Ignorance and Want

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.  –  A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

These are frightening economic times and the fact that it’s the Christmas season doesn’t make it any less so; in some ways, it makes it even worse.  This is the time when kids are supposed to get the gifts for which they ask and when they can tell that things aren’t good – and they aren’t stupid, they know – most parents feel even more pressure to keep Christmas alive for the kids.  It hasn’t helped that in the past fifty years, Madison Avenue has had a heyday blurring the lines between wants and needs.  Many parents will tilt further giving the kids what they want thinking that that’s what they need to allay the fear of things spiraling out of control.

But Dickens had it correct as the greatest concern is the ignorance of our children.  Many parents work to satisfy the wants of the child and some are recognizing the economic necessity and shifting to providing for the needs instead. Many families are caught in the economic bind however as some are un- or underemployed while others are working longer hours to just keep up the status quo.  Coming home to a brisk routine of homework/childcare, chores and bedtime leaves many parents perpetually harried and looking for ways to gain a little rest.  Understanding that children do create additional time demands and some mayhem, parents let the kids entertain themselves with all manner of electronic devices.  We permit them to anesthetize themselves so that we can in turn be anesthetized from the daily grind of life. 

So the kids get what they want, but the downside to the barrage of electronics is ignorance.  The kids can multitask, download and interact electronically in ways that even many young parents find unimaginable yet they are profoundly ignorant of the actual world around them.  They see YouTube videos of accidents that, while funny, inflict injury and aren’t touched or concerned when something happens in front of them.  They don’t learn the everyday mechanisms and procedures of how the world around them works and often with profound effects. While I don’t expect kids to understand the role of a notary public in land records, the ghastly lapses in the Florida and New York foreclosure cases are an adult version of what happens when techno-savants are permitted to monkey with centuries-old systems and policies.  Simply put, kids have no clue of how to function in the daily world because the adults aren’t teaching them.

This ignorance – how and why things are the way that they are, how they work and what things really mean – is a profound handicap for a child when he becomes an adult.  The reality is that it can only be remedied through intentional and significant time with the parents and away from a screen.  A videogame won’t explain why somebody acted in a certain way or why it’s important to know to follow rules or even to be able to lose gracefully.  It won’t explain the difference between a playmate and a friend, literally the difference between someone who’ll toss a ball with you and then stab you in the back before the teacher or spread gossip about you.   A computer screen won’t teach the physical skills of how to hold a knife or reinforce the need for consistently good manners at the table.  All of these things will only come from the parent who is willing to spend the time necessary to bring the child along in the world. 

One of a father’s greatest – and most important – jobs is to teach.  Yes, the dishes need to be washed and the yard needs to be mowed, but our children need our time and attention even more.  Our sons and daughters are our primary responsibility and our greatest gift to them is our time, a phenomenally priceless yet cheap commodity that satisfies both their needs and wants.  Take the time to read to them and play with them, incorporate their presence into your activities as much as possible and turn off your own devices when they come to you.  You may feel guilty for taking the time to "play" with them, but it’s really your job and an activity that can lead to wildly unimaginable opportunities to teach about any number of topics.  The dishes will always need to be washed and the grass will continue to grow, but we only have what is really a very brief time to combat the ignorance that might otherwise dog them later.  Likewise, they can’t learn when they spend their time ensconced in front of a screen so make them turn it off. 

They might not realize it yet, but it really is what they want.

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