We don’t have enough information about the current tragedy in Connecticut to make any judgments yet, but here are some general observations about life in America.
Guns have always been part of America. Frontier pioneers and townspeople were all armed. Children carried guns to school. Hunting was a way of life. So were chores and physical labor. Parents had close supervision over their children, and kids had to work.
I CAN REMEMBER as a small child visiting my relatives in Idaho in the fall of the year. All of us helped with the potato harvest. I recall getting paid a nickel for each 50-pound bag I filled. It took a long time for a little kid to fill a 50-pound bag of potatoes out in those fields. No one was worried about child labor or wage and hour laws. You are part of the family; it is your responsibility to help.
And at the end of the work day we were too tired to get into trouble. Now we pay others to clean the house, cut the grass, pull the weeds and do the laundry instead of teaching our children the responsibility of doing their part.
Our parents got married before they had children. Then they stayed married. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but it was the culture. Children came home to a mom and chores. Then homework was done. No parent ever cussed out a teacher who called to discuss a problem. If little Johnny had trouble staying focused, it didn’t occur to anyone that he might need mind-altering drugs to improve his behavior. Usually a spanking or two, and the behavior improved. And that’s how he learned self-control and discipline.
JOHNNY ALSO had a role model: his dad – a dad who went to work every day and made sure the family had what it needed to survive. Responsibility was taught by example. There weren’t a lot of fancy vacations, and most families had only one car. But families were close, and neighbors looked out for one another, and society was better for it. Nobody shot up the local schoolhouse or movie theater.
Now children are dropped off at day care at 6 weeks old and raised by low-income workers. I’m sure for the most part these care-givers do the best they can. But it isn’t the same as your own mom!
As children grow, they come home to empty houses; split or blended families; or single parents working more than one job trying to make it. And how do kids spend their time? Sitting and playing video games and watching violent movies or the trash called MTV – then eating junk food and going out with their friends who also have absentee parents.
AND YOU WANT to blame guns? That’s the easy answer. It is much easier to blame guns than to accept that we have failed our children and abdicated our responsibility as parents. Who wants to stay in a humdrum marriage, or get married at all, when we are told there are exciting lives out there for us if we just break free of our chains? The TV can raise our kids. We can have multiple children with many different partners, and who cares what example is being taught? Our kids probably will be OK. And if they aren’t, well, there’s always Ritalin.
I have worked with kids who have been left to raise themselves – some in environments that were unthinkable when I was growing up. Drugs, gangs, violence, neglect and stupidity – and we wonder why things are going wrong. This is accepted as normal now because we don’t want to hold up a mirror and see the problem lies with us. It is time to make the sacrifices necessary to put our families back together.
It’s not the guns.
(The writer is founder of the Smart Girls Club of Augusta, a book club that uses readings and guest speakers to help girls lay a groundwork for positive, successful lives. She is a North Augusta, S.C., resident.)