This ongoing carnage is both a tragedy and a national embarrassment. It’s also something that’s seemingly at odds with our nation’s self-image when it comes to what we believe is the ideal way to take care of children. While there’s a push to ban bumpers in cribs because they increase the risk an infant will get trapped within them and suffocate, fathers and (especially) mothers have all too often turned themselves into human bumpers, vetting everything from toddler music groups to their adult child’s first office environment.
In the just-published book “Love, Money & Parenting,” economics professors Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti point out that we parent our own children the way we do for a basic reason: In the age of inequality, helicopter parenting works. The children of parents who swoop in and offer guidance with homework, hire tutors and send their toddlers to music classes will do better when it comes to academics, attending college and receiving a post-graduate education. This is why we went from the lackadaisical parenting of the 1970s to the smothering standards afterward. It wasn’t, as many think, because we suddenly became frightened by exceedingly rare child kidnappings. It’s because an income and wealth gap opened up, one that soon became a chasm. As opportunity became more constricted, we focused on ourselves and our loved ones.
But that decision, as rational as it can seem, ultimately leaves our children vulnerable in other, more important ways. No matter what one does, it’s impossible to fully protect children — or grown-ups — from the greater harm that can happen to them in the United States, a country where shootings are so common that the vast majority barely merit a day or two in the news cycle, where a combination of lack of government funding and a rapacious for-profit higher education sector has saddled a generation of young adults with life-altering amounts of debt. Then there is the onrushing catastrophe of global warming, which will change the earth as we know it during our children’s lifetimes unless we start taking action now. Instead of treating global warming like the emergency it is, President Trump and his Republican Party denies it and makes bad jokes about it when not rolling back environmental regulations put in place to combat the threat.
This status quo is unacceptable to the younger generations, who, in time-honored fashion, are calling their elders out for their hypocrisy. Millennials and Generation Z are not just more socially liberal than Generation X and Baby Boomers; they are also more likely to believe global warming is caused by human activity, and to say they want to see a more activist government. “When you don’t take action, things like this will eventually happen to you,” Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg said days after the massacre at his school. “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action.” He was referring specifically to gun violence, but his words apply to almost all the issues making all our lives tougher, harder and more precarious. It is time to take action — on gun control, on global warming, on income and wealth inequality and, most important, on our society’s lack of concern for all the children. They are, after all, our future. There’s nothing more important than that.