Unification News for January 1995



In May I got a job to train high school students to teach sixth graders life skills which can both enhance their chances for success and help them avoid teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and violence. This has taken much time and energy, but it has also been an inspiring and educational experience. I would really appreciate your sending any and all ideas you have that could help this succeed. Perhaps you know of good curriculums, books, or ongoing programs. My focus is on enhancing the resiliency or protective factors--high expectations, caring relationships, and meaningful participation. In Principle terms, these are just the elements necessary for healthy spiritual growth. The bottom line is finding ways to empower them to express their true, original selves. And I think that's the bottom line for all of us, too, so I'd also be very grateful to hear what helps you personally make choices that reflect your original nature. . . . Thank you for any help you can give.

ITN, Victoria Clevenger (see box for address and phone number)

Who killed childhood?

Contributed by Nancy Asmundson, Davis, CA

Nancy writes: "I thought this letter from James Dobson and Focus on the Family [February 1994] was very profound, poignant, and so true."

The words from Ellen Goodman's editorial reminded me of a significant book I read in the 1960's while in college, Theodore Roszak's Making of a Counterculture. It was done before; we can make one again. Here are excerpts from Dr. Dobson's letter.

My letter this month is dedicated to today's parents, and particularly to those special people we call "mothers." There is no assignment on earth that requires the array of skills and understanding needed by a mom in fulfilling her everyday duties-psychologist, doctor, theologian, educator, nurse, chef, taxi driver, fire marshall, and occasional police offer. And if she succeeds in each of these responsibilities, her reward is a quick hug from a rambunctious kid on his way out to play.

God made mothers good at what they do. And He gave them a passion for their children. They would, quite literally, lay down their lives to protect the kids entrusted to their care.

It is precisely this vulnerability that makes parenting so difficult today. Unspeakable dangers haunt our schools and streets that were almost unheard of a generation ago. . . . Newsweek devoted its January 10th cover story to the disturbing topic "Growing Up Scared: How Our Kids Are Robbed of Their Childhood." The article details the daily horror that especially inner-city kids live with and ends:

It gets dark early in the Midwest this time of year. Long before many parents are home from work, the shadows creep up the walls and gather in the corners, while on the carpet a little figure sprawls in the glow emanating from an anchorman's tan. There's been a murder in the Loop, a fire in the nightclub, an indictment of another priest. Red and blue lights swirl in urgent pinwheels as the ambulances howl down the dark streets. And there's one more crime that never gets reported, because there's no one to arrest. Who killed childhood? We all did." [Jerry Adler, Newsweek, January 10, 1994, pp. 43-49.] Unfortunately, the risks to today's children are not limited to physical threats. Parents must also worry about the culture and how it impacts the hearts and minds of their precious kids. Columnist Ellen Goodman wrote a powerful editorial on this topic, a portion of which follows:

Sooner or later, most Americans become card-carrying members of the counterculture. This is not an underground holdout of Hippies. No beads are required. All you need to join is a child.

At some point between Lamaze and PTA, it becomes clear that one of your main jobs as a parent is to counter the culture. What the media deliver to children by the masses, you are expected to rebut one at a time.

But it occurs to me now that the call for "parental responsibility" is increasing in direct proportion to the irresponsibility of the marketplace. Parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment.

Are the kids being sold junk food? Just say no. Is TV bad? Turn it off. Are there messages about sex, drugs, violence all around? Counter the culture.

Mothers and fathers are expected to screen virtually every aspect of their children's lives. To check the ratings on the movies, to read the labels on the CDs, to find out if there's MTV in the house next door. All the while keeping in touch with school and in their free time, earning a living.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a research associate at the Institute for American Values, found this out in interviews with middle-class parents. "A common complaint I heard from parents was their sense of being overwhelmed by the culture. They felt relatively more helpless than their parents."

"Parents," she notes, "see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. It isn't that they can't say no. It's that there's so much more to say no to."

Without wallowing in false nostalgia, there has been a fundamental shift. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition.

Once the chorus of cultural values was full of ministers, teachers, neighbors, leaders. They demanded more conformity, but offered more support. Now the messengers are Ninja Turtles, Madonna, rap groups, and celebrities pushing sneakers. Parents are considered "responsible" only if they are successful in their resistance.

It's what makes child-raising harder. It's why parents feel more isolated. It's not just that American families have less time with their kids. It's that we have to spend more of this time doing battle with our own culture.

It's rather like trying to get your kids to eat their green beans after they've been told all day about the wonders of Milky Way. Come to think of it, it's exactly like that. ["Battling Our Culture is Parent's Task," Ellen Goodman, Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1993.]

Dr. Dobson offers the services of Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 35500, Colorado Springs, CO 80935-3550.

More suggestions to help in winning the culture war: From Maxine Becker, Bloomfield, NJ:

Best tip: Feature Films for Families-an excellent collection of right- on films-call for catalogue-excellent -800-347-2833 for kids and you ("Buttercream Gang," "Buttercream Gang Treasure," "Rigoletto," "Split Infinity," etc.).

Also she adds: I've begun an aerobic walking program-rapid walking for 30 minutes 4 or 5 times a week because at 46 years old I'm determined to be as healthy as I can-for the sake of my family. Please exercise- it changes your life!

From Pepper Parker, Vancouver, WA:

Readers concerned about the media can contact: Americans for Responsible Television, PO Box 627, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48303.

From Denis Manor, Washington, DC:

Here's some info about a magazine that I subscribe to about Christians attacking the ugliness in society: Christian Society Today, a supplement for local bulletins and newsletters from the American Family Association (AFA), PO Drawer 2440, 107 Parkgate, Tupelo, MS 38803.

From Victoria Clevenger:

The AFA says it has more than a million supporters in all 50 states and gives much specific information on people, corporations, and shows to target. It actively seeks to get the entertainment industry to act responsibly, saying, "Our children, families, and country are being hurt too much for us to remain silent."

This is a condensed version of a beautiful story from Dr. Don E. Wildmon, president of the AFA.

I remember an incident about 25 years ago when I was a young minister and my son Tim, who works with me now, was about 5 years old. The day had been rough. It seemed like everything had gone wrong from the moment I woke up and I had been in a mood that even I didn't like. To add to my woes, it seemed that my son had purposely been doing everything he shouldn't. I had been very grouchy with him and had taken very little time to understand or help him. It just seemed as if he were constantly in the way all that day.

Why do we have days like that? One reason may be we get in too big a hurry. We think our much doing and fast going means good living. I think we're wrong. Often we need to "be still and know." Also we forget the eternal presence of the gentle Galilean Carpenter. Life wasn't designed to be lived alone. How often we need to talk things over with our Silent Partner!

Finally it was time for family prayers. If not for habit, I wouldn't have knelt down with my son. I let my son say his prayer first, and then I intended to say a quick one and call it quits. He began in the usual manner, thanking God for several things. Then his voice changed and he ended with a voice so sincere that I thought he was going to cry, saying "And dear God, make me a better little boy. Amen." I was stunned, shocked, humbled, and ashamed. I had only one petition, and it came from the heart: "Dear God, make me a better father. Amen."

The Carpenter once said that those who enter His Kingdom would have to come as a small child. Tim's prayer 25 years ago helped me understand a little better what He meant by that.


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