When I was a kid I had an experience that left me thinking how absolutely idiotic many grown-ups were. I don’t want to go into too many details, but it involved false accusations and being plopped down in front of a panel of adults asking me questions about why I did something I didn’t do. Looking back on it makes me think that of 5 or 6 grown-ups involved, my mother and my best friend’s mother were the only ones who acted like they had any sense at all. After that experience I began to notice that many grown-ups were absurd, and many of them weren’t to be trusted. That distrust of the adult system has stayed with me my entire life.
Let me give you some examples. We just finished up the governor’s race here in Georgia, between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. Abrams, the Democrat, has a giant gap between her two front teeth. I noticed people on Facebook wailing and gnashing their teeth over the lack of civility in this country, and then 30 seconds later they post a meme making fun of Ms. Abrams’s teeth. So, grown-ups, do we make fun of people for how they look or nah? It’s not just the Republicans, either. Democrats think it’s okay to mock Melania Trump’s accent because they don’t like her husband. So which is it, grown-ups? Please, tell me. We don’t make fun of people who are different, or we do? No wonder kids are confused.
Example number two is a fun one. We tell our kids to get off the video games while most of us are so attached to our phones it causes withdrawal symptoms comparable to those of a heroin addict if we have to be away from them for more than two minutes. Our children are growing up right before our eyes, but we’re missing it because those Stacey Abrams memes on Facebook are just sooooo hilarious.
My third example is the most heart-breaking. It has to do with what goes on among children that adults have no idea about, and when they’re told, they do nothing. I once heard a speaker who is a survivor of child sexual abuse at the hands of her own father. She listened to the principal say to the children in her elementary school that if someone was hurting them, they could talk to their teacher or guidance counselor and get help. So she tried it. She told the guidance counselor about the abuse, and do you know what the guidance counselor did? She called the girl’s father and asked him if it was true. Has a more stupid thing ever been done? Seriously, how colossally stupid can you be? Predictably, the father lied through his teeth but the girl was branded a liar. After that phone call, the abuse only got worse and the child’s one avenue for help and protection was blocked by an idiot adult.
Another example in schools is the rampant bullying that goes on. The teachers and parents are totally clueless in most cases. Every parent thinks their child is a precious angel sent straight from heaven, but the words that kids know and the way they talk to each other these days is straight from the pit. The No Tolerance policy regarding violence in public schools is a joke. It means that if two kids are fighting, they will both be punished, no matter what led to the fight. So if a 10 year old hauls off and punches another kid that has been taunting him for months on end, he gets in trouble, even though resorting to physical violence is usually the child’s last resort after pleading for help from adults who offer zero protection from the bully.
Or maybe two kids get into a fight but one was defending himself. It doesn’t matter. Both get punished equally. Our adult system doesn’t work like that, so why the hell does it work like that at school? If you’re a grown-up and someone breaks into your house, you have the legal right to beat the living sh!t out of him because we all recognize that self-defense is a worthy cause for violence. But we send our kids into the lions’ den of the public school system, fail to protect them from the lions and then punish them when they protect themselves. Way to go, grown-ups!
One quick Google search will bring you myriad examples of kids silently enduring what amounts to torture every single day at school, and then at home via social media, until they get so fed up they kill themselves. Children that thirty years ago would have been playing Barbies and GI Joe are now offing themselves because they are so deeply miserable. In so many of these stories the parents say they had no idea how severe the bullying was and how depressed and hopeless their child had become. That’s a hard thing for me to wrap my head around, and I don’t want to pile judgement on a parent who is already living a nightmare, but I can’t help but think that those children did in some way ask for help, if not at home then at school, and the grown-ups charged with protecting them failed.
I think we promote this idea that adults are somehow more virtuous and responsible than kids, but the facts don’t support that idea. Adults are constantly doing stupid things, illegal things, things that ruin their lives. You don’t even have to turn on the TV. Just look at the people you know. Someone you know is hiring a hooker, embezzling from his company, popping too many pain pills. The act of aging does not automatically confer maturity, and wisdom is a hard won virtue. They don’t hand it to you with your diploma. Adults have issues, just like kids.
The cluelessness and ineptitude of adults is a common theme in children’s books, because it resonates so deeply with them. Roald Dahl is a master at this. Remember his classic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?” That book is filled with ridiculous adults and their prodigy who get picked off one by one by Willy Wonka, the one adult in the book who seems to “get it.” He understands kindness, hard work, duty, and legacy, all the things grown-ups speak about but often fail to act out. At the same time, Willy Wonka hasn’t lost the magic and wonder intrinsic to childhood. Somehow he has managed to survive growing up without being ruined.
Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” is the same. In it he contrasts the arrogant and cruel Ms. Trunchbull, the archetype of adulthood gone bad, with the kind and helpful Ms. Honey. At home, Matilda’s parents are dishonest, ignorant and mean. At school she is subjected to the wrath of the Trunchbull, the horrid headmaster. Matilda needs an adult she can trust and she finds one in Ms. Honey. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t ruin it for you, but suffice it to say that Ms. Honey and Matilda stick it to the grown-ups in the end.
Kids, especially kids in difficult situations, need Wonkas or Honeys, not Trunchbulls. Let’s all try to be less ridiculous.