I recently received a tribute to my generation—the so-called “boomers”—that has been circulating on the internet for some time now. It applauds two things: the freedom we enjoyed as children and the personal responsibility our parents enforced upon us.
Peanut butter was a dietary staple; we wore nothing more protective than baseball caps when we rode our bicycles, which we often rode miles from home; our social media consisted of face-to-face conversations; we learned respect for others; we climbed and most kids fell out of trees; and so on. The point is that my parents’ generation produced some of the best risk-takers, problem-solvers, and inventors ever.
We saw no therapists, took no brain- and behavior-altering drugs, received no bogus psychological diagnoses, and weren’t sent off to rehab facilities (other than the occasional wayward kid who spent time in reform school), and yet our mental health was 10 times better than that of most of today’s kids.
One of the reminiscences that has carried great meaning for me ever since was the idea that a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!
I was 17 when I was arrested for disturbing the public peace. Hey! I was simply celebrating my graduation from high school! Give a guy a break! Actually, I was one of seven fellow grads who were hauled off to the local police station, where we were fingerprinted, photographed, and walked back to cells where we awaited our bailsmen, a.k.a., our parents.
I watched from behind bars as one fellow rowdy after another was released into the custody of his parents. When I finally got up the courage to ask the jailer when my parents were coming, he said, “They’re leaving you here.”
What? Yes, they left me in jail for two of the longest days of my life. On Saturday morning, they showed up and informed me that freedom was a relative thing: to wit, I was grounded for the remainder of the summer. What could have been the most glorious of summers turned into two months of yard work, painting the entire house, and explaining my incarceration to my few law-abiding buddies.
Charges were eventually dropped, but I never again saw my accomplices. I don’t have any idea what became of them, but my life is better because I experienced, up close and personal—and before I could ramp up my rebellion any further—what generally happens to people who think they are above the law.
I reflect, ruefully, about today’s parents, many of whom seem to think that good parenting consists largely of protecting one’s children from the vagaries of personal responsibility; and I ask myself if we will ever recover from their misguided intentions.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at email@example.com or (817) 295-1751.