Jewish World Review Jan. 17, 2002/ 4 Shevat, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Too old too soon


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- THE young 'un in front of me in the pizza line had sculptured nails, complete with French manicure. Her toes in her platform sandals were also vive la France. A too-tight midriff top revealed her navel as well as the texture of her skin. However, there isn't much bas-relief on an 11-year-old. I had inquired about her age by lifting her highlighted cornrows from her multi-pierced ears.

It was her pants lodged on her ball and hammer sockets that piqued my curiosity. Gravity coupled with a cell phone on her belt could have easily landed the pants on the toe manicure. Anatomy hung in the balance with technology.

She was Jon-Benet Ramsey with Madonna earthiness and Dolly Parton cosmetics. One could blame her tasteless look on the follies of youth. But a child is not so accessorized without adult acquiescence. Instead of an E-Z-Bake Oven, or for feminist children, a Sylvia Plath mood ring or a Simone de Beauvoir existentialist doll, parents gave a child the look of promiscuity, lax supervision, and no childhood.

This theme has sprung from my pen before, when 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff attempted a cross-country flying record. She and her father were killed when they took off in a blinding rainstorm, judgment seized by the father's drive. Both mother and pundits talked of Jessica's joyous death in the realization of a goal.

Children at age 7 can't stay focused long enough during a four square game to figure out that the ball is coming their way. Their goals involve Twix bars and Game Cube's Super Monkey Ball, with the latter including a goal of reaching Floor 18.

Jessica was a victim of parents who find vicarious glory in driving, or flying, their children to goals. These parents push their offspring to the edge. This week has witnessed the Massachusetts trial of Thomas Junta for his pummeling of another father at his son's hockey team's practice game. Manslaughter over children's sports?

The parental flying theme has returned. The late Charles Bishop, a 15-year-old Osama bin-Laden groupie with 2 years of flying experience crashed a plane into a Bank of America building in Florida as a kamikaze tribute to his idol. What the heck was a 15-year-old doing flying? They are frightening with Nintendo controls, let alone flight controls. And to think he had been doing this since he was 13. Thirteen-year-olds are just plain frightening. Plane frightening as well.

Teens aren't even safe on the ground. New data from the National Transportation Safety Board show that 16-year olds are responsible for about 20 percent of all auto accidents. They don't have the judgment and discernment to get out of bed on time in the morning, let alone drive. The wild blue yonder is a bit much for them.

Young Mr. Bishop was a parental victim of the same type as the 11-year-old pizza line harlot. Their parents aren't pushing for goals. Rather, they are lavishing out of guilt and a desire for a whine-free existence with children. To compensate for time not spent, marriages tossed to the wind and the precious gift of self, parents indulge children with whatever their little hearts desire. Or they buy quiet time by simply giving in.

The fallout from giving them too much too soon, including independence, is that they become Charles Bishops and John Walker Taliban Lindhs. Without guidance, rules and parameters, children make really awful choices.

Each of my children has struggled with this simple math concept: If 4 +5=9, then 5+4 =9, ergo 9-4=5 and 9-5=4. To most adults, educated before rain forest math, this series seems almost intuitive - we have always known these interrelationships.

But, we didn't. There is intricate processing in making these connections and children, in back-to-basics schools, anyway, learn this concept through repetition. They do pages of practice, beginning with filling in the blanks: if 6+__=9, then 3+___=9 and 9-___=6. They are guided through reasoning before they are asked to generate the four different combinations with no blanks, no prompts and no assistance.

Such are their little lives. Too many parents are not helping with the blanks before releasing children to free-form creation. Too many parents also force children to free-form before they are ready. The formula for parenting these days is, "If 3 +6+9, then what is 6+3? Well, Johnny, it is whatever you want it to be."

Parents hand their children too much too soon. Too many credit cards. Too much discretionary cash. Too much time on their hands. Too much makeup. Too many goals for children who need practice at life. They are children because they're childish.

They should be guided, cajoled, nurtured and restrained. But they shouldn't fill in the blanks without sheets of instruction. They could use the look and feel of youth a while longer. And they shouldn't be flying planes when their feet can't reach the pedals.


JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

Up

01/10/02: Ethically challenged firms
01/03/02: The year that was
12/27/01: The Twelve Days of inconsistency
12/20/01: Free Speech and the political spectrum
12/13/01: Curbing brats
12/06/01: Power to influence
11/29/01: The disappearing art of grading
11/21/01: The Big Two-Five
11/13/01: You can never find a lib when you need one
11/01/01: Unlucky in sports
10/26/01: An epidemic of counselitis
10/16/01: A touch of class
10/12/01: Of human nature and monsters
10/05/01: Sensitive man
10/01/01: Post-September 11 security
09/20/01: No tinhorn terrorists can frighten us
09/06/01: If there is no honor in youth sports, it is because of the adults
08/27/01: The draw of Condit
08/23/01: Lowering expectations and flying high
08/17/01: Thoreau, Walden and stems cells
08/13/01: Our masters: The animals
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05/18/01: Clothes make the woman
05/11/01: Selective precaution
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04/27/01: The Horowitz revelations as seen by a college professor
04/20/01: First, let's kill all the tests
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03/15/01: Columbine redux: Moral infants
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01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
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12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
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10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
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09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
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08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings