Julian is five and sister Marie is a mere four years old. The children's room is clean and orderly, but squalor is not always characterized by dirt, filth, and hunger. There is another kind of squalor, though seldom overt, the squalor of mind and soul.
Its effects are more subtle and silent, and it is not always obvious. Even years later, people often fail to make the connection between the desolation of one’s values and how someone's life took a bad turn. Spiritual poverty and the absence of moral principles have already become a social phenomenon.
The children's room features a television set, a video-recorder, and even a computer that is used to play "educational children's games." Is there a tricycle? No. Building blocks or a Lego set? No. String games and stickers? No. Modeling clay and finger paints? No.
But there is a cell phone, and there are other "games" that produce noises at the push of a button, such as sirens going off and tirades of verbal abuse in foreign languages. Some people find them amusing.
Mom is at work at a supermarket. Dad set out breakfast early—cold cereal, but the milk is no longer cold. He had to go and apply for a job. He is home more now that he has lost his job, which was fun at first; but now we must not speak with him too much. When he gets back he will cook dinner. Perhaps it will be edible today. The best would be pizza or something from a can. At least that would taste good.
Kindergarten? Julian remembers—it was nice. There were many children, though you always had to play outside, and there was no TV. But he liked it anyway. Little Marie has never been to kindergarten, though she imagines it to be a nice place. She would rather go to the playground with her father, though. For quite a while now he hasn’t wanted to go there. He really doesn’t know what to do with children—not his kind of thing. It’s the same with the household chores.
Violence Does Not Seem Real
So they laugh at "Sponge Bob" and the monster TV programs. That’s what they like. The characters always clobber each other, but they don't get hurt. Even if each episode shows a string of things being chopped to pieces or exploding, afterwards everyone is still alive and Dad is glad the children aren’t disturbing him as he watches his DVDs, one after another.
When Mom and Dad quarrel because she wants him to go to the store with her, the children know to stay out of the way: Being present could lead to a slap on the face. They either sneak away or become completely quiet during these spats—at least when Mom yells in anger or when the beer is runs out.
Sometimes Mom brings sweets for them when she gets home. Then the children are happy. But lately she seems really tired. She yells more than usual at Dad for not doing enough around the house. He could easily run the vacuum cleaner, put a load of laundry into the machine, or at least straighten things up. She bursts into tears and no longer wants to play.
The TV ‘Babysitter’
Scenes like the ones described above have become everyday occurrences for many families in Germany. Often, financial needs enter the equation, or the separation of partners brings added mental turmoil.
Children are not the only victims. The parents, or a single parent, may also feel deserted.
Often basic skills are lacking—how to cook, iron, or manage one’s finances. The adults lack the necessary tools to manage their lives, and the children become a burden.
The parents look for relief from some of the responsibility. No grandma available? Why not use the TV as "grandma." It is always available and dependable—and it creates a new kind of desertion of responsibilities.
Questions arise: How did our parents manage? Did they have washing machines, disposable diapers, ready-made baby food, or daycare centers? Even when there was a kindergarten, only those children four or older could attend, and then only for part of the day. Children went home for lunch.
Yet our parents must have had a way to manage their lives.
Young mothers today appear distraught—completely exhausted and helpless. Without training, they find themselves unable to manage the demands of a household and a child. Perhaps they were not taught to plan ahead. Did their upbringing emphasize freeing them from schoolwork or making sure they had fun rather than on preparing them to take responsibility for their futures?
Learning for Life
The statement "one cannot recall or use anything one has not learned and practiced" is a truism. After learning to ride a bike or to swim, one will never unlearn the skill. But the later in life one learns these skills, the more effort one must invest.
What a child learns easily through play may be an ordeal for an adult to learn. The same applies to running a household and raising children. Success requires understanding and mastering the necessary skills to maintain a marriage, run a household, and raise children. Many parents today, however, have little to draw on, save memories of enjoying their own childhood, or thinking they were the most important person in the world.
They did not learn the most critical skills in school, and due in part to a teacher shortage, these subjects are now gone from the curriculum. If voluntary afternoon classes are offered, only a few ambitious students attend.
Some may have thought that it wasn’t important to teach or participate in life skills, which are ultimately more crucial than joining a bicycle club, tennis club, martial arts club, or participating in ballet lessons or aerobics.
Much of the modern school curriculum is geared toward teaching students new information. But who teaches them how to peel and cook potatoes? Who shows them how a washing machine works? Or how to make a proper campfire for roasting wieners? How does one learn to open a can without a can opener? And why is it that pizza cooked in the microwave doesn’t turn out well?
How does a baking oven work without electricity? Why does laundry need washing in the first place? Why does the house and one's bedding need airing out? What does one do about vermin? How does the milk get into the box? How does one handle an infant? Why can’t children eat the same foods as adults? How does one climb a tree—and why?
‘But I Meant Well’
Children who enjoy a comfortable life often have no clue what it means to live responsibly. This might be due to their parents' notion: "My child should have it better than me." Such a notion clearly demonstrates how well-meaning intentions can produce poor results. It leads to children who view their mothers as maids and other aberrations.
What the children learn is to emphasize comfort. How can they then eventually raise their own children properly? They have not learned how. Such a notion contradicts all principles of learning.
Having children of one's own and raising them as responsible individuals is a huge accomplishment—one that supersedes all other possibilities for one’s life.
Return to Innocence
This becomes a political issue—how to support these challenged parents and enable them to embrace the challenges. They need assistance and courses that teach the required skills. They need numerous "replacement grandmas and grandpas"—people who are willing to empower these bewildered, abandoned parents by sharing their knowledge, patience, self-management skills, and self-motivational abilities.
These parents need to know it is not their fault they are floundering. How could they know what they weren’t taught?
It does no good to merely point fingers and demand change, or to express public outrage and chastise them. We need to look at the root cause of their problems and return to tried and true ways of teaching life skills.
Long-Lasting Effects of Goal Setting
How can we help parents? The media complains about lack of materials and financial resources. Yet the media constantly reports on leisure time activities and celebrations. The message that work is only something for a narrow segment of the population is emphasized along with the notion that “only dimwitted people work.”
We permit advertisements, children's programs, and TV series that present a picture of life proceeding from school to retirement benefits. No mention is made of the arduous road one must follow during the wage-earning years. It is not surprising that these media messages lead us to a mental and spiritual wasteland.
The crucial issue is not curriculum content. Making a difference in someone’s future life is a matter of goals and values. The presence or lack of these goals and values can enhance or impede one’s success in life.
A re-examination of how to impart ethical behavior in the education and nurturing of children is a not-so-novel approach that may help us regain our heart for child rearing.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.