Young Parents

Every time I go back to Philly, I keep planning to write about this, but I never actually sit down and start chopping. Well I am today. Ambra wrote about parenting a few days ago. This is directly related to anything she mentioned, although I believe it does play a role in the discussion. There are many people who talk about the problem of out-of-wedlock births (don't get me started on the i-word.) and while I could provide a first-hand perspective to much of what's being said, I'm gonna decline for now. While the two-loving-married-parent household is certainly the optimum situation in which to raise children, I've been around enough people to know that it's not a guarantee of anything. Moreover, I think that we fixate on the nuclear family to the exclusion of the extended family. Even with two loving, married parents, Mom and Pop don't know everything and can't handle everything. They need Granny and Grandpa and A'nt Janie and Uncle Buster (who is really not related) and Ms. Nancy from up the block. Sometimes I think people get it twisted and act like just because Hillary used the saying "It takes a village to raise a child" it's all of a sudden some pinko mantra. It's the truth. Everybody over a certain age knows that if your neighbor caught you out there cuttin' up, you would get it from them and when your parents found out, you would get it again. Your parents (if you were blessed to have two) did the best they could, but unless you were a part of the Family Robinson (Swiss, Mountain, or Space) your parents had some help. Even the Space Family Robinson had Dr. Smith and the robot to help keep those hardheaded kids in check (although Dr. Smith probably needed more watching than Will). Naw, the bigger problem, or at least a more confounding problem is the age at which many of these girls are getting pregnant and the consequences that arise because of it. As a general rule, young people have no parenting skills. Now, I'll be the first to say that parenting skills are developed by time on task, just like everything else. Nobody has a baby and then automatically knows what to do. It's all trial, error, and adjustment like any other skill. At the same time, it seems to me that when a person is below a certain age, they simply lack the tools to raise kids. I guess I should be up front and say that it's probably not purely a function of chronological age, because some people are more mature than others. That's just life. It's also a fact that in times past, women were married at much younger ages, so while a female might have been a teen mother, she was married, so we would look at it differently. That's where the extended family comes in. If it wasn't for Uncle Billy and A'nt Peaches 'nem looking out for Mom and Pop, who were young and didn't know what the devil they were doing, we would be in a whole, whole lotta trouble instead of the whole lotta trouble that we're in. In the book, Moral Capitalism Steven Young asserts that our whole way of life is partially based on the market-created idea of the teenager. In cultures where the extended family is still the dominant paradigm, there is no stage of life where an individual is too old to be treated as a child, but not old enough to be treated as an adult, and that's it. You move from childhood to adulthood in steps, increasing in responsibility along the way. A teenager is a marketer's wet dream: impressionable with a pocket full of money and no responsibility. Well, the thing is that even though people are technically teenagers for only 7 years, we keep finding ways to extend that period. Credit cards are just a means of giving false depth to those pockets. But that's another discussion for another time. For right now, let's concentrate on the fact that in our culture the teen years are supposed to be a time of very limited responsibility. Some parents may do it differently, but the overall protocol I'm working with is this: once a child gets past 12, they act wild and go against what the parents have been teaching and all that foolishness. Then, at some point in the future, they get a little wisdom and realize that their parents were right in the first place. Not saying that's how it should go, but we'll just take that as a given and go on from there. Teenagers as a group have no sense. Sure there's a sensible one here and there, but overall they don't know a thing. The problem is, they don't know they're ignorant yet. They think they have it all figured out and that older people are the ones who don't really know what it's about. And I'm not just talking about parenting skills here, I'm talking about every aspect. Making matters worse is the fact that teenagers really are a viable market, so their tastes are catered to by Madison Avenue, which makes them think that everything they think/say/do (read: will buy) is legitimate. Therefore we get a stylistically sterile version of hip-hop whose dominant paradigm is that of abnormal normality (thug life, keepin' it real = shootouts, bling bling, big-booty hoes walkin around nearly naked all the time, etc.) So what happens when people at this stage of life have kids? Well we already know, don't we? Parents and kids should not be interested in the same things at the same time unless the child is "old" for zer age. In other words, the mother and daughter shouldn't be close enough in age to both be excited about going to an Usher concert. (Now R. Kelly…that's another story…) There's no accounting for tastes, so maybe that's a bad example, but a mother should have some seasoning on her life before she starts trying to raise a child. If the mama doesn't know anything but partying then that's all she'll be able to pass on to the child. Like I mentioned once before, this problem is compounded in school, because in many cases, the F1 generation is lacking in educational resources (e.g. high school diploma, grade-level reading skills), which already puts the F2 generation at a disadvantage. That's before we start talking about bad attitudes and mistrust of authority figures like teachers. That's just basic "if the mama can't spell cat, the child probably won't be able to, either." Kinda like the old Flip Wilson routine where he was like "if you wanna see two ugly people, follow an ugly kid home." What really disturb me is when I see the F2 generation of young parents dealing with their own seeds. They don't have a clue for what to do themselves, and the only model they had was the F1 parents, who didn't know anything, so it's all about cussing the child out and beating the child b/w spoiling the child. No clear plan or set of rules by which the child will be raised, because truthfully, the parent is still a child. They literally grow up together and as my head coach used to say, "they're dumb together."