Child Watch® Column:
Adults Are the Problem

Release Date: October 30, 2015

Marian Wright Edelman

It is time for adults of every race and income group to break our silence about the pervasive breakdown of moral, family, and community values, to place our children first in our lives, and to struggle to model the behavior we want our children to learn. School children don’t need one more “Officer Slam” as some students referred to the White South Carolina school resource officer who this week shamed the nation with his violent ejection of a 16-year-old Black female student from her classroom for a nonviolent offense. A very welcome counter narrative took place when a White female police officer in Washington, D.C. after diffusing a potentially volatile conflict between two groups of Black teens, then charmed with a “dance off” a defiant teen-age girl who had refused to leave.

Any parent who has gone through the challenges of adolescence could only admire the quick thinking and agile footwork of the D.C. police officer. The last thing children need is violent assaults in schools which ought to be safe havens, and a suspension, expulsion and arrest to blot their school records and push them closer to the prison pipeline. And the very last thing children need is out-of-control adults using violence as a way of resolving differences.

I am often asked what’s wrong with our children and I almost always answer, adults are what’s wrong. We tell our children to control themselves while slapping and spanking and treating them violently in our homes, child care centers, schools, detention facilities and prisons. Adults tell children to be honest while lying and cheating and not to be violent while marketing and glorifying violence.

I urge every parent, adult, educator, faith and public leader to conduct a personal audit to determine whether we are contributing to the crisis our children face or to the solutions they urgently need. And if we are not a part of the solution, we are a part of the problem and need to do better.

Our children don't need or expect us to be perfect. They do need and expect us to be honest, to admit and correct our mistakes, and to share our struggles about the meanings and responsibilities of faith, parenthood, citizenship, and life. Before we can pull up the moral weeds of violence, materialism, and greed in our society that are strangling so many of our young, we must pull up the moral weeds in our own backyards and educational institutions. So many children are confused about what is right and wrong because so many adults talk right and do wrong in our personal, professional, and public lives.

  • If we are not supporting a child we brought into the world as a father or mother with attention, time, love, discipline, and the teaching of values, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the family breakdown today that is leaving so many children at risk.
  • If we are abusing tobacco, alcohol or other drugs while telling our children not to, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution in our overly addicted society.
  • If we have unlocked and loaded guns in our home and cars, and rely on them to feel safe and powerful, and don't stand up to those who market guns to our children and to those who kill our children with guns, or glamorize violence as fun, entertaining, and normal, then we are part of the problem rather than the solution to the escalating war of American against American, family member against family member, and children against adults and adults against children that is tearing us apart.
  • If we profess to be people of faith and send rather than take our children to worship and religious education services, and believe that the Sermon on the Mount, Ten Commandments, the Koran, or whatever religious beliefs we hold, pertain only to one-day worship but not to Monday through Sunday home, professional, and political life, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the spiritual famine and hypocrisy plaguing America today.
  • If we tell, snicker, or wink at racial, gender, religious, or ethnic jokes or engage in or acquiesce in any practices intended to diminish rather than enhance other human beings, then we are contributing to the proliferating voices of racial and ethnic division and intolerance staining our land again. Let's not fight the civil war or repeat the worst lessons of our past. Let's prepare for the future in an irreversibly interconnected world that is majority non-White and poor.
  • If we think being American is about how much we can get rather than about how much we can give and share to help all our children get a healthy, fair, and safe start in life, and successful transition to college and productive work in our boastfully wealthy nation and are unable and unwilling to support a concept of enough for the poor among us then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution.
  • If we or our organizations are spending more money on alcohol and entertainment than on scholarships, books, tutoring, rites of passage, and mentoring programs for youths, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to ensuring positive alternatives to the streets and drug dealers for children.
  • If we'd rather talk the talk than walk the walk to the voting booths, school board meetings, political forums, PTA, congregation and community meetings to organize community and political support on all sides of the aisle for our children, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution.
  • If we are not voting and holding political leaders at every level and in every party accountable for investing relative pennies in quality early childhood opportunities, education, housing for homeless children and jobs – jobs with dignity and decent wages – and billions in the military budget, and for cutting investments for poor mothers and children while protecting massive government welfare for rich farmers and over-paid corporate executives, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the undemocratic unjust and growing gap between rich and poor.

And if we think we have ours and don't owe any time or money or effort to lend a hand to voteless, voiceless, hungry, homeless, miseducated, neglected and abused children, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the fraying social fabric and violence and uncertainty that threatens all Americans.

Click here to share your comments and find out what others are saying.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

Sign-up to receive CDF President Marian Wright Edelman's weekly Child Watch Column.

