The Quest for Maturity and Sobriety:
How to Change America's
Messed Up Kids
by Mike Obsatz
I believe there is a crisis among many of America's
children. They live in
a state of prolonged immaturity and self-aborption. Many of them are ignored,
neglected, abused, and manipulated into becoming addicts. Some often seem
like shallow, dependent, whiny, self-righteous folks who believe they are
entitled to whatever they want. We have severe problems with hyperactivity,
drug abuse, smoking, bullying, violence, sexual abuse, internet porn, depression,
and other self-sabotaging behaviors.
Some people believe this problem is due to poor parenting. Many American
parents seem immature, and are choosing not to be involved with their own
children. Some say that "parents want to have children, but just don't
want to raise them." Over 40 percent of children under age 15 live without
a father present.
Others blame violent and sexist media messages. David Walsh's "Selling
Out America's Children" describes America as a "culture of disrespect." Many
American children and adolescents spend up to 50 hours of their week plugged
into videogames, television, ipods or computers. Being cool is connected
to putting others down.
From birth, children get the message that happiness and fulfillment must
come from the outside, not the inside. Ann Wilson Schaef wrote an amazing
book called "When Society Becomes an Addict" about 25 years ago.
It is a classic about how the American culture teaches children and adults
that they must acquire, do, have, control, own, receive -- in order to
feel okay about who they are.
Being raised from the outside in, instead of from the
inside out, many American children lose their sense of personal authenticity. William Pollack, in "Real
Boys," and Mary Pipher in "Reviving Ophelia," claim that boys
and girls give up big parts of themselves in order to conform to cultural
norms and expectations. Socialization messages for boys focus on toughness,
bravado, and not showing emotion (except anger). For girls, the message
is about appearance. Thinness and beauty are more important than authenticity,
intelligence, and personal depth of being. This process robs kids of their
inner beauty -- as they seek to gain acceptance from peers by wearing the
right stuff, and doing the "in" activities.
Drinking and using drugs are part of the youth party scene. Substances like
sugar, nicotine and caffeine run kids' lives, as well as those of adults.
Shallow sexual encounters influence longterm attitudes toward sexuality.
What can we do to change things? In order to attain a level of maturity,
and the ability to function well in a complex world, children
need SIX main things, and many American kids are not getting them.
First, all kids need to be loved and accepted for who they are on the inside.
Second, kids should be discovering their gifts and talents, so they know
what makes them individually unique and special. Then they need to maximize
those talents, watch them grow.
Third, every child needs to begin to understand the
complexity of the external world -- relationships, corporations, families,
religious belief systems, politics, government, how schools function. They
need to learn about marginalization -- racism, sexism, able-ism, age-ism,
heterosexism. Then, they need to commit to work on their own prejudices
and biases, as well as develop an understanding
of oppression. Addictive behaviors of all kinds, including process addictions,
such as gambling, must be examined with the help of mature adults.
Fourth, children need to gain an awareness of their
own inner world. This
means self-awareness, understanding one's own strengths and limitations, learning
about healthy sexual expression, and coping with lossses and disappointments.
Intimacy and communication skills need to be taught. The effects of substances
on their bodies, minds, and emotions (sugar, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine,
marijuana, etc.) and substance abuse must be taught to each child.
Fifth, we need to help young people fit into the structure
of the world in some meaningful way. This process of integration means using one's gifts and
talents to make a living, as well some contribution to society. A strong work
ethic must be a major part of the fabric of adulthood.
And sixth, there needs to be an emphasis on compassion,
empathy and giving back to society. This is a spiritual component.
How can this be done? There need to be mature
adults in the community who
are willing to teach and support children in their quest for maturity.
This can be family (nuclear and extended), mentors,
teachers, counselors, spiritual and community leaders. We must begin to understand societal addiction
and the toll it is taking on our children and take action. Reverence for life
and each other must replace the current emphasis on violence and selfishness.