Kids, Talk to Your Grownups

Mike Males, c Youth Today, June 2003

"Talk to your kids about..." drugs, violence, and sex, ads by West Wing celebrities, drug czars, and other panacea-types urge. But, what should grownups say?

How about: "Kids! Don’t act like us!"

American adults practice and abet the Western world’s worst adult drug abuse, murder, gun carnage, imprisonment, homelessness, poverty, AIDS, unplanned pregnancy, drunkenness, obesity, voter apathy, avaricious consumerism, family breakup, murders of children, and child hunger--by far. We tell pollsters in massive numbers our goal is to pile up as much wealth as our richest 1 percent, it’s fine to kill thousands of innocent people to avenge terrorism, and any excuse for a quick and dirty war will serve.

We benefited from well-funded schools and social services when we were growing up, then greedily cut our taxes and denied today’s youths like opportunity. We spend twice as much on gambling than education. We menace motorways in gas-swilling Sports Utility Tanks, blow billions on medically-useless cosmetic vanities, and panic like stampeded sheep at every cockamamie alarmism politicians and News at 11 bray.

What lessons should youths learn from the latest abysmal moral example set by American adults who, previously doubtful about war against Iraq, tamely backed it after President Bush barged ahead? Squelch your conscience, kids, and go along with the dominant crowd even if you think it’s wrong? Forget laws and rules; bullying works? Only attack weaklings who can’t fight back? Winning is everything--especially if it’s easy? Spout lofty principles but seize the loot?

Horrified at youngsters picking up our real attitudes and behaviors (which experts comically label "adolescent rebellion"), we spend billions funding prevention programs whose unadmitted mission is to prevent kids from acting like adults.

"My school was telling us not to call names or beat people up," puzzled one Maryland student to the Washington Post ("What We Learned In School Today," March 31) of his school’s conflict resolution classes. "Now we see the government bombing Iraq. It seems it's, ‘Do as we say, not as we do.’"

Yet, school administrators who innovate nonviolence programs must wonder if their old ways--letting, even helping, popular kids bully the losers--better prepared students for a cold new America in which naked self-interest and cruelty define how elites use power against the disadvantaged.

For example, teens contemplating military careers, watch how the troops--the self-sacrificing young men and women loudly "supported" by righteous flag-wavers--are treated now that the war’s over. Note that the ultra-patriotic House of Representatives slashed $25 billion from Bush’s already paltry Veterans’ Affairs funding proposal for the next decade. Axed were $10 billion from veterans' medical care, $15 billion from disability services, and $200 million for educating veterans’ children.

These cuts to the VA’s strapped budget come as 1.7 million veterans (including 230,000 from Gulf War I) suffering war-related injuries and illnesses lack promised services, 200,000 with immediate traumas wait six months for hospital treatment, and 270,000 veterans are homeless. Federal studies show Vietnam veterans suffer vastly elevated drug abuse, suicide, violent death, imprisonment, and war-related illness.

Wake up, young, would-be soldiers: after you fight and suffer for the USA, you’re expendable trash. Your school’s cheery military recruiting propaganda doesn’t mention that while Washington’s favored contractors reap billions in profits to wreck and rebuild a ravaged Iraq, thousands of servicemen and -women subsist on food stamps.

Pay heed to your elders’ true message: sacrificing for your country is for suckers! Ask instead what your country can do for YOU. Look at who America most richly rewards: the war-whooping politicians, pundits, and corporate executives who dodged military duty to line their own pockets and now bask in adulation, affluence, and tax cuts.

Reversing America’s bankrupt values requires true adolescent rebellion. Young people: TALK to grownups about adult violence, drug abuse, selfishness, materialism, killing innocent people for political and business profit, the skills you learned in "conflict resolution" classes--that is, fundamental moral ideals. Here’s an ice-breaker: "Mom, Dad (Stepmom, Absentee Dad, Newest Significant Other), when you were growing up back in the Sixties..."

Mike Males ( worked with youths for 15 years and now teaches sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.