Saturday, July 1, 2017

Parenting In An Age Of Incivility

Lately, the news has been filled with story after story of nasty, payback, online rant-y ick.  So much so that even thinking about watching the news gives me a sick feeling in my stomach, and I've been a news junkie all my life.  We're being bombarded by hateful, screaming rhetoric on all sides, and there is no respite online or off.

Worse, this is the environment in which my child is coming of age.  At 14, she's not only capable of seeing this level of crazy with clear eyes, but she's also cognizant of how wrong some of this behavior is, that it would not be tolerated in our family, and that "leaders" in this nation of ours are getting away with behavior that we would never allow in our own home.

I've been stewing on this for quite a while, not just for my own child, but for all of the kids that I teach and spend time around day in and day out.

How do we raise decent, caring, thoughtful kids in an age where that is the polar opposite of what we see in our elected officials, our media environment, our online back and forth and even our day to day  interactions?  How do we parent effectively about ethics and manners and character, when so much of what makes us a "civil" society is degraded and frayed around the edges?

Last year, we were discussing this issue in my civics class, in relation to a news item on a political operative who created a whole string of fake information about one of the political candidates which ended up going viral and becoming a factor in the election.  The operative in question had no remorse on creating a series of lies, or that those lies impacted the presidential race, and was even quite proud of his lies and boasted about their effectiveness to the reporter who was fact-checking them.  Whereas I was seeing this through the lens of "lying is wrong, and this guy has horrible ethics," a number of my kids were seeing this as "he was really successful at this and anything goes in politics."

Needless to say, it was a lively discussion.  In the end, it was a troubling one for me, because these kids genuinely see politics as an "ends justifies the means" sport in which you do anything to be the winner, and not as a higher calling for the service of the greater community good for us all.  It still haunts me that it took a lengthy discussion to get to any level of grudging acceptance that ethics might also be important, even necessary, in American politics.

You can see where this is going for me in terms of a renewed focus on government service and ethics in my history and government discussions, but also in my parenting of my own child.

We need discussions with our kids about decency, ethics and government service for the greater good of all of us.  We need to start thinking about our nation as a connected whole, a "WE, the people" and not an "us vs. them."

But how?

(Photo by Christy Hardin Smith.)

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