This growing collection of unresolved problems has now amassed to near unsustainable proportions.
Presented below are the top ten toxic trends that are hurting this current generation and, ultimately, the rest of us. Some are familiar because they have been around awhile but they may now claim higher priority because it is affecting greater numbers of children. Other trends are new, or fairly new, but have come onto the scene rather quickly.
There are certainly more troubling trends than listed here and space doesn't allow for exhaustive treatment of these ten.
They meet at least two criteria: a. the amount of damage the issue is causing children as a population, b. the long term effect the issue has on the well being of society.
This would probably not make it on any other list but I believe it has great bearing on the future of our society. It’s no longer just a matter of neglecting to teach children respect for the flag and other American emblems. It’s no longer just a matter of losing our collective identity because of the various pressures from multiculturalism. Both of these have been slow burning concerns.
It has now risen to my top ten because it has gone from benign neglect to outright attack on the basic principles of American exceptionalism. It has gone from a scattered, regional issue to a systematic, nationwide effort to undermine national pride and patriotism. But we at Patrick Henry have and always will make patriotism a hallmark of what we teach and demonstrate.
9. Too much stuff:
Materialism has been a mounting problem since the 1950’s but because of advancements in technology it has reached new heights of concern. Today’s children have more things than any previous generation but it has not made them any healthier, smarter, spiritual or kind. It’s not just the abundance of things that concerns me. It’s also their ungrateful attitude about their possessions.
Additionally, they are eating too much junk food and they have far too much leisure time. The epidemic of obesity and other health problems is just one symptom of an inner illness that pervades our young. Their time spent on electronics resembles that of an addict. Their obsessive and self-centered use of social media seems narcissistic. In short, I am worried because this generation wants more and more, faster and faster. Where does it go from here?
It is an issue we try very hard at Patrick Henry Family Services to find proper balance. People want to bless the children in our care and we are extremely thankful for that but if we aren’t careful it can quickly get out of hand. We make sure our children have everything they need and many of the things they want. But we put limits on it because we believe that moderation and appreciation is very important for children to learn.
8. Over reliance on medications:
I believe we are over diagnosing our children with syndromes they do not have and filling them with medications they do not need because we have lost all common sense in this country when it comes to dealing with the behaviors of children. Over seventy percent of the children that come to Patrick Henry are on one or more (usually more) psychotropic medications to control their “undesirable behavior”.
There is much we have learned from the medical and psychological model and medication is necessary for some children with certain needs but there is simply no substitution for healthy activities, structure, character building, and religious instruction.
We must also remember that more and more children are suffering psychological and emotional pain caused by the adults in their life. Sometimes simply getting them away from those negative environments and hurtful relationships does a great deal more good than a daily pill. We have seen many of our residents successfully weaned from those medications after they have been with us awhile.
7. Loss of childhood:
While children need discipline and structure they also need freedom to be kids. Imaginative play, exploring the great outdoors, rowdy games, laughter, and healthy competition should be a natural part of growing up. But children are losing those opportunities to electronics that keep them indoors and locked in front of a screen.
Recently an elementary school principal issued a letter to all the parents asking them to monitor their children’s access to Grand Theft Auto, an R rated adult themed video game filled with graphic images of sex and violence. Children in his school as young as six were acting out scenes of murder and rape and their language was becoming so abusive and threatening that he had to act.
One of the biggest reasons we invested in Hat Creek Camps and Conferences is to provide a place and a time for children to regain their childhood. We believe there are many therapeutic benefits in the simple acts of swimming in a lake, hiking a trail, roasting a marshmallow over an open fire, playing in a mud pit, and singing silly songs.
6. Acceptance of Marijuana:
Legal and social acceptance of pot in our society is accelerating an already existing drug problem. I’ve had children argue with me that there is nothing wrong with smoking marijuana because their parents do. One young man even told me that his grandmother would make him go to the local dealer to buy her “weed.”
Since we are not set up to be a drug rehab facility we have to turn away many children because they have issues with drugs. Unfortunately, we are turning more and more away and the troubling trend is that we are seeing it happening to younger and younger children.
5. Bullying and other violence:
There have always been bullies in school but there is a new medium for harassment. The “cyber bully” can now reach into his/her victim’s home and cause all kinds of harm. It’s not just the new form of bullying that is unsettling but the level of viciousness now associated with it. Some young people have committed suicide as their only escape from their tormentors. This should never be.
The “knock-out game” where teens earn points by hitting innocent victims, is the latest manifestation of a growing culture of violence. I don’t have to explain why this is extremely troubling.
Children need to be safe. They must feel secure physically and emotionally in order to grow and mature. This is our first and foremost concern at Patrick Henry and is one of the main purposes of our ministry.
4. Failing education system:
Despite spending more than ever before, our schools continue to struggle. Their failure is due in part to increasing demands placed on them to solve society’s problems. As the plight of children worsens, it is the schools on the frontline that are forced to deal with those problems instead of focusing on education which, ironically enough, would do more than just about anything else to solve many of them. Add to that the mountain of bureaucratic regulations and crazy policies like zero tolerance and you can see why the schools are in trouble.
But even if the schools manage to focus on their mission they are now indoctrinating more than teaching. The public school system is becoming more politicized as the federal government leverages them to accomplish their desires, often to the dismay of local communities who feel that their social and moral standards are under attack.
This is a growing concern for us at Patrick Henry. Eighty percent of the children who come to us are one to three grades behind. This is why we are adding more educational support for our residence and this fall plan to offer, for the first time, in-house schooling for any of our residents who need it. .
3. Sex and gender confusion:
The scope of this toxic trend is deeper and wider than you might imagine. Surveys show that today’s youth are struggling with sexual identity. It is not uncommon to hear teenagers proclaim that they are bisexual because they think it is cool yet cannot really explain what that means.
Gender confusion is also a growing concern among today’s youth. Gender blending, or simply not having clear concepts of masculinity or femininity, is now common place. I fear where this trend will lead our young people and the undue pain it will cause many. I am also concerned about the effect this issue will have on ministries like ours.
2. Entitlement mentality:
All children today have a sense of entitlement. That shouldn’t surprise us since the culture at large is becoming more entitled. Part of this issue, as we discussed earlier, is that children have too many things and too much time on their hands.
It is also largely because children are not learning a work ethic. They are not working (partly because there is no meaningful work for them to do), expected to work, or taught the value of work as the method for getting the things they want and need. Children that we serve can have particularly strong attitude of entitlement because they also have a perception of victimization.
To counter this we have implemented a work-study program for our residents. Work is taught, encouraged, and expected. Whether it is daily or weekly chores that every child is assigned, group work projects, or actually earning the right to have a paid work-study position, work is an essential element in our programming.
1. Broken family structure and bad parenting:
This is the core of the problem. So many of the other issues could be avoided or more easily overcome when there is an intact, functioning family structure. But as you already know, that is available to fewer children today. Divorce, cohabitation, single parenthood, fatherlessness, child abuse and neglect, bad parenting, and dysfunctional family dynamics are causing harm to an ever increasing percentage of children. What are we to do?
Patrick Henry realized long ago that we must work with families and not just care for children. We must try to meet the needs of families before crisis causes the need for residential care. Through our Hope for Tomorrow Counseling Centers we are doing just that. Soon we will add parenting classes to the array of services we offer families.
But there is so much more that needs to be done. And we will do what we can as soon as we can. This is my vision.
To meet the needs of every child before us, resulting in the maximum impact for that child, in the shortest time possible, in the most efficient way possible, always in a loving and professional manner.