Monday, October 4, 2010

Kids And The Culture Of Cruelty

Maybe it started with the sniping between roommates on MTV's THE REAL WORLD, the grand-daddy of today's mis-named "reality" tv shows.  Or maybe it was SURVIVOR, which featured a weekly climax in which someone was always "voted off the island."  But whenever it started, it seems as if every "reality" show has one thing in common with every other "reality" show:  somebody's always getting eliminated.  Along the way, the contestants are generally humiliated and subject to verbal, even physical, abuse.  But that's just TV.  It doesn't mean our culture, the one in which we're raising our kids, is pervasively cruel, does it?

I think back to the anti-health care reform rallies last summer, and the footage of protesters meanly hurling dollar bills at a man with Parksinson's disease, then belittling him, claiming he was after "handouts."  That's what they considered healthcare reform:  a hand-out, rather than a way to address the cruelties of the insurance giants who were routinely cancelling policies when people got sick,  and refusing to insure those with pre-existing conditions, among other examples of really bad, anti-social, if profitable, behavior. 

I think about the kid who was basically bullied to death last week when his roommate and another kid streamed a sexual encounter on the web.

I see a lot of cruetly happening in our culture -- person to person meanness, a decay of the social contract, a lack of "doing unto others" as you would have them do unto you. 

I see a kind of publicly sanctioned social Darwinism, only it's not necessarily the fittest who survive:  it's the meanest. 

It's in this environment that we're all having to raise our kids.

I can't control what goes on in the world, and to a large extent, I can't control what my kids are going to be exposed to, beyond what I allow them to watch on TV, what music I'll let them listen to, etc.  They're still pretty small and they don't know how to work the TV or computer or stereo by themselves, so it's pretty easy at the moment. I know this is not always going to be the case.  I don't know who's going to try to bully them at school, and I don't know what I'll be able to do about that yet.

But there are some things I can do now.  In my house, sometimes a kid or a parent does something mean -- usually when tempers flare, sleep has been deprived, life is stressful.  We're far from perfect.  But when somebody strays into meanness around here, they know it's wrong, and they apologize.  Sure, we each fail to be kind sometimes, probably on a daily basis.  But much more of the time, we are respecting each other; we are taking care of one another; and we care when someone around here is sad or mad or upset over hurt feelings.

I'm lucky to have twins, and my twins have amazing empathy toward one another.  Just about every time one of them cries, the other shows up moments later with a treasured stuffed animal, the other one's favorite, to make the sibling feel better.  Their empathy doesn't stop with each other either.  Last year, when our family cat died, they were especially sweet to me, because I took the loss the hardest:  I'd had the kitty for twelve years.  The cat was named Honeybear.  When I told the kids the cat had died after a long illness, they decided to give me "Honeybear hugs," and that from then on, if anyone was sad in our family for any reason, the kids said that person should be given a Honeybear hug.    Though this kind of empathy doesn't stop my kids from having fits and being difficult, they know it upsets mom and dad, and they always show up in front of us sometime after the fit to say, "I'm sorry."

They still have their moments of bad behavior; I've been kicked and slapped and spit at, though not very often, and not very hard.  So has Dad.  But every time, Late Blooming Dad and I have told them right when it happens that this behavior is wrong; we've followed it up with an immediate consequence; we've removed them from rooms with others so they won't harm anyone, and stayed with them so they don't hurt themslves.  Always, the intensity of the emotion passes, and they get the message that they're still safe and loved, but that what they've done is not okay. 

The kids have spotted homeless people on the street, and seen us giving money to them.  They've seen us cart food to our Temple's food drive.  I hope to include them more in this sort of thing as they get older and can understand it better.

I hope my kids will turn out to be good people -- real mensches. 

I may not succeed in this goal.  But it's the single most important goal I have for my kids.  I know a lot of parents I come across in my little circle of the world who feel the same.  But I just hope something changes in the prevailing culture pretty soon.

I don't believe we're here to vote other people off the island.  We're here to make life on the island better.  For all of us.

1 comment:

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