I’m sure by now you’ve heard about Rachel Canning, the teenage girl suing her parents for school tuition and other financial support. With all the coverage of the New Jersey case there has been a great deal of speculation to follow, prompting the question: how did she end up this way? Most refer to her as a spoiled brat, I feel compelled to agree. Others say that they feel bad for the girl, I agree there as well to a point because something clearly happened to screw this girl up. But overall the blame for her entitled behavior is falling to the influence of our current pop culture.
When I was growing up in the 1990s the general idea was that you were lucky if your parents were willing to pay for your school. This was also a point in time where the phrase “my house, my rules” was accepted without questioning. The notion of a household being a democracy was laughable, parents knew best and that was the end of the conversation. If you were told you had to be home before midnight, you were home before midnight or there would be consequences. If you were told you weren’t allowed to watch a mature show, that was it, you couldn’t sneak it on your smart phone later. At some point between when I grew up and this new crop of youth, respect and gratitude disappeared. Consequences also disappeared, actions now lead to warnings that are rarely followed through on. Now of course there are exceptions to this entitled mindset, there are marvelous teenagers… somewhere… I’m sure… But a vast majority, including the kids in my neighborhood, behaves this way. So who is to blame?
Everyone. I maintain that everyone is to blame. Children born now learn to work an iPad before they learn to speak. Angry Birds has become the accepted babysitter when parents need their “me” time. Reality shows have become commonplace and a source of inspiration for life, scripted dramas show teenagers in roles that would have once been a bit racy for adult characters. Pretty Little Liars alone shows 16 year olds behaving like twenty-somethings. Role models like Justin Bieber suggest that it’s better to be a cocky brat than a respectful young adult. Childhoods are a thing of the past. Schools have placed children in bubbles, you can’t play with balls or the intent to win anymore. The education system is more concerned with feelings than learning. Parents either leave their kids with technology to raise them or micromanage to the point that they’re completely incapable of functioning if ever on their own. There’s a lack of discipline for the fear of crushing some source of individuality. No one seems to care that bad behavior is not an expression of individuality but rather a pathway to a future generation of adults lacking emotional stability and the ability to support or take care of themselves.
I have a proposed solution: mandatory Scared Straight for everyone under a certain age. I made time this weekend to watch the original Scared Straight documentary. The first time the program was presented to society as a whole was in 1978, narrated by Peter Falk, and utterly amazing. Nothing has changed between the documentary in 78 and the kids that appear on the show now. These are children who have been allowed to do what they want for too long and have reached a point where their cavalier attitudes are no longer cute but dangerous. The mouthy kids think they’re above the law, smarter than cops, and entitled to whatever they want. The beginning interviews on the show are eerily similar to the videos of Bieber’s deposition that came out today. Also similar to the kids on the show is Rachel Canning and the vile voicemails she left for the parents she’s currently suing. The outcome of the show remains the same as well. Once the ever-living crap has been scared out of these kids when they’re faced with the real consequences of their actions most turn themselves around.
There are no logical repercussions for certain actions any more. The kids who break up fights are suspended, little kids pointing their finger like a gun are expelled, picking up a friend too drunk to drive from a party can get you kicked off the varsity squad. But those who behave badly are given a pass, they’re placated and told to use their words to express why they did what they did. They don’t face harsh punishment because they’re just expressing themselves. If you don’t want to live by your parents’ rules, sue them.
Popular culture certainly plays a large role in the mindset of today’s youth. The idols they choose to elevate perpetuate the sense of entitlement and the notion that you can be famous just because. Television and films show young people as bright young things that don’t care about school or family when there is shopping to be done and sex to be had. Shows like Girls tell the female population that “all adventurous women” have STDs and can demand their parents support them through their discovery years after college. The people who write these shows and those placed on pedestals tell the youth that they don’t need to worry about their future because the government will be there to take care of them. The one thing they fail to mention is that if you go too far in the real world you’ll be taken care of by the government behind bars. You can blame technology and pop culture, but at the end of the day it’s a lack of punishment and an over abundance of reward. If kids receive nothing but praise and accolade, then that’s what they will expect. Society began to spare the rod, spoil the child, and now, like the children, refuses to take responsibility. Clearly the apple doesn’t fall far the from the tree.