One of the most frightening aspects of these times is our seemingly blasé disregard for the welfare of the world’s children. It is depressing to us all and suggests that we may be in for some dark days ahead. Children were not always separated out as a protected group in human societies. The harsher the conditions for survival the more likely children are to be treated as adults at an early age. Children helped families in their hunting, farming, marketing, housework, cooking and all endeavors undertaken by families to scratch out an existence. Only in families with secure incomes were children allowed to linger late into more prolonged childhoods.
It is a fairly recent development in societies with a large and thriving middle class that children are allowed to develop without many adult duties all throughout their teens. If we are totally honest this has not necessarily helped children in some ways. But many children also thrive under this freedom and experiment with adult roles until they are able to find where their talents lie. Teens who careen wildly through early years of free choices often still straighten out and become valuable contributors to the societies in which they live, although they run a greater risk of injury, death, or running into legal difficulties as they tend to experiment with pushing boundaries and testing limits.
We don’t, however, in most modern cultures believe that five year olds should be working on farms morning to night (although farm duties are still appropriate for young people). We don’t send children into factories. We send them into schools, both boys and girls, because young minds soak up knowledge easily and it tends to stay with them throughout their lives. So education is the work of young people in most cultures in these times. Girls do not have to be married at puberty; they are allowed to grow to mental and emotional maturity before they join a relationship, and to have satisfying or boring careers of their own. In fact, many modern families would find their lifestyles curtailed by lack of funds without two incomes.
But we are also aware that children, in our times, are losing ground as a specially protected and cherished commodity by the decline in the hands-off attitude that has pertained in the developed world. And children have not only lost ground in undeveloped countries. Last night suicide bombers who may have been young people themselves went to a rock concert in Manchester and committed as much mayhem as they could. This happened to be a rock concert that attracted lots of very young teens. As I watched the coverage on MSNBC last night, ambulances kept arriving at a Children’s hospital bringing more young victims, hopefully only wounded. We know that nineteen people died, and we do not know that some of the dead are children.
People get strangely inured to events when they happen too often. It is cowardly to target children. They are just beginning their lives. They are easy targets. It certainly revs up the outrage and gets better news coverage but it begins to lose much of its shock value and that is not a good thing. We have so many examples from which to choose. We have our own shame in this arena with the attacks by children of our own on other children in our schools beginning with Columbine and, so far and forever we hope, peaking with the deaths of 26 children and teachers at Newtown. The parents of these children have been treated so callously by our own Congress which seemed to only be passionate about saving rights to own guns (guns that did not even exist at the time the Constitution was written).
Some pseudo revolutionary thugs steal girls from a school and no one can get them back until much later when all the things we suspected would be done to them have been done and they are children no more. In many nations children are still needed to contribute to the economic survival of their families and must grow up early and forgo an education, which puts them behind the “earnings” curve for generations, unless they are lucky enough to find a way to rise through private enterprise or get an education later in life. We know that trafficking young girls and even young boys is still a thriving business in a world that should be far more enlightened by now. We know that terrorists find young minds just as susceptible to propaganda as they are to any more general educational training. Children are truly little sponges that you can sway in almost any direction by what information you feed them. People exploit this. However appalling we find these things we seem unable to wipe them out, and perhaps we never will. Even our own Republicans say that our schools are turning out little liberals and are trying to undermine public education so they can teach “their own values” to their children.
We may not like the idea that we are more aware of cultures at a global level as opposed to a national level and we are not at all ready to give up our national boundaries, but the entire world is now pretty much “woke”, to use a term invented by today’s youth (I think) and we are all intermingled everywhere on the planet. There is now always someone from outside a culture to witness what is going on inside a culture and what we are seeing is not always pretty. Will humans ever overcome their flawed nature and find better levels of control over antisocial impulses that are generated internally as opposed to externally? Possibly not. But that is the benefit of nations with strong economies and educated citizens, that atrocities against children tend to go down. That is why it is frightening to see that this particularly important value seems to be losing currency, and that is one of the things that makes us feel that we might be headed for some dark days ahead.