Orlando Sentinel

We owe children an apology

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on May 23, 1999.

I owe American children an apology.

So states reader "Beth," who wrote to flay me for suggesting paddles in classrooms as symbolic deterrents to certain darlings who are compelled -- doubtless by biological imprecisions beyond their control -- to abuse teachers and classmates physically and verbally.

I did suggest -- all under the guise of my dictatorship, which, you'll be concerned to learn, has huge support from hundreds of other readers -- that paddles be used judiciously, which implies sparingly. I add to that suggestion my suspicion, as gleaned from my student years in public schools, that paddles would be seldom used were certain darlings convinced that they might be used.

In any case, I've decided that Beth is right. American children do deserve an apology, which should go like this.

I'm sorry:

That we adults have shirked our duties to rear, nurture and protect you. That we've convinced ourselves that you don't need two parents -- a mother and a father -- but that any sex-neutral combo will do.

That even when you were nearly newborn, we handed you over to strangers, whom we trusted to care for you but who, in our hearts, we knew couldn't love you as we would.

I'm sorry:

That by changing "caregivers" every few months, we failed to help you build the bonds of trust that would help you develop cognitively and emotionally, thus to ward off the societal pathologies sure to surround you.

That in our efforts to provide all material things you might want someday, we forgot that our being there was more important to you than 4,000 plastic toys. That we've created a system that rips apart families during divorce and makes you pawns in custody disputes instead of realizing that you love and need both of your parents.

That we've given you rights before you're capable of understanding their purpose. We gave you the right -- and the means -- to have sex before you're ready. We gave you the right to abort pregnancies, even without your parents' consent, before you had the maturity to understand the weight of that decision.

I'm sorry that we've made drugs so much a part of your life that you can't get through a school day without medication, that we've delegated your emotional well-being to peers and hired help.

That we've given you the power to challenge rules instead of insisting that you obey them. You can call the American Civil Liberties Union and force institutions to bow to your individual wishes rather than learn that a civil society depends on cooperation and adherence to rules.

That we've robbed you of the protection of teachers and principals by forbidding them to discipline bullies and troublemakers. When a fellow student curses and shoves a teacher, or punches another student, you have to worry if the punishment will end with violence rather than the swift, sure actions of grown-ups.

I'm sorry that we've eliminated the rites and rituals -- prayers, pledges, songs -- that used to give children confidence, a sense of belonging and the hope that life was about more than sex, violence and rock 'n' roll.

I'm sorry we told you that God was a relative notion entertained by zealots who want to control you rather than an expression of love and the promise of a better tomorrow.

That you've been left to wonder at life's meaning without a strong, adult hand to guide you. That even as your contemporaries kill, rape and terrorize each other, all we can do is wring our hands and convene caucuses. That the only remedy we've left ourselves are empty words:

I'm sorry.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Sunday in the Sentinel's Insight section. She welcomes your views and suggestions. Mail: The Orlando Sentinel, MP-72, P.O. Box 2833, Orlando, Fla. 32802-2833.
E-mail: Kparker@Kparker.com

Copyright 1999 Orlando Sentinel Online.