The trouble with kids - Sociobiology
By DS Gands
Oct 15, 2003
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"If the only tool you have is a hammer you tend to treat every problem as if it were a nail." – Mark Twain

Of course, if every problem is perceived as a nail, one will instinctively use a hammer.

James Garbarino, Ph.D. (Cornell University) coined the above and wrote in his article about parenting in a toxic environment:

“Historical change demonstrates that the "might be" is quite real, and occurs through either evolution (many individual actions guided by a common reality) or through revolution (dramatic change introduced by a small cadre of decision makers).

“Social policy operates through macrosystems, the context within which micro-, meso-, and exosystems are set, the broad ideological, demographic, and institutional patterns of a particular culture or subculture.

These macrosystems serve as the master "blueprints" for the ecology of human development. These blueprints reflect a people's shared assumptions about how things should be done, as well as the institutions that represent those assumptions. Macrosystems are ideology incarnate.”

All of this research was discovered while drawing a dead bead on CBS for the recent two-part series on homeschooling.  The gist was homeschooling as cover for child abuse – depicting three cases, one being Andrea Yates.   The report hardly made a case for its alarmist tone. 

The print version at the website included some positive input about reasons for homeschooling being favored by some.  A few of the reasons were flexibility in family scheduling, like vacations, that can be taken during months of lower costs, and managed according to the family’s schedule instead of dictated by a school calendar. 

Other pluses included the close and quality interaction of the family unit, and the unique, detailed curriculum for each individual child’s needs.  The story did, however, bring home the point that homeschoolers are not regulated or checked in most states, and the approximate number of homeschooled children in America is closing in on the one million mark.

Homeschooled children are some of the brightest and best behaved children I have ever had the pleasure to know, and their performance in testing and higher education has proven that this method of education is working thanks to dedicated parents and communities that support the efforts. 

Public and private schools have their strong points, but home schooling for many families is an option that provides great rewards for the child, the family, and the future.  Obviously, as brought out by CBS reporter Gonzalez, there are those that use it as a cover for their wrongs, but then, those few twist everything to their advantage, and they shouldn’t be given center stage for it.

Following the agitating experience as I took offense at the intense negatives of the story, I looked around at what was going on about kids.  Low and behold, we have New York installing a credit union system in elementary schools to teach children how to manage credit and finances.  Good grief.  Why, one might ask?  Well, it seems that the basis are the recent statistics that show adults not doing so well with their debts, college students maxing credit cards while in school and failure to pay their ed loans after graduation.  (Some of that seemed redundant, but whatever.)

The credit unions are saying that they are teaching children how to avoid being adult debtors.  Seems to me that this is a different kind of ‘head start’ – one for the industry to get a bead on the goods before they even begin to self-support.  And, of course, it brings more money into the system.  How crass and blatant is that?

In May it was the Obese Kids Panic.  Kids are eating too much junk, they say.  Parents are not cooking meals at home, anymore (because they are not there.)  And, kids do not eat healthy.  Well, I just do not see the connection.  Blaming parents for not cooking because they work all day to pay the perpetual rising cost of living is like setting someone up and saying  ‘Looky – they did it!’ .  Kids are not eating healthy because it has not been marketed.  What is marketed to kids, in the genre of groceries, are burgers, fries (with chili and cheese), soda pop, and snack stuffs.   I don’t see any drive-thru fast food joint offering kids an apple or banana on the super size or 99 cent deal.    And, let’s face it folks, it has long been touted that food is a comfort aid.  Kids these days have a great need for comfort.

I moved on across the spectrum and ran into the Supreme Court acceptance of the Pledge case.   Without beating that to death, I think it is a shame that the Constitution gets twisted to the point where we have to have this matter being considered, but moreover, I think it is a crying shame that a disgruntled parent doesn’t get the proper counseling along the way during a nasty family law battle and ended up dragging 10 million kids into his own personal black hole. 

Now, we all have to hold our breath, for the third time, well the Supreme Court rules that the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America is not unconstitutional.  

You just cannot have it both ways. 

Church and state separation was the protection of the government from religion, but the Nation was founded with God or the Creator and God's law as the guiding standard.  The Bush Administration is right on this one.  Saying 'under God' is a recognition of hertiage of this nation, not religion.  Judge Roy's Monument in Alabama is a work of art depicting American heritage and history, not religion.  I wonder if the home school kids will leave out ‘under God’?

The case is Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow.

