Over the past two weeks, I have paid particular attention to four news stories.
First, United States District Judge Edward Korman rendered a decision pursuant to which the emergency contraceptive drug “Plan B” will now be made available over the counter to girls under the age of 18.
There was yet another tragic story about a teen suicide: Audrie Pott, a high school sophomore in California, who hung herself in September of last year following what appears to have been an unchaperoned party, excessive consumption of alcohol, alleged sexual assaults by multiple boys while Audrie was unconscious, all witnessed and captured on film, and then cruelly posted and commented on, online, by other classmates.
As if to cap it all off, MSNBC created a firestorm of controversy when it released a now-infamous “Lean Forward” ad in which frequent commentator Professor Melissa Harris-Perry said, “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we've always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven't had a very collective notion of these are our children … [W]e have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”
These events, seemingly discrete, are absolutely connected. And Professor Harris-Perry truly does deserve our thanks. Because she has – albeit unwittingly – launched a long overdue conversation about precisely what “we” are teaching “our children,” and how “our children” are faring, as a result.
Some of Professor Harris-Perry’s critics have raised the spectre of collectivism à la the former Soviet Union and Chairman Mao, whereby unsuspecting children are plucked from Head Start, placed in predetermined career paths established by malevolent national testing regimes, and then groomed for eventual success with or without their consent. Others have raised less hysterical but equally pointed concerns.
Perhaps the most charitable (to her, not to children) interpretation of Ms. Harris-Perry’s remarks would be that she is only saying that those of us who can take care of our children should be every bit as concerned about the children of those people who cannot take care of them.
More charitable, perhaps. But still deeply flawed.
First and foremost, the fact that so many people who cannot care for children are having them is a function of our society’s contemporary attitude about sexuality. And this is a fact that we are forbidden from having an honest conversation about, much less actually doing anything about.
What results have we witnessed in “our children” because of our stupidity and willful blindness?
· The dramatic increase in the divorce rate
· The rise of single parent homes
· The dramatic increase in out-of-wedlock births
· The diminishment of fatherhood and the virtual non-existence of male role models for young boys, particularly in the African-American community
· The ever-growing numbers of roving gangs of essentially uncivilized young males
· The correspondingly and disproportionately high incarceration rate of young African-American men.
· The devastation that this has wrought in entire neighborhoods, the escalation of crime, and the destruction within our school systems.
This country has spent, literally, hundreds of billions of dollars on problems that have been created largely because we no longer say, as a societal norm, that people should wait to have sex, should get married before they have children, and should raise them in two-parent homes.
Not only have we removed that as a social norm, we have removed the social stigmas that discouraged people from those behaviors, and replaced them with rewards for engaging in the most irresponsible behavior possible from a societal standpoint.
This same ignorance is absolutely reflected in the decision to offer Plan B to children. And it is part of the much larger and deceitful messaging that:
a) the only things they need to worry about are sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy;
b) contraception will take care of those two concerns most of the time, and;
c) abortion is the ready and easy backup should contraception fail.
This ignores the fact that teenagers are not emotionally ready for either sex or the consequences of sex. It ignores the emotional bonding inherent in the sex act which is a part of binding parents together – for their own benefit and for the benefit of any children that may come as a result of the relationship.
It ignores the reality that while upper-middle class teens might have the resources to withstand early sexuality, emotional trauma, pregnancy, and perhaps even childbirth, young people from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder almost certainly do not. And as should be abundantly clear by now, civilized society cannot withstand multiple generations of children being “raised” by children.
Proof of our children’s unreadiness abounds, notwithstanding our denials, in the behaviors of teens: the eating disorders, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies that tweens and teens display in staggeringly larger numbers than in previous generations. Whole swaths of the American population are now being decimated by these behaviors. And we are standing by and letting it happen.
