Childhood Lost - Part II
From the book Rape Of A Nation by Jimmy Swaggart
Child abuse and child neglect are almost an American tradition, or as one public service organization expresses it: “Child abuse is as American as cherry pie.” While an eye-catcher, the slogan does little to focus on the fact that child abuse is a tragedy so hideous and complex that it staggers the imagination. It is, nevertheless, part of the warp and woof of our American culture.
Child abuse is a nightmare that is only beginning to be exposed. The depth and breadth of the problem goes beyond anything imagined by the average person. Literally thousands, perhaps millions, of American children will be scarred for life as a result of early exposure to the pain and frustration of abuse and neglect. Whether the scarring is from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the consequences are far-reaching and may manifest themselves as they did in the cases of Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, or Charles Manson. It is frightening to think that we now have similar personalities being formed in the witch’s cauldron of child abuse.
This very day young lives are being molded into distorted personalities, alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, criminals, and mental retardates (through brain damage from physical abuse). These same individuals will in the not-too-distant future become parents themselves and be responsible for shaping the future of their offspring. Tragically, the majority of abused children later inflict the same type of indignities on their children. Hence, we’re constantly building a reservoir of warped individuals to reinfect our society. They perpetuate the tradition and tragedy of child abuse to the detriment of an entire society.
If we were truly concerned about today’s social ills and the moral and spiritual decay of our nation, perhaps we could persuade ourselves to take a few moments to look at today’s child. While we’re shocked at the heathenistic practices common to earlier civilizations, we tend to ignore the tidal wave of promiscuity, violence, and selfish concern for personal gratification that dominates our civilization. It should prove more than a little discomforting to realize that some future generations may look at us with the same disapproval and shock with which we view former permissive societies.
The Mobile Society
The eruption of the industrial revolution of the mid-eighteenth century produced a force that shattered all previous concepts and institutions. It allowed parents, for the first time in history, to live out their dreams through the lives of their children. For the first time, enough goods were available at all levels of society; therefore, parents held aspirations of “something better” for their children than they had had. Their “American dream” persisted throughout the succeeding generations — up until now. Now, we are beginning to see the children moving down from the levels attained by parents.
Why is this happening? For one thing, it’s a conscious choice on the part of many young people. While some are still driven by the will to succeed and improve their status, many have become disillusioned with the complexities and pressures that society imposes as the price of success. Many, having seen how their parents have reacted to success (and seeing the actual degree of lifestyle enhancement delivered by success), have chosen to drop out.
In the 1960s, young people began to follow this path, with the tradition of doing better than their parents taking a backseat to the new philosophy of doing their own thing. They often rejected eventual rewards for early labor, opting for the immediate (albeit smaller) reward for the easier life now. While something can be said for the more realistic perspective of some young people today, their attitude does little to improve the general quality of society.
During the post-World War II years, society was preoccupied with (perhaps obsessed with) the needs, wants, psychological development, and constant gratification of its children. Its attitude was largely fostered by statements of child psychologists and social planners who drummed into parents’ ears (and hearts) the insidious message that if you don’t instantly and constantly gratify your children, they won’t love you. Well, they did gratify them — and their children still don’t love them. Score another one for the great god of modern science.
As a result, we are now seeing a withdrawal from the concept of the child as the center of the parents’ universe. Women who once found fulfillment in the rearing of the young now often pursue jobs or careers, thereby, diminishing their traditional need to channel all of their energies into motherhood. We can only guess what tomorrow’s child will face.
What we really need is balance. Children shouldn’t be placed on pedestals as though they possessed the wisdom of the ages and the beauty of gods. They should, however, be treated as human beings and given room and opportunity to grow and develop into mature, useful adults.
We’ve created many excesses over the last few years, and these excesses have, no doubt, contributed to the irresponsibility of many of today’s young adults. One of these continuing problems is the matter of extended adolescence. While the concept of childhood — as a separate and special segment of life — is vanishing, the socioeconomic demands of our day have extended the period of “adolescence” far beyond what God intended for the growth period.
