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Friday, July 07, 2006

Who's the Kid Here?

Liberalism 101: Human motivations are determined by external circumstances. Individual choice? Basically an illusion. Personal responsibility? Get real. It's the social system, stupid. For instance, why did a Littleton, Colorado high school student team up to murder 12 of his classmates and one faculty member? Because his English teacher disrespected him, that's why. The kid writes a creative short story for an English class, about some dude who kills nine high school students with automatic pistols. "I saw emanating from him power, complacence, closure, and godliness," the story ends. "I understood his actions." The teacher's critique: "You are an excellent writer and storyteller, but I have some problems with this one." See how the seeming praise is negated when the judgmental, creativity-stifling teacher defines the story as problematic? Can't you just feel the crushing blow to the boy's embryonic sense of self esteem? Why wouldn't he go on a shooting rampage? Wouldn't you? In the same vein, consider the growing methamphetamine epidemic among young people. Now, this is really gnarly stuff. Kids who use it — meth, tweak, speed, tweak, crank, crystal — do all kinds of bad things, like stealing your wallet and then helping you look for it, anything for the next cheap euphoric high. Okay, so which kids are specifically at risk? "All of them," writes a journalist who has studied the subject. Here's the roundup: "Teens whose parents ask too little of them. Teens whose parents ask too much from them. Teens who feel invisible. Teens who feel everyone expects them to be the best, the brightest, the thinnest, the prettiest, the handsomest. Teens who are stressed, insecure, depressed, struggling to find their identity or struggling to escape an identity imposed upon them." The journalist summarizes: "Which kids are at risk? All of them." Wait a minute — notice that "all of them" on the journalist's at-risk list are "victims of society." Mere pawns of powerful cultural forces beyond themselves. Oh, pity the too pretty, too bright, too thin kids, all "stressed" from struggling to find their "true identity." Excuse me, but I think a category or two has been overlooked. What about young'uns who turn to dangerous drugs because they make really bad personal choices? Why not so much as a mention of them, or their parents who ignore obvious warning signs (sudden weight loss, acne scarring, paranoid behavior, small plastic bags lying about) that their kids are doing drugs? Back to Columbine: within days of the shootings it was understood that the shooters weren't exactly secretive about their year-long plan to commit mass murder. "A lot of this stuff was clearly visible and the parents should have known," [Jefferson County Sheriff John] Stone said. "I think parents should be accountable for their kids' actions." Memo to Sheriff Stone: You're so funny! Did they really teach you that at police school? What a dangerous concept — personal accountability. Remember the 1960s notion that to be part of the "counter-culture" meant being willing to go against mainstream thinking? Flash forward: to be part of the counter-culture now requires challenging the insidious idea that individuals are mere robots at the effect of forces beyond their control. Let me be clear. I'm not saying negative social pressures aren't real. The Columbine killers were bullied. And young potential crank users are susceptible to toxic cultural messages. Relevant factors, but they don't change the basic reality: Individuals are free to make better or worse choices in their lives. So what we need is the right kind of framework for understanding this fact. Let's see. Perhaps we could begin with a comment about the human capacity for sin — no, wait. That would take us into uncomfortable religious territory, ick! Well, how about "evil"? Too moralistic — though it is a four-letter word and that's always a plus with liberals keen on flouting traditional values. Hey, I think I've got it — let's start a new movement and call it "pro-choice." Now wouldn't that be a hoot: extending "choice" beyond the right to terminate lives conceived but not yet born? Maybe the simplest explanation is right in front of us. Young people have always rebelled — it goes with the territory of adolescence. In fact, kids need rites of passage so they can be initiated into the larger passions of a life worth living. Bottom line: children need parents who are willing to pay attention. Call me crazy optimistic but I think it's not too late even for many Baby Boom parents - at least the ones who are open to a simple challenge. You start by looking your children in the eye, then looking at yourself in the mirror. The point is to come away absolutely clear who's the kid and who's the adult. Everything important will follow from that.