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Child Watch® Column: "A Parent, Community, and National Audit: It's Time for Adults to Shape up and Close the Hypocrisy Gap"

Release Date: October 7, 2011

Marian Wright Edelman

I am often asked, what's wrong with our children? Children having children. Children killing themselves or others. Children dropping out of school and roaming streets alone or in gangs. Children addicted to tobacco and alcohol, drinking and drugging themselves to escape reality. Children being locked up in jails with adult criminal mentors, bubbling with rage and crushed by depression.

Adults are what's wrong with children. Parents letting children raise themselves or be raised by television or the internet. Children being shaped by peers instead of parents, grandparents, and kin. Children seeing adults be violent to each other and marketing, glorifying and tolerating violence to them and preaching what we don't practice. Adults telling children to be honest while lying and cheating and to be healthy while selling them junk food that undermines their health.

I believe 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. We don't have a child and youth problem in America; we have a profound adult problem as children do what they see adults doing in our personal, professional, and public lives. What must our children think as they see the craven greed of too many corporate leaders pillaging their corporations and the homes, pensions and life blood of workers, seniors, and stockholders? What must they think as they see too many political leaders repeatedly say one thing and do another? And what dare they believe when they see some religious leaders enjoined by faith to protect them abuse them instead? It's time to close the adult hypocrisy gap.

I urge every parent and adult to conduct a personal audit to examine whether we are contributing to the crisis so many of 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 but 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 our children, we must pull up the moral weeds in our own backyards. 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, money, and the teaching of values, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the family breakdown today leaving so many children at risk.
  • If we are abusing tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, 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 guns in our home and rely on them to feel safe and powerful, and don't stand up to those who market guns to our children, 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, that is tearing us apart.
  • If we tell our daughters not to engage in premature and irresponsible sex, and not to have children before they are prepared to parent and support them, and do not tell our sons the same thing, we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births so many decry.
  • If we profess to be people of faith but send rather than take our children to religious services, and believe that the gospels, prophets, 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 moral famine in our land 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.
  • 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, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution.
  • If we think it's somebody else's responsibility to teach our children values, respect, good manners, work and health habits, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to bullying and incivility rife today.
  • 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 and hope for children.
  • If we'd rather complain about politicians than walk to the voting booths, school board meetings, political and community meetings to demand support for our children, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to voter apathy today.
  • If our children of any color think that being smart and studying hard is acting White rather than acting Black or Brown and don't know about the many great Black and Brown as well as White achievers who overcame every obstacle to succeed, then we are a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution to racial stereotyping.
  • If we are not voting and holding political leaders accountable for investing relative pennies in quality early Head Start and pounds in the military budget, and for cutting effective child and family nutrition programs while protecting government welfare for rich farmers and corporate executives, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the growing gap between rich and poor.
  • If we think corrupt and unaccountable Black and Brown leaders who neglect our children and communities are better than corrupt and unaccountable White leaders who neglect our children and communities or vice versa, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to voter cynicism and apathy.
  • And if we think we have ours and don't owe any time or money or effort to help those left behind, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the fraying social fabric that threatens all Americans and the very dream that is America.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Kim at: April 26, 2012
This is really sad that parents arent really paying attention. Those are good helpful prints though.

Submitted by Heather at: October 17, 2011
Honest, correcting, excellent!

Submitted by maral at: October 17, 2011
AMEN! Have shared your message with others.

Submitted by Kate at: October 12, 2011
Ms. Wright Edleman's comments are very true. I recently worked for an agency where I ran the Family Services Program. The services we rendered helped young parents with their educational,emotional and basic needs. I spent hours in case management elevating these "at risk" young people and their familes. Many of my clients (all young women with children) went back to school and now are employed in professions. When our grant was written this year the grantor did not see fit to give us funds. Our program had doubled, we had had stats to prove success etc. The funding went to organizations that were building buildings.. Mortar and bricks are not as important as the successes of "at risk" individuals. The grantor said their focus had changed. When large philanthropic programs do not commit some of their funds to programs that assist "at risk children" they are not a part of the solution. My clients now do not have case management or a place to take their children to get specialized assistance. I now do not have a job as the agency eliminated the Family Services department due to the lack of funds. What does this say about our community? Not Much!

Submitted by ms.lyhaynes at: October 11, 2011
Great!! Speaking the truth is hard sometime...

Submitted by Seeking at: October 10, 2011
Right on Marian!

Submitted by Rosey at: October 10, 2011
Thank you for such a wonderful letter! I hope that every adult reads this and is moved in one way or another to do what is best for our children. I truly try to model the life that I would like my children to follow and I do believe that it all starts at home; but it takes a village to raise a child and unfortunately, our society is very individualistic and selfish. Every person is trying to gain for themselves and their own while the rest are forgotten. It's a terrible way that our society walks in. Simply terrible.

Submitted by MCB at: October 8, 2011
Amen to Marian Wright Edelman!!! I could not agree with you more. I so appreciate your work. I am 67 years old, and I feel sad about the directions in which we are going. I do try to do what I can, and you inspire me to do more. Thank you.

Submitted by Dee at: October 8, 2011
It's a hard truth, but it's the truth anyway.

Submitted by Micky at: October 8, 2011
The additional area I would have liked to see Marian Wright Edelman address is rap/hip-hop and its effects on the thinking and behavior of our youth. To hear the language and the ideas of much of this music has undoubtedly had an effect on our children that our adults are unwilling to discuss. There is a great conflict between the materialism that hip-hop represents and the moral values that it promotes. I know there is socially consciously rap, but that is not what the majority of our children are listening to. Our failure to address this dichotomy is a failure to our children.

Submitted by Jazzsma at: October 7, 2011
Thank you! for finally saying what so desperately needs to be said! As a grandparent raising a two grandchildren; I am very familiar with the lack of parent resposibility. I am dealing with the juvenile system in WA state to help reign in my out of control 14 yr old granddaughter. It's taken me 2 years to get help with her and now she is pregnant and drug addicted. She'll be 15 in December. This is not how I raised this girl but in this state there is little parents/guardians can do to stop youth. You cannot get them inpatient treatment of any kind without their consent. Parents/guardians cannot make them do anything past the age of 13. I don't know who decided that 13 was the age of reason. It is in fact just the opposite; its when they lose their minds. Thank you for all your work for the children!

Submitted by kimrobin at: October 7, 2011
Excellent!