Our societal structure locks young people into a role they are no longer physically suited to occupy. Adolescents, aware of the secrets and privileges of adulthood, want the freedom to enjoy them, but their imposed position of “student” or “dependent” prevents them from accepting the responsibilities that should accompany adult privileges. Consequently, rebellion and hostility lie barely suppressed in many of our older adolescents and younger adults.
For example, tiny children were once brutalized by child labor. Now the child receives no contact with productive capability. The current trend produces an unnatural state of affairs. Many factors — our national tax structure included — contribute to this condition. Unfortunately, it has produced a generation of young people who spend the first third of their lives as consumers. When they are finally forced to become producers, many fall apart emotionally.
The emphasis on consumption by our younger citizens isn’t accidental. The forces running our society impose attitudes on our youngsters that stay with them throughout their lives. They’ve generated an “I deserve …” attitude in our youth. The latest clothes, records, books, movies, cars, and everything else that’s “in” are musts in today’s society. It’s no longer a matter of wanting; it’s a matter of wanting now. Being deprived used to mean doing without. Today, deprivation means having to wait a few days for satisfaction.
Are our young people really deprived? I think they are. They’ve been deprived — as a result of a complexity of causes — of knowing the satisfaction of a job well-done, of seeing something they’ve produced, and of starting something and seeing it through to the finish. If there is one common lack in our young people today, it lies in the almost universal feeling of deserving everything while doing nothing.
Who’s responsible for this? We’ll try to assign some specific causes as we progress in our discussion, but one area should be pointed out right here, and it is the failure of today’s parents. We as the parents have followed the Pied Piper of child psychology and sociological expertise to the point where our own good common sense has been permanently impaired. There are definitely thought-formers and social planners promoting unsavory developments in our society, but we as parents are supposed to serve as a buttress between our children and these forces. In general, we’ve done a poor job. As a group, we’ve delivered our kids into the hands of the very people who are bent on their destruction. In truth, the forces aligned against the individual parent present an awesome force. With God’s help, however, we could have done a much better job than we’ve done.
Is there no hope then? There isn’t much if we look to those around us, but we must begin somewhere, and it might as well be here and now. If we serve as an example of what can be done — by returning to God’s good order and by resisting the forces of Satan with prayer and good old-fashioned horse sense — we may be surprised at how many will follow our example.
We must accept our responsibility toward our children. But isn’t that what we’ve been doing? No, it isn’t. We’ve been catering to our children and buying their affection, but we’ve failed to spend the time necessary to positively affect their lives. Childhood is so short and the time we have with our children so brief that it’s a tragedy when many parents choose not to invest in that time.
Infants don’t suddenly bloom into adults. They don’t become kind, decent grown-ups by happenstance or by heredity. The qualities of decency, honesty, and kindness are not incidental personality traits; they are qualities developed through long years of nurturing. When a seed sprouts and pushes up through the ground, it is at its most vulnerable stage. Children, like young seedlings, must be cultivated during their tender years. Later, it will be too late to encourage desirable qualities in them. Every succeeding year, the potential for instilling moral discretion in the child becomes less. Parents who wait until such and such a time to begin training their children will completely miss the opportunity.
In essence, we are speaking of the prolonged, loving care needed by each and every child. This is the only fact guaranteed to produce desired results when properly applied — and guaranteed to serve as an antidote to undesirable influences when applied early enough. The home and the family are the earliest influences on a life and the longest lasting. Many factors intrude in the course of a lifetime, but attitudes generated by home influences will still remain when all others disappear.
I’m reminded of a story I once heard. A father, finding his son with nothing to do, tore a map of the world out of a magazine. By cutting it up, he managed to produce a jigsaw puzzle that he hoped might help to teach his son geography. He was surprised when his son returned a few minutes later with the map completed.
“Why, son,” he said. “I didn’t think you were that good at geography. How did you put it together so fast?”
The boy hesitated and then confessed. There had been a picture of a boy on the back of the map. By turning it over, he had quickly managed the simpler task of reconstructing the boy’s face. “And you know, Dad,” he said, “I figured, if I could get the boy to turn out okay, the world would come out all right too.”
There’s much truth in what that boy said. If we don’t have some boys (and girls) turning out okay, world conditions could become even worse than they are in our present state of decay. We need young people growing up with the responsibility and courage to restore some order to the badly flawed world in which we live.