A review of Liberation’s Children. By Kay Hymowitz.

Ivan R. Dee, 2003.

Subtitled Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age, this book features a number of incisive essays on the perils and pitfalls of parenting in today’s world. American author Kay Hymowitz is painfully aware that raising children today is a difficult task at the best of times. Children today are exposed to all sorts of pressures and temptations that many of us never had to worry about.

Much of the current wisdom as to how children should develop and how mums and dads should parent is simply wrong advice, argues Hymowitz. Today’s children may be richer, better educated and healthier than any other generation, but many are emotionally, morally and spiritually deprived. We have pampered our children, spoiled our children, and immersed them in all the toys, gadgets and fashion they can stand, but most are still ill-equipped to face adulthood.

The proper moral and intellectual training of our children is giving way to trendy socialisation and the impoverishing effects of popular culture. These chapters highlight some of these disturbing trends, and demonstrate how our children are suffering as a result.

The opening chapter takes head on the day care establishment, and the myths surrounding it. Hymowitz documents how the feminist script is harming our children. Get a career, mums are told, and let the day care centres look after the kids. It will be good for them. But the research points in the opposite direction. The younger kids are, and the more time they spend in day care, the worse they fare. But a feminist-dominated media and a child-unfriendly culture seeks to cover up these truths, and make women feel guilty, not for abandoning their children, but for letting their maternal instincts tell them otherwise.

No matter how high the quality of day care, nothing can replace mother love and father love. Yet we are letting a whole generation of our children be raised by strangers. By putting adult achievements and careers ahead of the interests of our children, we are short-changing the next generation and undermining our societies.

A chapter on tweens also makes for chilling reading. Children between eight and twelve are effectively being robbed of their childhood and preadolescence. They are being forced to become teenagers prematurely. Much of this is due to the tremendous pressure of popular culture, advertising, consumerism and mass marketing.

Kids today are heavily targeted by the corporate world, urged to get the “look” and all that goes with it. The worst thing for a tween today is not to be cool. And the ones who make a financial killing off our kids (and their parents) are determining what is cool.

Thus every ten-year-old wants the look, even though it may mean forcing young girls to look like prostitutes. Cosmetics companies, clothing manufacturers, the music industry and fast-food conglomerates all conspire against our children, promoting shameless hedonism and individualism. The hooker look is in, and common values and decency are out.

As a result, tweens are demonstrating many of the deviant behaviours usually associated with teenagers and adults. Drug and alcohol abuse, crime, eating disorders, and precocious sexual activity are all becoming much more common among our preadolescents.

Of course with more and more single-parent households and more and more two-income families, kids are left to their own devices, and the corporate world is happy to cash in on this, to become substitute parents with substitute values and agendas. Absent parents, powerful peer pressure, and a greedy and rapacious corporate culture makes for a bad mix. Kids as a result are growing up in a moral and spiritual wasteland.

Other perceptive chapters on topics such as schooling, Sesame Street, and discipline, add to the gloomy picture of being a child in a postmodern world. But in order to help our children we first need to understand the strife they are in. This book should help focus our minds on one of the most urgent needs any society can be engaged in: making sure the next generation has a proper foundation in which to enter into adulthood and become helpful and productive citizens.

Unless we do right by our kids, society will be left with shaky foundations indeed. And if we do not prepare our children for what lies ahead, we ensure that society will be in much worse shape in the future. For the sake of what lies ahead, we need to get this right. This book helps to alert us to the dangers we face, and the changes we need to make if we are to be confident about tomorrow.

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