Then the last stop on this children’s wandering e-train was a press release I ran across from the Howard Dean campaign.  It seems that Governor Dean wants to implement a national parenting network that is “designed to ensure that children start school ready to succeed by providing all families with young children early access to health care, education, and other support critical to children's health and working families.  The Press Release, in part, stated:

“Governor Dean made today's announcement of his plan for "Welcome Baby" visits-the first of several policy proposals making up the national "Success by Six" initiative-here at the Child and Family Development Center of the New Hampshire Technical Institute. National Welcome Baby visits build on the successful model Governor Dean implemented in Vermont where nearly every new parent has the option of a visit in the hospital and in their home.

“Community-based partnerships provide this service to connect families and their children to the resources and services available to help them raise healthy, successful children. Because of the community-driven nature of the program and the individualized needs of new parents, the exact make-up of a "Welcome Baby Visit" varies in each town and city, but they can include providing nutrition information, helping parents connect with local medical care, or even something as simple as explaining how to get a library card.”

At one point recently, I threw up my hands at the family law circus and shouted, ‘I think every person responsible for the conception of a child should be mandated to parenting classes – before the birth of the child!’    That would be the first step in the watchful eye.   Registered and trained.  Sure would make the CPS cases a little more equitable in terms of adjudication of rights. 

In conclusion, I was worked up and needed a break.  I went to the kitchen, popped open the frig and grabbed an apple.  The news was on, so I wandered back to the tube.  There I listened to the remarks about the additional $87 billion dollars for the ‘select few rebuilding Iraq fund’ being batted about by the Hill and the many voices of sales.  Disgusted with the details, I went for the comfort of my apple and took out a sizeable hunk to enjoy with a single bite.   Crunching away, I turned my focus to a change of screen.

At the end of the story, the broadcast faded to an advertisement with a young girl scrapping a pan for some gravy and putting a helping on each of the children’s plates at the table, then going to stand at the door to watch them eat.  Amongst the scrapping of forks and the eager devourings, one of the little ones asked the server where hers was?  The scene faded to a single sentence.    “1 in 5 children in America lives with hunger, everyday.” 

I looked at my apple and lost my appetite.  Now, I am finishing this column.

The turn of the 20th Century saw many of the same challenges for children as we see today.  There was substance abuse, cruelty, neglect, financial burden, abandoned and orphaned children.  True, there wasn’t any television and videogames that filled their heads with the noise of the unwanted and interfering, but there was a sociobiology of toxicity.  But, things about kids and families are always a good sound bite in a political season.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone followed through, connected the dots and actually fixed the problems?  There are those that just don’t want any help.  For those, we have all of this.

There are so many good children born every single day that it makes one wonder about all the factors that infiltrate to steer some of them down a path of self-destruction and collateral damage, and you simply cannot blame the child, if you weigh all the factors.  Blaming all the parents has never been the answer, either.  They were kids once, too, but it seems that policy does just that.

It doesn’t appear that fair has ever been a part of the equation.  If the blame is on the polluters, they won’t have a successful product.

Parents, no matter how attentive or caring, cannot monitor every single facet of a child’s experience.  Individually, they have no power over the market of things protected by the First Amendment or allowed by legislation. 

They don’t really have any authority over the drug dealer on the corner. 

They cannot be there to assure that they use condoms or take a gun out of their hand. 

They don’t know the moment that liquor is poured in the sports bottle, or a drunk driver decides to turn into the path of their child. 

Most of them do the best they can with what they’ve got.  Most of them are making every effort to survive and provide for their families.  Most of them are good parents, despite what the macrosystems or social policy of today project.  And, most of the kids are good kids as a result or in spite of their environment. 

America doesn’t really focus on the ‘good’, anymore.  Maybe that’s the first step.

Pointing fingers hasn’t and won’t fix the problems. 

Weight challenge for anyone is one thing, but hunger shouldn’t even exist in this country, and it is a great deal more devastating to ALL systems. 

A simple start to a very complex challenge might be to see that each and every child is fed to a healthy standard, that every person has a helping hand, and that no person in America is left behind.  

I guess we will see that focus when there are no opportunities for capitalization from war and fast food apples become all the rage at the drive thrus.

We are figuratively driving these nails into the ground.  I am in awe of the overwhelming chaos of it all.  But, just think of it - Eighty seven BILLION dollars.  That's a lotta apples, baby.

It seems we need a little more ‘evolution’ as opposed to ‘revolution’ as defined by Dr. Garbarino.  Instead of joining in and pointing a finger at a parent when I see a hungry child in my community, I think I’ll make every effort to see that the need is filled, which is something I can have authority over. 

  That’ll be one down, and about 11,999,999 to go, but it beats the alternative.

Photos courtesy of America's Second Harvest.

Copyright 2003 by DS Gands, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED -  D.S. Gands is a freelance writer living in North Texas.  The opinions of this article do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of this publication.  If you would like to see this or other articles by D.S. Gands appear in your favorite publication, ask the editor to contact  regarding available reprint or syndication rights.