anniversary. He spoke about the direct connection between the civil rights movement and
his election to be President of the United States. He also talked about parents and children.
He urged parents to throw out the Xbox and encourage their children to read and study.
Parents should instill high expectations in their children, telling them that they can accomplish
anything they set their minds to achieving. Education, the President proclaimed, is the key
to success and the future of this nation.
As I listened to the President, I found myself nodding in agreement to most of
his points; but it was the Xbox comment that set me off. The comment almost seems
to cast the President as a 21st Century Luddite. As I listened to him, other voices started
to resonate in my mind's ear. There were those who didn't want children to watch television
at all. It was going to rot their brains and wreck civilization as we know it. (OK, I admit
"Dancing My Ass Off", "Jon and Kate", "Survivor", and Fox News do give some credence to
that argument, but...) Others didn't want children to watch Elvis or "Sesame Street" or
cartoons, rock videos, MTV, or Nickelodeon. Still other parents didn't want children
listening to any Rock or the Beatles or Rap music, because any one of these could lead
children down the road to perdition. Some parents and parent's groups still try to ban
books they don't want their children to read including "The Catcher In the Rye",
"Huckleberry Finn", "Slaughterhouse Five", and "Fahrenheit 451". If we shut off the TV,
take away their iPods, throw out all the video games, and control what they read; our
children will turn out like we want them to, and grow up to be productive citizens. As I
listened to all of this, all I can think about is a song about houses made out of "ticky-tacky"
and little boxes which all look the same.
I have watched more television and listened to more radio than almost anyone
I know. On Saturday mornings I turned on cartoons at 7am, and watched everything from
"Bugs Bunny" to "Yogi Bear" to "Spaceghost" until at least noon. Show's like "Mayor Art",
"Captain Satellite", "Jack's Place", "Captain Fortune", and "Marshall J" were must-see
shows in my day.
My children watched "Sesame Street", "The Electric Company", "Zoom", and numerous
Nickelodeon programs as they were growing up. (OK, I let them watch "Barney"; and that
might have been a mistake.) We bought music videos about "Ole King Cole" and all kinds of
other songs which they loved. At the same time, they would watch the news and opinion
shows with me, and I would ask them what they think. They knew what CNN was when
their contemporaries were still finding their way to "Sesame Street". When video games
appeared on the scene, they played everything fro Mario Brothers to GAME BOY to
PlayStation to Xbox. None of this ever gave me a reason to be concerned about their
At the same time that they watched TV and played games, their mother would
read to them every night while they sat and ate dinner. She picked books she hoped would
interest them; and one of their favorites was "Cheaper By the Dozen". They also watched
as their mother devoured a book almost every week, and I would pour through newspapers
and magazines. We talked about politics and issues in front of them, and we took them
with us each year to the polling place when we voted. My children scoffed at the notion of
a scary movie until my wife rented "Jaws" and we watched it together. They discovered
"Narnia" and all nine volumes; and eventually were captivated by "The Lord of the Rings"
and "Harry Potter". We did not like it when our children started listening to Rap and
Hip-Hop music. I didn't like the language; while my wife didn't like the misogyny that
she heard. We could have banned it, I guess; but it would not have stopped them from
listening to it, and maybe even making it more attractive. I would listen to a song in the
car with them; and then turn off the radio to ask them if they agreed with the language or
how women were referenced to, or if they thought getting high or drunk was a good thing
for people to do.
This was not a household of few rules with parents who were trying to be "friends"
with their children. There were clear limits about behavior and actions. They were to
respect their elders and be well-behaved in public and in theaters or restaurants.
At the end of the day, despite TV and videos and Xboxes and computers, my
children and millions of others are wonderful, goal-oriented, informed, compassionate
human beings. They didn't need to be sheltered from the world; but rather have grown up
inundated by their world, and given the tools to make their way through that which is
valuable and that which is a waste of their time. (Yes, I know I come off as a proud parent
because I am; and I love them very much.)
The President's message to parents should be one which encourages all forms of
interaction with their children. Parents need to read to their children, talk to them, play
with them, go to back-to-school nights, study with them, and build their self-esteem. The
problem is not the Xbox. The problem is a society where both parents have to work to make
ends meet. Parents have to stay in jobs that they may hate, or which consume way too much
time because they need the health insurance their employer supplies. Parents have to work
on weekends, and take less and less vacation because they are afraid of losing their jobs if
they are gone too long.
As a society we have lost a quality of life that would enable parents to spend more
time with their children. We have abandoned our commitment to quality public education,
at the same time that we cut money for libraries and the arts. Arts and music programs
have been reduced along with most other extra-curricular activities that we took for granted.
The President wants the Xbox turned off and thrown out. I understand what he
meant to say, but his message needs to be clearer. A nation that produces good jobs, great
education, effective healthcare, and a public square which has music, art, books, and
assorted community activities that bring us together; is a nation in which our children will
thrive and grow up with high expectations for their lives. A nation that really cares about
children will have clean air and water. My children can watch TV, listen to the music they
wish, go to movies, and play computer and video games; but they also know they are loved
and we expect them to lead good and productive lives. If we really care about our children,
the greatest gift we can give them is hope. They need to be able to believe that their lives
will be better than the past. Without hope, our children will opt for short-term fixes and
pleasures that won't benefit them in the long run. President Obama needs to press for
an agenda of hope. A child with loving parents and hope can play an Xbox or anything else,
and will still grow up well. Isn't that what we all want for our children? What do you think?
I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org