Let us know what you think about this column:

Enter this word: Change

Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Em at: November 19, 2015
This article is totally and truly way over due. As adults we truly need to take a long hard look at ourselves. We are the Bullies. When we say LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND we truly need to learn to say it and MEAN IT.

Submitted by Dorothy at: November 3, 2015
I ready enjoyed reading this article, so true, parent should be parents and stop trying to be friends, so children would have more respect for them. Children need to continue to know there places in life, so life will move on with the diginity and respect for each other. We need to too love one other as God has love us, And not getting mad over nothing that don't mean anything. When we help our children, we help the next generation to come. Walk with a smile and a smile will come back to you. Let your children see the good in you, so that they will carry it out into the world, so other can see what love can do. Let children be children and stop putting pill down their throat and destroying their life. I had my child to say to me, "They say something is wrong with the children, but what is wrong with the patent." And when he said that to me ,it change me a lot. A True Mother Love Dorothy Massenburg

Submitted by SuzieQ at: November 3, 2015
The unvarnished truth that every parent should take to heart. I am copying this powerful message to post on our church bulletin board.

Submitted by Sarge at: November 3, 2015
All I can say is "Amen"!! This is beautifully written!

Submitted by GEE at: November 3, 2015

Submitted by PattiP at: November 3, 2015
Accountability! Yes do, say and act all the same. Love all children. It's pretty simple.

Submitted by hh at: November 2, 2015
This one of the best, honest, balanced and most succinct summaries of the present state of affairs in this most blessed country. It is clear: I am either a part of the problem or part of the solution. I am either an honest father and grand father, transparent to my friends and neighbors, a phony/intellectually dishonest person. There is nowhere to hide we ADULTS are indeed the problem. May or Creator help us Now! hh

Submitted by nanamomma at: November 2, 2015
It's time for parents to take a look in mirror. Ask the question, "if everyone parent like I parent, what type of parent am I?" There is always room for improvement.

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 2, 2015
Most surely very interesting

Submitted by Wildcat Forever at: November 1, 2015
Are we clear? We have work to do!

Submitted by Ce-lay-lay at: October 31, 2015
I have been an admirer of MWE for many years and feel huge gratitude toward her and CDF. One small caveat, however, about this article: cops are not the problem, even if there's a lot of video showing them screwing up at times.

Submitted by Hooks Wayman at: October 31, 2015
It's also about time. No child can wait. They are developing, maturing, witnessing, and exploring while the adults try to figure it out. If adults spend more time watching tv, engaging on social media, partying with friends, watching professional sports, or watching videos or game than spending one-to-one time with children and youth, then they are part of the problem and not part of a solution. Children need us to be in a real and genuinenrelationshipnwith them. They need our time. There is a balance between child rearing and family time and time needed to nurture our own energy and souls. But I fear that most parents or guardians are not getting the right mix and letting children grow up in social isolation.

Submitted by Funnyface at: October 31, 2015
Couldn't agree more and so glad to have someone with the authority to speak say it out loud. C

Submitted by Anonymous at: October 31, 2015
Great article Ms. Edelman. This is right on point!! I shared you article with family and friends.

Submitted by Suzanne at: October 31, 2015
Ms. Edelman, you are my hero! Every editorial is compelling and eloquent. I am on our local school board and regularly share your articles with school staff. A billion thanks for the work you do on behalf of children, justice and peace!

Submitted by tamieks at: October 31, 2015
Amen! Thank you for these wonderful and thought provoking statement. We as adults, parents and members of society have to do better to teach our children.

Submitted by Summer at: October 31, 2015
Thank you for your boldness and writing such a powerful article. Excellent job. We need to own our part in the breakdown of our families and how that breakdown is destroying our CHILDREN. I plan to begin this conversation with my family and at work (I work in a school). After the conversation, the next step should be identifying the role accountability and analalyzing how that role looks depending if you are a parent , teacher , mentor and etc... I challenge others to do the same.

