As a child, I grew up watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”. I loved the music and the “Neighborhood of Make Believe”. It was a show that created a calming and soothing effect and I can remember feeling like it was a safe place. Anyone could be a part of his world and anyone would be treated with kindness. He taught us things, he opened up ideas and thoughts and helped us to realize things we might be feeling or thinking. He created this mutually understanding that life was about constantly growing and changing and learning how to be okay with that and do it in a way that promoted healthy and stable environments, emotions and relationships.
As the years went on, I am sad to say that I forgot about the things that Mr. Rogers taught us. I became consumed with the need for friends, the latest boy bands, trying to fit in at school and wanting to be accepted. I became consumed with television shows that seemed to always be about a boy falling in love with a girl or a girl trying to win that boy’s affections; shows that seemed created this need to be someone other than myself.
Even shows that seemed harmless seemed to, while trying to get across some very valuable principles and lessons, often times pushed into my mind these thoughts that I wasn’t enough. And then there was the music and the magazines and the commercials that all seemed to also push sexuality onto us, and in a lot of cases ideas of bullying and even violence. They were so subtle that they were often over looked.
By high school, we were hooked on shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, MTV’s the Real World and too many others for me to even bother mentioning. Our minds became bombarded with images of physical sexuality, drug and alcohol exposure, underage bar hopping, bullying clicks in school, and so much more. But no one told us that it wasn’t safe for us to watch because most didn’t even realize what was happening. These shows were actually targeted with a young viewer age range in mind and we bought into it. Every. Single. Episode.
From there, it went downhill very quickly. Shows began to use foul language and we became so used to it that after a while they added harsher foul language and we didn’t even notice or pay attention. They also began to slowly and steadily introduce nudity. It started with small things and then we began to see actual nude female bodies until it became the norm to see naked men and women on television. Shows began to incorporate very graphic violence and where we started with video games like Super Mario Brothers, we quickly escalated to games like Call of Duty, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto, which let you go into places to “purchase” and have sex with prostitutes or shoot cops. They are so graphic and yet, this game was sold across America without anyone really blinking an eye as a whole and was played by varying ages. Most thought it harmless because after all, it was just a video game.
And then it slowly began. This spiral downhill trend of our children and our society. With these rapid increases of exposure to violence and sex, we also began to change how discipline was viewed in our society. We took children and began to treat them as adults, teaching that the days of strict discipline were outdated and also harmful for our children. Spanking became taboo and wrong, even though it had been used for centuries and the vast majority would tell you that they suffered no harm mentally or physically from this. There is and was a difference in a spanking and abusing a child but that line no longer existed and it became socially frowned upon to spank/paddle for any reason. Then that led to this notion that any form of strict discipline, even those that did not include spanking, caused lasting emotional trauma for children. That slowly led to a trend of approaches in which children became the navigators of their own lives giving them the freedoms to think, say and do as they saw fit for themselves. We took away from them the ability to remember that they are only children and still need guidance and instead, gave them this idea that they are already grown enough and know enough to be able to navigate life but this approach has failed many of them because they are and were actually not emotionally or mentally mature enough to handle the realities that having to make these kinds of choices and decisions bring in life. They were and are not mature enough to navigate life but we have taught them that’s okay. Just go for it. You can do it. But they can’t.
It was a slow but steady decline that has now led us to a nation of youth who are many things. They are strong, determined, intelligent and highly vocal. This is good, of course, But while those things are good, they are also so much more that we often do not want to fully take accountability for or discuss. They are also angry, they are irrational, they are intolerant of any view that is not their own, they are entitled (Yes. I said ENTITLED. And they are. They believe they should have whatever they want with little or no effort.). They are also depressed, they are suicidal, they are careless with their words and they have little regard for anyone who does not do things their way or think the way they do. While they are not all these things at once, they are some of them at different times. There are exceptions and there are moments when the good outweighs the bad but at 40 years old, I can tell you that growing up, suicides among young people were not this prevalent and we certainly did not have 5th graders taking their own lives at the rapid rate we do now in this society. I had never even heard of a childhood suicide of that age until the last few years. I can also tell you that while we had teen pregnancy issues, we did not have the crisis and epidemic of babies having babies that we do today and I can tell you even more certainly that we absolutely did not have the amount of youth that we have today who thought it perfectly acceptable to stand at a platform and scream and yell and demand for anything. We did our best to take a stand while still showing at least an ounce of respect for others and trying to speak and debate in a manner that was becoming of debate itself.
We were taught the value of human life and while violence was a problem then, it is an epidemic now. It is a daily norm to wake up and see children murdered and stolen and for us to see events such as school shootings or mall shootings or people being blown up by bombs at marathons or events. All of these things became something that slowly became socially acceptable to allow children to role play with in video games and take in day after day on the television shows that began to replace the programs that once taught life lessons and educational concepts.
While our generation is called narrow minded and out dated, I can tell you that in my time as a youth, we did not see these types of crimes happen as prevalently as they do now. The decline of our nation and the rise of violence began to rapidly increase when we took away the rights of parents to truly discipline and we began to expose our young people to things that their young minds should not yet be exposed to.
