Toby Keith’s country music song, I Wanna Talk About Me always makes me laugh. It stops being funny when it isn’t about a guy who says to his girlfriend, “I like talking about you, you, you, usually, but occasionally I wanna talk about me,” and instead represents the plea of children to the adults in their lives.
We live in strange times. Many parents are clueless. In the 1940s, Mama’s Bank Account was a popular book. Renamed as I Remember Mama it became a movie, play and TV show. It was a peek into author Kathryn Forbes’ Norwegian grandparents’ lives as they raised a family in the United States. The title story, if memory serves me correctly, was how her grandmother frequently spoke about a bank account that could be accessed in an emergency, thus providing her children with a sense of financial security. Only when the children grew up did they find out that there wasn’t really any savings account and how vulnerable they truly had been.
Many adults today similarly work to provide their children with a feeling of safety. The mother whose checkbook is running low but whose children see her putting money in the Salvation Army bucket isn’t only modeling charitable giving. She is reassuring them that they are fortunate enough to help others rather than alarming them about their own financial difficulties. The father who presents a confident face to his young children despite privately worrying about being laid off, allows them to focus on their schoolwork rather than on fear.
And then there are the, “I wanna talk about me,” parents and teachers. Sometimes, they are simply careless, speaking about adult matters within earshot of children. Or they just might not have the self-control to regulate their emotions during tough times. Most of us can relate to those scenarios, though hopefully we work on ourselves to do better. Other parents and teachers are more problematic and need to be called out.
They are the adults who misuse the children in their lives for their own aims, often political. Teachers have their students write letters to politicians opposing anti-union measures. School projects are based on environmental fears. Assignments present complex issues as one-sided and terrifying. In the anti-logging political environment of Washington State in the 90s, some parents had to deal with sensitive children’s night terrors where youngsters pictured loggers armed with menacing chainsaws coming after them.
What brought this Pacific northwest memory to mind was reading a quote from one African-American mother as to why she participated in the women’s march opposing President Trump. She spoke of her daughter’s fears that they would be deported to Africa. Now, this was not an illegal immigrant from Ghana; the implication was that this was a multi-generational American citizen. If her daughter was truly afraid of deportation that means that the adults in that child’s life are responsible for that fear. Whether it is the mother, teachers, or friends’ parents, these adults are ignorant and need to better educate themselves. Alternatively, they deliberately play into lies in order to advance their own political philosophies. Meanwhile, a child is needlessly terrified.
This is not a Right/Left issue. I am a pro-life proponent, yet I object to posters that show dismembered babies at public rallies because they don’t belong where children can see them. No one should deliberately place horrible images in a child’s mind. Likewise, I would object to a teacher assigning letters to a politician pleading for refugees not to be let into America because students are worried about being blown up by terrorists. Terrifying children is a particularly unwholesome activity.
We walk a fine line between educating our children about issues of the day and passing on our own convictions, and betraying our trust as their guardians. Even when real and immediate danger is present, thrusting our fears onto our children’s fragile shoulders is wrong. Certainly, using them as political pawns is indefensible.