So I’m a big fan of the show The Commentators, which is a radio talk show that plays on KOMO 1000 AM/97.7 FM here in Seattle. I’m pretty moderate when it comes to political and social issues, so it’s the perfect show for me, since the two hosts, Ken Schram and John Carlson, typically approach their topics from the left and right, respectively, and debate on local issues and news stories, and base the show around calls from listeners. Since I had recently become bored with listening to my music at work, I decided to listen to recordings of their show available on the KOMO website. Several shows over the last two weeks have dealt with issues involving school, in some fashion; this is likely due to the fact that school is getting ready to start again. The Commentators opened up discussion on things such as a school district asserting its right to search a student’s cell phone if it is confiscated and they have reason to believe rules of some fashion are being broken, another school district that will search student’s Facebook profiles if it’s brought to their attention that something against school rules is mentioned on there. The cell phone one came up twice.
We could sit here all day and debate whether the school has these rights, whether the students should be allowed this much privacy or that much privacy, etc. What I’m interested in today is the common refrain brought up by callers who were viciously against the school checking cell phones and Facebook profiles. “This is not the school’s responsibility; the parents should be more involved in their kids’ lives!”
Now I completely get and understand where they’re coming from, as most reasonably intelligent modern adults would. Bad parenting is an epidemic. We can put blame on absent fathers, on permissive parenting, dismissive parenting, teenagers with the mentalities of 8-year-olds having babies, and so on, all resulting in children and teenagers with no respect for adults or authority or common sense rules. (I could run off on tangents about how the last 30 years or so have taught a couple of generations of kids that “self-esteem” and “trying hard” are all that’s needed to succeed in life, but I’ll save that for another time.) Yet there’s this contradiction in spirit with some people who hold to that understanding because they also insist that no one BUT the parents should have authority over their kids (and some even still insist that the parents have limited authority, too; but, again, some other time). The problem, I think, has been that we have developed this unholy mix of “we know there are lots of bad parents out there” and “but the kids have rights!”
Let me be more precise to what it is that I’m referring. Let’s take the topic of the school searching Facebook pages. The stance is that they will search a Facebook page if it is brought to their attention that some kind of activity that is illegal or against school rules is discussed on the site, such as a bully threatening someone on their wall. (The question has been raised about, “what if they say bad things about a teacher?” and the answer was not concrete). Many people who called in to The Commentators that were hard-lined against the school’s “right” to do this cited the fact that “this is the parents’ responsibility! The parents should be the ones speaking up and taking action! The parents need to know what their kids are doing online! This isn’t anyone else’s business!”
But hold on a second. How long do we put up with snotty, entitled kids and their attitudes and people insisting on their “rights,” while simultaneously complaining about how snotty and entitled they are, and insist that their parents “fix” them when we know they WON’T? I feel like a lot of people could use a serious reality check. Bad parent’s aren’t going away. And it’s extremely unlikely the problem will get less severe in the years to come. So while we don’t give up on the idea of insisting people be better parents, I really don’t think that we can wash our hands of what the kids do in the mean time. And that means giving schools authority about school-related issues.
Let’s discuss this briefly in another, related area. A recent Seattle news story: a 10-year-old boy got shot on a bus–turns out he was the ring leader of a small band of other kids holding up another kid, and the gun “belonged” to the 10-year-old, and he’s been in trouble with the law since he was 8. His mother’s attitude in court has been, “What right do you have to bring my baby to court?” Juvenile penalties, especially in the state of Washington, are very lenient (the penalty for a juvenile possessing a gun is 0-30 days detention for the first FOUR offenses). Yet when one person mentions making the penalties stiffer on bad kids, someone inevitably will speak up and say, “Stay out of it! THE PARENTS should do a better job with their kid!”–yeah, and also people shouldn’t steal things.
I don’t really don’t know much about the iconic Hillary Clinton book, It Takes a Village, but that title alone speaks a little bit of truth. We really cannot continue to cite better parenting as the only solution and only option when the parents won’t be better parents, no matter how much we say they should. Of course that doesn’t mean that we toss out a parent’s authority, but it does mean that I think we could do well to set up a more stringent series of ultimatums.