Submitted by Rusty at: October 31, 2015
I totally agree with the article. I am a 36 year old educated black man who was punished along with my 2 children by the judicial system by my perception for attempting to remove myself and my children from a volitle household. Learning from my mistakes and the mistakes fr my parents I did all I knew and could learn to do to keep my family together and reduce and eliminate the verbal and violent encounters in ky house. Counseling both religious and psychological, family intervention, and temporary separation all failed. My wife moved out while kids and i were gone on a fathers day leaving us to come home to a disaster. Within a month she became ill. I did all i could do to help her and be there for her and facilitate a relationship with her and the kids while she was sick with no help from her family that lived in town. Within 2 months after ahe got better she took me to court for kids to for full custody of kids. I asked a White judge to allow us to continue our current arrangement of kids with me during school days and nights and with her on the weekends when she could handle it and i would continue to give her access to house and kids during the week. He agreed. Within 3 months she was ill again and kids were back with me almost everyday and the days they were with her, i usually had to be there to help. I offered to set aside divorce until she got well. Or defer going to professional school if we could keep arrangement for kids like it was and not fight in an effort to give her an opportunity to get well before a judge was going to have to decide where kids were going to live. Instead she wanted to fight. In court witnesses testified to my involvement with kids educational and extra ciricula activities, to my involvement with helping an underprivileged kids who worked a summer job in out the lab at worked at, and my involvement with a neighborhood fellow who's father had died. There was actually pictures presented of injuries i sustained during violent altercations, we both admitted to the name calling. I was painted to be a violent drunk by her witness, and one of them even stated that i would always remove the children from the home when the altercations would occur. Nevertheless the Black Female judge returned with giving the mother full physical custody of the children. My son who is developmentally delayed in speach and language was taken out of his preschool where he was receiving speach and language services and now is not in preschool at all and is not receiving services and my daughter was removed from her advanced diverse school and placed back in an inner city school that she was being bullied at. My son is now emotionally distressed and my daughter rarely sees her counselor and rarely attends her gymnastics class. I went from having my kids a minimum of 15-20 days a month to seeing them 4 days a month. I testified to just wanting to keep my kids in good schools ensure my son got his speach and language services and that they stayed involved in extra ciricula activities that i was currently facilitating and paying for. I submitted a proposed order i asked for kids Monday - Friday giving mom just about all holidays and non school times and no money from mom. Instead the kids and i were alienated from each other and their environment was changed. I said all of this to one venty fustrations and 2 to ask the question does anyone have any idea what a lot of our kids go through and have to deal with on a daily basis. Statistics state that girls who have an active father are less likely to become teenage mothers and boy who have active fathers are less likely to go to prison. That kids who are around educated people are more likely to attend college. There are federal funded programs to teach fathers how to be father and the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. But in the case in the case of my children and i am sure a lot of others the fathers are removed from their lives by a system that is supposed to be designed to act in their best interest. Everyone wants to point their finger at the children and what they do, but nobody wants to ask why. Has anyone ask what that girl was going through to lead to her defiance. Has anyone inquired about here day to day struggles. Did anyone try to reach her in a way other than what she and so many of our children are used. Has anyone reached out to her parents in an attempt to help them with whatever issues they are dealing other than a way to sue the police for the actions of the officer. Im not saying by a long shot that the officer shouldn't pay. He should go to prison and the family should be compensated. But with that compensation shouldn't someone assist the family in providing help for the emotional damage that the child experienced and for the emotional damage thay she was dealing with before the incident. For all we know her defiance could have been a cry for help. And instead of being helped she was abused. As for the white officer in DC. I would like to say thank you. That could have been my daughter that she helped by coming up with a way to reach her instead of taking her to jail. No one knows andbis concerned with what our kids are going through. I would also like to thank the white judge who gave me the opportunity to give my kids something better than what they are getting now. Although short lived. I will forever be grateful.

Submitted by Dr. D. Mapp at: October 31, 2015
You are right! Parents (no matter how much money you make or your race or culture) are so important to what happens to our children, whether positive or negative. Sure they- and us adults - make mistakes at times - that's part of living and learning. Children need to have better chances for thriving in school and in life, not just surviving and on the edge of chaos where too many of them exist today. We seem to forget at times that adults and children exist in families which are the basic social unit of society and important to our nation. Even though many things may seem uncertain in our lives, what has not changed is the responsibility of preparing children for their futures – it still rests with caring adults, whether parents, grandparents or others. I've written a book that may be helpful to all families: You Are Your Child's Best Teacher: A Holistic Guide to Link Home and School. This guide book can help families and their children by empowering parents so they develop new skills or are reminded of forgotten skills that are needed to parent capable and satisfied children better prepared for their futures. It is a short (125 pages), practical, holistic and easy to read book that can lead to family well-being and school success. New ground is broken as families are viewed with connections to our nation’s past, present and future in a comprehensive view where everything is connected. Readers will discover clues to sometimes unspoken topics that need to be discussed since they may impact many families and our nation. Parents, are you ready to move from where you are to the family of your dreams? Dr. Wright Edelman's views are so on target, and this book may help you get there!!!

Submitted by AM at: October 31, 2015