Mr. Rogers once spoke before the Senate floor, urging and asking for the funding for his program to not be cut. He made mention multiple times of the concern he had for children and the things they were being bombarded with now that television had become a household item. He was concerned with what these outlets were teaching our nation’s children and he wanted to be sure he could provide an outlet that taught them value for human life while also teaching them how to navigate their feelings and their emotions. He spoke of the importance of teaching children that they were loved, that they were accepted and why his program was so instrumental in helping do this. He won the Senators over with this speech and two years later, they increased his funding budget by millions. His show began airing in the United States around 1969 and continued until 2001, when the show was cancelled because of his terminal illness. He lasted 31 years. He fought the good fight for 31 years and provided an outlet of safe, educational entertainment for children all across the nation.
But where are the Mr. Rogers of our nation now? Why are we, as parents, not as concerned for our own children and nation? How have we let ourselves become a nation where children taking their own lives or the lives of others is something we just know is going to happen and we just feel sad about but don’t stop long enough to ask WHY?
I am not here to debate gun control. I am not here to place blame on anything other than where it should be: ON ALL OF US. The harsh reality is that we are all a part of this decline. We are all a part of the problem but this is not a popular opinion or wanted response. It is however, the truth.
As a mom, I am ashamed to admit that I have not been diligent enough to be fully aware of the things my son is exposed to. If it is marketed for children, I have naively assumed that it is safe. That it is content worthy of viewing but that is NOT at all accurate. Many of the cartoons he has been watching have promoted such things as bullying, either in speech or action, killing “bad guys”, and being a part of the “cool crowd” just to name a few. At 7 years old, I have had my son ask me if he is fat. I have had him ask me if I think he is cool. I have had him ask me if I think he is popular. How is that even something that a 7 year old should have a concept of or be worried about?
I was naive enough to think that video games created and available on his iPad that are clearly marketed with children in mind were safe. But this morning, I sat down to look at them all and realized that a VAST majority of them, while seeming innocent on the surface, had horrible undertones of violence and disrespect all through them. One such game was a game of cops and robbers. This game allowed you to be a robber and your end goal was to be able to take out as many cops as you could. I was heart broken. My son had a video game in which the end goal is to take out men just like his father, who happens to be a military police officer. I had watched him play this before and yet, this part of the game had managed to go unnoticed by me because it was marketed as a race car game. I deleted it and began to purge his entire iPad. The devastating reality that there is so much deception in these outlets was overwhelming.
Trust me when I tell you that I check his technology ALL the time. I constantly have him show me what he is doing and he has to have permission before downloading things, but unless you sit and watch them for a good deal of time you may miss what is in them. I did and it upsets me to know the things I have naively allowed my children to be exposed to over the years because I too had begun to be exposed to them as I got older and it was allowed. It was the norm.
But it shouldn’t be.
The truth is, the trend in violence and self harm can not be undone by one person or one thing. It will take us ALL. It will take MANY OUTLETS OF CHANGE. It will take a level of commitment that we may not even fully be able to understand yet or be comfortable with as an individual (change and blame is hard to swallow sometimes) but we have to be willing to go beyond ourselves and work harder to break this cycle in our nation.
I cannot fix the entire world or every person in it but I CAN fix what’s broken in my own home. I CAN evaluate what I am exposing my children too and I CAN change what I am allowing to be the norm in our home. I can work harder to remove poor content. I can work harder at being okay with being the “mean mom” and I can work harder at teaching my children about discipline, kindness and respect. I can work harder at paying more attention to my children and less time to my own screens (let’s be honest, we struggle more than they do). I can work harder at teaching my children about the value of human life and why EVERY life matters and is important. I can work harder to teach my children what it means to work hard and be the kind of person that will work hard to do what’s right and help those around them. I can work harder at being the kind of example they need to see it all in action.
This won’t happen overnight. I am aware of that, but it just takes the decision to do it. So, today I made that decision not just for my son but for MYSELF. I too have become desensitized to the violence and the sex and the drugs. So, I have things I am having to give up also for the good of my children and home. If I can’t have a life free of these influences, how can I expect my children to? Giving up what we like is sometimes a deal breaker but it also very necessary if those things we enjoy are contradicting what we are teaching our children.
While we may never fully be able to rid our world of violence and death, we can at least work to no longer ignore them or allow them in our home to the best of our ability or allow them to invade our minds on a daily basis and influence the hearts and minds of our children. It’s time we have real conversations with our children and we start addressing the decline of morals and discipline (all forms of discipline) and respect in our nation. It’s time we find the roots of the problems and one by one begin to work on them. If we work together, one at a time, and we determine within our selves to change as parents, we WILL begin to change our children.
The responsibility does not lie upon the teachers, the administrators, the politicians or anyone else. The responsibility lies upon US, the parents. It starts and ends with us.
So the question becomes, what will WE do about that?
In Christ’s Love,