The family is the foundation of human society. This is true for all cultures regardless of race, language, location or millennia. Marriage is recognized universally as the institution that binds male and female for the purpose of procreation and raising children. Contemporary society has construed marriage to include a variety of ancillary benefits such as emotional security, domesticity, and sexual gratification. The incidental benefits of the union do not negate the fact that all cultures through time have recognized that child-rearing is performed best by a partnership between male and female. The extended family and polygamy offer variants on the covenant of marriage whithout detracting from its essential character as a child-rearing institution. Humans are compelled by a recognition that children are the future to provide a system by which succeeding generations are properly socialized, educated, and integrated into the overall structure of society. The initial steps begin at home and are gradually extended to include the more complex relationships of the individual to the community and nation.
Marriage in contemporary America is a system in default of its basic obligations. Divorce rates have soared over the past fifty years to a rate above fifty percent. The trend can be blaimed on the belief that the ancillary benefits of marriage take precedence over the obligation to provide for progeny. Only childless couples can make this claim. Once children enter the relationship, the fundamental reason for marriage must become paramount. The current situation is aggravated further by the increase in out-of-wedlock births. The recognition of marriage as the basis for a healthy society has been deeply compromised by easy divorce, and defied outright by feminists who denigrate men in general, and the value of fatherhood in particular. The stigmas formerly associated with divorce and bastardy have been dismantled in the name of “compassion”. But absent a social mechanism to enforce the former norm, our society has tumbled down a slope into self-gratification and illiberality. The current situation is surely a mark of our decadence that we take the welfare of our children for granted.
I know that historians have been complaining about the youth of their day since Herodotus, but our contemporary youth have embraced a cultural ethic all their own. Never has so much been given to a generation with so little expected in return. Today’s kids have become the ultimate consumers, always demanding the latest gadget or fashion trend, without ever contributing a dime of their own through wage labor. Material goods like cell phones, Ipods, and even automobiles come as if by right. Today’s generation believes they are entitled. This regardless of what they might be achieving in school. I have a roster of failing students, kids who will never graduate high school, who drive brand new vehicles provided by parents. There is no quid pro quo, no demand that good grades are a prerequisite, no insistence that things must be earned. The perks simply arrive at the appointed time, and always for the asking. How is this possible?
Consider now that the “family” for many children consists of mom and her boyfriend, dad and his new fiancee. Such parents tend to be self-absorbed, more intent on finding self-fulfillment in a “relationship” than they are with their responsibilities as parents. There’s no time for kids. It’s easier to bounce them between homes in shared custody situations than to establish a loving and disciplined household. The children of such couples quickly learn that mom and dad will compete for their affections by bestowing material goods rather than quality time. In my opinion, this tendency is a measure of parental guilt for the divorce and subsequent neglect. In my day, when I asked mom for something, the request was usually met by “what did your father say?”. In today’s household the kids call the shots: “If you won’t give it to me, dad will.” Or to put it in the words of one of my students: “We’re very good at getting what we want.” Indeed. But from where comes the character building lessons in learning to do without? Instant gratification has become the norm. Where is the quid pro quo, as in “you’ll get a cell phone when I see straight A’s.”? When nothing is demanded from home, nothing is given at school. It’s a one-way street. Everything is due, nothing is expected in return. To quote again one of my students: “When you get bad grades long enough, your parents eventually get used to it.” There are never any consequences for poor grades, so why bother putting in the effort?
I would be content with the knowledge that some of these kids are going to get a rude awakening someday. But for too many this is not the case. Many of these children are planning to become life-long dependents of their parents. “What will you do when you get older?” I ask them. “My parents have money,” they answer without a shred of shame. So they drop out, hang out at home, party when they feel like it, and are generally incapable of holding a job. You might recall a Hollywood film last year called “Faliure to Launch”. When such attitudes reach the movie screen, you know the tendency is already endemic in the culture. Such attitudes are the result of learned behavior, and the expectations continue into adulthood. This nation cannot survive the current generation. They are lazy, demanding, entitled, dependent and utterly without virtue. The behavior is a sign of our societal decadence. Today’s kids know only a life of grab and grasp. A recent incident related to me by a parent illustrates the point. He hired two boys to spread a pile of mulch. At the end of the day, nothing had been accomplished. When he refused to pay the two, he was met with outraged howls: “But we were here!” Do they expect to get paid for nothing? Apparently they do. What a pitiful generation. What a pitiful generation of parents who raised them.