I'm a father of two: a 4 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. I wish I could be there every moment of every day to protect them, but I know in reality that can't happen. I also know that while it would make me feel better, in the long run it would hurt the children because they would not develop any sense of independence or the means of being able to learn from life's lessons.
The problem is that in this day and age, we fear the bogeyman around every corner. Every car passing on the street is a stranger waiting to snatch our kids from us. I know, I saw Adam - the story of Adam Walsh who was kidnapped and later found dead; the boy whose father, John Walsh, subsequently went on a crusade against child predators and wanted criminals (eventually starting the show America's Most Wanted.) It terrified me as a child and it terrifies me now as an adult. We think every grown man within 100 yards of our children is a pedophile. We've seen how prevalant they are in our society. We've watched Dateline's To Catch a Predator series. Amber alerts are on the highways, in our emails, on our cell phones.
The problem is a very real problem, in a sense, but it's also a manifestation of our collective imagination. I heard a statistic on The John Gambling Show this morning that said that in order for your child to be abducted by a complete stranger, you'd have to leave them on the street for.....750,000 years. Now, of course, that's statistically speaking. Go leave them in the middle of a carnival or some other heavily-populated area with minimal security and I'm sure the chances skyrocket, but playing in the front yard? Not quite as bad as we imagine.
And, I've experienced this paranoia first-hand. When my children play in the backyard, I can't take my eyes off them - and it's fenced in and pretty child-friendly. My neighbor's girls came over last week to play with my daughter and I had to go watch them walk back to their house - right next door - in order to feel comfortable when they left. In turn, my daughter was playing in their backyard a few days ago and the father sent his older daughter over to ring the bell and make sure she got home okay after she left.
Are we crazy or just careful?
Well, I think a little of both, but it's hard - when it comes to your own children - to back off. What damage, though, are we causing by coddling them like this? Are we preparing them for life or are we sheltering them from it? Are we helping them to cope by not allowing teams to keep score in sports and giving every child a trophy? What happens when they get to the real world and they have to discover that not everything is handed to them - that, sometimes, somebody's got to lose?
Well, statistics show that more college freshman are having breakdowns. More than ever, kids are going away to school and collapsing under the stress. Many are not prepared for hard work, academic pressure, peer competition, and so on.
This, in the end, illustrates a trend in our country toward the "Nanny State". It starts at childhood and now, as those children become adults, they expect everything to be handed to them. Is it any wonder we expect the government to provide us with "free healthcare"? Is it any wonder we expect bank loans even if we can't afford to pay them back? Is it any wonder we expect credit card companies to accept a fraction of the money that we owe them because we're having tough times? Is it any wonder we expect good jobs, excellent compensation, and great benefits even if we're mediocre - or just plain bad - at our jobs? Is it any wonder we expect our kids to graduate even if they're incapable of passing tests? Is it any wonder we blame schools when our children don't behave or perform properly, instead of blaming ourselves? Is it any wonder we sue anybody and everybody we can sue? Is it any wonder we've actually awarded compensation to criminals who get hurt on the property on which they're committing the crime? Is it any wonder some of our prisons have better accommodations than some of our nursing homes and veterans' hospitals?
Our country has a growing population of citizens that ooze political correctness, subsist off entitlements, and shy away from hard work. It is a bad trend that's not confined to any one race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. It's widespread and it's eroding the strength of our nation. We used to worry that we were getting soft because we liked to sit around on the couch, eat chips, and watch too much TV. Now, we're getting soft because we're training our children to BE soft. The going term for those incoming college freshmen I mentioned earlier is "Teacups". Does that conjure a vision of strength? No, it conjures an image of something that looks nice, but is very, very fragile.
I'm going to do my part to make sure my children aren't "Teacups", that they are strong and self-sufficient. They'll always know I'm there to support them and love them, but they're going to learn to be able to help themselves, because without being able to help yourself you can't help others. There will always be vulnerable people in our society - young children, the elderly, the sick, the handicapped - who need our assistance, but life is like the emergency oxygen on an airplane: you have to first make sure your mask is secure before you try to help anyone else. If not, you end up with two victims instead of none.
We must stop being the victims and take control of our lives, because for every one thing on which we depend on someone else, a liberty is lost. Our Declaration of Independence states that we are bestowed with unalienable right by our Creator to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now, if you're religious than that Creator is your God. If you're not, than that Creator is the mere fact of your existence. What it's saying is that we, just by being born, have the right to these three things. And, since no person or government GAVE us those rights, they have no authority to take them away. There's only two ways they can go away - one, to be taken back by our creator - essentially death; and two, to give them up - to cede them to another entity - essentially, varying degrees of slavery. When you allow yourself to depend on the government to feed you, house you, say what medical care you can have, what type of car you can drive, how you can raise your children, and more, you cede these unalienable rights.
We need to regain that mindset of the American Dream - that if you work hard, you can achieve anything you want to achive; that there will be bumps along the way and some failures, too; that you cannot appreciate something unless you've earned it. It's the best service we can do for our children.
J.E. Braun is the author of Paranoia, a 9/11 survivor's tale. Jim survived 9/11, but his life did not. Follow one man's journey through post-traumatic stress as he attempts to rediscover what once made life worth living. 10% of profits from sales of Paranoia will be donated to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund (www.ttof.org). For more information, visit www.jebraun.com.