for a meaningful conversation. Yes, these are important communication tools, but they should not substitute the need to sit down with a child or parent and examine real human issues. How can we detect non-verbal clues, such as a frown, a smile, a gesture, a shrug, a wink, or even a tone of voice if we can't see the person?

Going back to the initial question regarding what kind of society we are creating, the answer lies not in technology but in recuperating the warmth of human contact. Hugging a child or a friend cannot compare with a cleverly designed e-card or an affectionate e-mail. To parents who claim that they can't afford to give more time to their children I say "If not now, when?" Quality and quantity are both essential when raising kids and nothing can replace the mother the first two years, nothing! Dad must be available to answer questions or settle disputes or simply to give a sense of security that nobody, nobody else can give.

Children who grow up feeling self-confident in their abilities and secure in their emotions may well be the next Steve Jobs; at the very least, they'll make good citizens, and that's something our country will need in the complicated future that our country is facing.

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