Change starts at home
Jimmy was left on the doorstep of a woman in poverty when he was a baby. Mabel had two children of her own but she couldn't let this abandoned baby go unloved. Through his childhood he lived in secondhand clothes and never owned a baseball glove,...
Jimmy was left on the doorstep of a woman in poverty when he was a baby. Mabel had two children of her own but she couldn't let this abandoned baby go unloved. Through his childhood he lived in secondhand clothes and never owned a baseball glove, a pair of skates or any real toy he could call his own. His second home was the local library where he spent endless hours. As a teenager, he hitchhiked across most of the 48 states with never more than 35 cents in his pocket.
In an interview long ago, James Michener said the following: "... I hardly had a negative experience (in his travels as a teen). Nobody wanted to give me drugs, nobody wanted to con me. Nobody assaulted me sexually. No one wanted me to be an alcoholic. I was supported by my entire society. I never had any money, but I had moral support and I knew it. I felt it."
He added, "... the young person today doesn't have that. There are a lot of pitfalls out there today for the young kid that I never faced. I'm not going to say 'Why don't you behave like I did?' because he doesn't have that option. My life was saved by education and that is in greater peril than it was in my day." And the fact that Michener is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, million-selling author is a testament to the moral support he had growing up. His observation is so simple and so profound that it stuns.
In our selfish, "me"- obsessed, consumer-driven society, I know it's true, kids today are in peril. Kids have less and less power to make the right choices. They are being force-fed an endless barrage, a tsunami of inappropriate images and behaviors, through the inexhaustible and pervasive media outlets. How can parents fight the Hollywood onslaught and their kids' peer groups? How can kids feel like they're getting moral support from their society when the moral code they see is hypocritical at best, inconsistent or totally absent at worst?
The urgency with which our city is dealing with the problem of binge drinking is a perfect example of how our kids' behavior has changed. I spoke to a college-age student who told me about a party he was at a couple of weeks ago where someone had about 15 shots of booze in about a New York minute. He vomited and then passed out on the living room floor and everyone at the party pretty much just stepped over him and ignored him for the duration of the night.
So, he drank too much and passed out, so what? That is one tough attitude to crack. Who was there to care? Who was there to take the time or have the guts to intervene? Well, the answer is no one, because everyone had the "It's not my job" mentality. All that mattered was "me" and how much fun "I" was having at the party.
The answer lies within our grasp, within our control and capabilities. We can give our kids the option of behaving like human beings or self-absorbed brats. Parents, talk to your kids, give them guidelines and demand accountability. Set the rules, stick to them, know their friends, know their goals, don't exclude them, and don't ignore them. We have to be stronger role models. We have to set the examples.
I know we'll never get back to the days when James Michener was a boy 80 years ago, or even the halcyon days of my youth in the '50s and '60s. But if we don't change as a society - and the change starts at home - I believe it's the beginning of the end.
Ferragut is a Fargo advertising executive and regular contributor to The Forum's opinion and commentary pages. He can be reached at email@example.com