Growing up in such far-flung locations as Baghdad, Iraq, Lima, Peru, and Tehran, Iran, did not present me and my five siblings with what might be considered a typical, traditional childhood. We overcame the challenges with which we had to cope in those varied environments by employing skills learned from our parents.
Probably the most valuable tool in that oft-changing journey was the fact that we were permitted a great deal of freedom and flexibility within which to take risks, exercise judgment, experiment, make mistakes, and eventually, learn; all steps taken long before the advent of the internet and social media.
The political environments in which I grew from a third-grader at the only American school in Baghdad in the late 1950s to a senior in an international school in Tehran a decade later, were such that neither Muslim extremism nor violent drug cartels were factors with which we had to deal. Since then, of course, such dangers present themselves in ways that cannot be ignored for Americans living or raising families in many of the countries in which I roamed as a teenager.
However, the fundamental skills with which my parents armed me and which allowed me to not only survive but thrive in such diverse settings, are those that still today should be among the most basic that parents should be affording their children. Teaching children to gain, understand, and use knowledge equips them with the power to assess situations they face, assume and assess risks, make reasoned judgments, and undertake courses of conduct that will, more often than not, allow them to mature and achieve success as adults.
Unfortunately, in a culture now fixated on “non-traditional” lifestyles, regulatory edicts, and the internet world of social media groups, blogs, and “answers” for everything from potty training to drug abuse, parenting appears to have diminished significantly in quality, and with it the parameters for happy childhood severely circumscribed.
Parents, for example, are being investigated as child abusers or charged with unlawful neglect for doing nothing more than allowing their grade school children to walk home from school. Ph.D.-level counselors are recommending that white parents teach their toddler children about “white privilege.”
In this environment, is it any wonder that, according to a recent analysis by Caitlin Gibson in the Washington Post, the fun of a sleepover at a friend’s home has become a stressful and multi-faceted decision-making process for parents; one that often results in shielding the kids from such a “dangerous” activity? According to Gibson, there is even a hashtag, #NoSleepovers, along with “influencers” aplenty and online groups to help guide fearful parents through the decision-making process.
Parents so demonstrably afraid as to afford their children even that small degree of fun and freedom of spending a night at a friend’s home, or to trick-or-treat after dark without being directly monitored by their parents, robs the youngsters of some of the simple but important joys of being a child. Moreover, with parents so unsure of themselves that they have to consult online blogs and “influencers” before being able to even make such decisions about their kids, it indeed is no wonder that we have children growing into young adults who are themselves so fearful of the world around them they are hesitant to even apply for a driver’s license.
In the internet-driven world of today’s millennial parents, virtually everything is fodder for a Tweet or other social media posting, from “gender-reveal” parties before the baby is born, to posting an online picture of a toddler’s “first poop.”
Parents look to the internet for guidance prior to every meaningful decision on how to rear their children. Many of those same children turn to the internet for their interaction with the “outside” world. Every perceived “milestone” is posted to the world on Facebook or another social media platform. This concoction has led one researcher at the University of Michigan to express concern that our children are growing up with “multiple identities.”
Rather than turn to a well-qualified source such as Dr. Benjamin Spock for general guidance, parents today turn to the internet for instructions from internet “influencers.” At the same time they are paying less attention to what their children are actually doing, thereby increasing the possibility that another Audrey Hale or Connor Sturgeon will arise to commit another horrible act, as each did within just the last month in Nashville and Louisville.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.