We – that is to say – the grownups – have diminished sex. We tolerate the music, literature, and film that depict it as nothing more than recreation. We do not encourage our young men to be gentlemanly toward young women. Oh, we say we do, but then we reward the rappers who blather on about the “bitches” and “’hos” who serve no purpose in their music except to perform sex acts. We reward the politicians who are unfaithful to their wives by re-electing them over and over again. We idolize the actors whose sexual exploits reveal their own cavalier attitudes about sex. We – the consuming public – make millionaires out of these people, put them in positions of power and public esteem, on magazine covers, and all over the internet. There are a few who cluck or tsk-tsk – but this outlying hypocrisy is very clearly revealed by the adulation, the fame, the money that sexual excess brings.
We tacitly encourage young people to see sex as a spectator sport. So why are we surprised when – as we saw in
We let our teachers tell grade school-age children how to use condoms and dental dams. So, for the sake of the one tween in the room who may be sexually active, we now have 22 others in the classroom who had – previously – never even thought of oral sex, and who now have that on their mental hard drive. Thank you very much. (Oh, and it’s not much of an excuse to argue that they’re hearing about it on the radio and reading about it on the internet. You’re just proving my other points.)
We have high school administrators who will take a girl out of school and get her an abortion without her parents’ knowledge. Legal officials like Judge Korman who apparently think that a 14 year old should be buying and ingesting chemicals and hormones without her parents’ knowledge or a doctor’s supervision. (Perhaps if someone could make meth out of Plan B, we could get it put back behind the pharmacists’ counters like cold medications now are.) Pharmacists who will sell these drugs to our tweenage and teenage daughters without their parents’ knowledge and consent. Planned Parenthood “counselors” who will quite happily overlook incest or statutory rape or other sexual predation, as long as it means they get their money for abortion.
And what to say about abortion itself? Where to start? The “mainstream” media has avoided covering the butchery and brutality of Kermit Gosnell’s filthy abortion and infanticide practices because racist and eugenicist Margaret Sanger is their patron saint. Because abortion is their sacrament. Because Kermit Gosnell is not an outlier. He draws a “meh”; a “collective” shrug of the shoulders because Gosnell’s office was littered with the bodies of “our children” and you can make of that whatever metaphor you wish.
Far too many adults in this country, it would seem, have abandoned “our children.” They encourage illicit and irresponsible sexuality (and no, giving children condoms, birth control pills, and access to abortions is not “responsible” sexuality). They idolize it. They celebrate it. They reward it.
There are those of us who, as parents, are trying to send our children a very clear message: No, you are not ready for sexuality. Responsible sexuality means being in a committed and permanent relationship of marriage in which two people take responsibility for each other’s physical, emotional, and mental health, AND responsibility for that of children who almost inevitably are created by sexual relationships. And yes, even this message: To the extent that we ourselves, acted otherwise when we were younger, we were wrong.
There was a time when adults who wanted to protect our children could count on other adults to back us up; when Ms. Harris-Perry’s vision of shared responsibility was strengthened by shared values.
No longer. We find ourselves contradicted and undermined at every turn. Mocked, humiliated, and marginalized. Not by the children. By the adults.
If we really believed that we, as a community, were responsible for everyone else’s children, we would have the courage to tell our children that there really isn’t a good reason for sex outside of marriage, that “pro-choice” meant making better choices. But that would mean admitting that there are better choices: the choice to wait to have sex until you are a married adult, the choice to postpone having children until you are married, the choice to stay married; the choice to behave well and kindly and faithfully and responsibly toward your spouse so that staying married to you isn’t a lifelong agony.
We won’t tell our children those things, because those are choices we as adults don’t want to make. We want to be selfish, and we want other people to pay for our selfishness.
I suspect that those who espouse a more “collective” responsibility for “everyone’s” children do not really want the values I mentioned above to be instilled in “everyone’s” children. They just want more of other people’s money to pick up the pieces when the messages they espouse create the results they refuse to acknowledge.
If more money would fix it, I’d gladly give it. But it won’t. And that’s the tragedy.
So no, Ms. Harris-Perry, “my children” are not “your children.” They are not the children of the “community“. The “community” is doing its damnedest to destroy the values I am instilling in my children.
You go ahead and “Lean Forward.” I choose to fight back.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.