The Loss of a Generation: How We Let Fear Ruin Our Children

playgroundjpg-1853851_p9The neighborhood is quiet. It’s almost a little too quiet actually. Walking down the street of this neighborhood there are no children outside playing, even though the fall air is beginning to set in and it’s that perfect time of the evening after school and before dinner. It’s almost a ghost town actually when comparing it to the days when this 29-year old was a child. There was no way that we were kept inside as kids. We were outside playing after school and then again after dinner. Many of us had dinner over at each other’s houses. Every parent knew exactly where their child was right down the street. They didn’t necessarily know whose house we were at, but they knew that we were near by and that was all that mattered. For today’s kids though, it’s much different.

Most of the kids in this neighborhood don’t know each other unless they share the same classes at school. The kids aren’t allowed to wander down the street and play with the kid who is six houses down. The idea that some of these kids are even allowed to play out in their own front yard is a bit of a rarity in this neighborhood today, and that’s a shame. There’s the missing sight of kids chasing each other down the street on their bicycles, and the missing sounds of laughter from playing hide and go seek. If you’re lucky you’ll see one of the kids with their parents walking the dog in the late evening, but even that is rare. No instead the children are being kept inside thanks to a media who was more than happy to create generation of fearful parents.

Perhaps it was the abduction of young Amber Hagerman back in January of 1996; that subsequently led to the ‘Amber Alert’ system, which caused the current generation of parents to become over-protective of their children. There again, this wasn’t a situation that you heard about all the time either until that incident in Arlington, Texas. After the national attention of this little girl who was taken off her bike in her own neighborhood, it seemed as if something changed in people. A new fear was born and the media was more than happy to feed that fear by making sure that most abduction cases received national attention from that point forward. This being the case even though most abductions are usually from someone within the family of the child. Statistically 0.1% of all American children have a chance of being abducted by a total stranger. Thanks to the media however, one would think that there’s a 99.9% show that their child is going to be abducted. This has created an over-protected generation of children who have been raised by television and video games, and have received no real world experience. This is has created a dangerous situation for the health and well-being of society.

When we were kids, we were taught about not talking to strangers and not taking candy from strangers. However not everyone was a stranger. We knew everyone on our street. We knew whose parents were whose and we knew what each of them did for a living. The neighborhood parents were like second parents to us. They weren’t strangers. Today though, most parents don’t allow their children to go inside and play at a neighbor’s house. They don’t allow their kids to go over to a classmate’s house and be around someone else’s parents. This is especially a problem when neither parent wants to give in and let their child play at another home. The child ends up losing out on a friend, and a valuable interaction with another human being. Instead the child ends up back at home in front of the television or computer where he or she is missing out on social interactions that are an important part of building the next generation of America’s future. A situation is created where children cannot learn to trust, to be emotionally involved, and to be empathetic to the emotional needs of others as well. We create a bunch of emotionally immature drones that care more about themselves than anyone else around them.

The other direct side-effect of our over-protected children is childhood obesity. The childhood obesity rate has more than tripled in the last 30 years. It is estimated that more than one-third of all children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Many want to blame it on the “fast-food” nation, but unfortunately their fall guy was relevant back in the 1980’s as well, despite what the media tries to tell us today. There were just as many McDonald’s and Frosted Flakes ads back then as there are now. Actually, with the level of cartoons there were back in the 80’s and 90’s the direct advertising to children was far more a couple of decades ago. Unfortunately the media and politicians cannot correlate the fact that children are not as active as they once were with childhood obesity and subsequently type-2 diabetes as well. The fact that these children are kept inside instead of being shoved outside to play is a very large factor in the obesity problem we have with today’s children. One cannot expect kids to sit around and magically stay in-shape. It’s real easy to blame happy meals and its toys for the problem as San Francisco has, instead of looking at the real culprit in the mirror; the parents.

Let’s get to the secondary factor in all of this as well. Not only are parents today over-protective of their children, they are very lazy as well. They don’t work to figure out what the problem’s are with their children and what might be making them unhappy. Instead parents give in and buy their kids sugary foods, sugary drinks, fast food, etc. instead of cooking them home cooked healthy meals all the time. They buy their kids video games to shut them up, and then when the children still aren’t satisfied they take them to a child psychiatrist who prescribes them with mood altering drugs such as Ritalin. The drugs are an easy answer instead of discipline and having to tell their child, “no.” They don’t understand why their child is so hyperactive and always full of energy. All they need to do is look at the fact that they don’t get outside and play to burn off the energy, and they’d have their answers. Unfortunately the answer is right in front of their face, yet they ignore that answer due to the fear their child will have something awful happen to him or her if they are let out of their parents sight for more than a couple of minutes. These parents don’t truly realize what they have done to the current generation of children, many of whom are about to become parents soon themselves.

We have created a generation of anti-social, overweight, and selfish children that have no real understanding of how the real world and society works. We have created the ultimate “ME” generation that doesn’t understand that you can’t get what you want by snapping your fingers, that you can’t demand things from everyone and they will magically do it for you. These children and young adults today want immediate results and ignore the reality of the way life is. They have no problem telling anyone off who gets in their way and they have very little sympathy for anyone who might have something happen to them. It’s a generation that doesn’t care about politics and policies unless it directly affects them. They don’t understand how important diverse views and understanding another’s needs is. This disconnect is something that can ultimately be dangerous to a society full of diverse people and ideas. The lacking of understanding of others and a lack of empathy could ultimately lead to conflicts far greater than we want to realize today. So what answer is there to resolve this problem?

One factor that we can be rest assured of is not all children are raised in this way. There are still families out there that pride themselves on being active, having social interactions, etc. There still are smart individuals out there who understand how important it is to develop their child into not only a good person, but a contributing member of society as well. So not all is lost on the current generation of children, but the numbers are frightening when you begin to look at how quickly things have changed within the past 30 years. Attitudes always change over time, but there’s usually time to adapt to those changes, usually taking course over several generations. Unfortunately there has been no time to adapt and we don’t know the full effect. We know that the health and well-being of this generation is in jeopardy for now and the near future, but we don’t know what the long-term ramifications might be. A change is definitely needed though in awareness.

Society needs to work towards being less fearful and towards shutting down those in the media who might instill some of that fear into today’s parents. An emphasis needs to be placed more on awareness than being over-protective. We need for parents to be more fearful for the health of their children, than of sending them outside to play in their own neighborhood. A society that lives in fear is doomed for failure and that’s not how we want America’s children to live. Neighborhoods need to have more events similar to ‘National Night Out’ but more focused on getting to know one another instead of just being about crime prevention. Families need to be able to sit out on their porch again and talk to their neighbors, become friends, or at least acquainted enough to build a bond and trust. This is the first step in creating a new hope for the next generation. We need to show them that most people are not bad people and that most can be trusted, while at the same time raising awareness of things to look out for. This idea that every stranger is a potential abduction waiting to happen has got to stop. It’s dangerous and foolish and everyone should demand better. We have a long road ahead in repairing the damage that has been done to the current generation of children and young adults, but if we work hard we can build a better and healthier society once again.

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