Thursday, August 04, 2005

What 's the Matter with Kids Today, part 1

The more I thought about this post, the more rambling a thought process it became. Part rant on the religious right, part libertarian testament, with a healthy dose of anti-consumerism and a smidge of reckless abandon. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but for me it is just another day in the life. Lets go for a ride...

We live in a very strange time. In a lot of ways society is very child-centric, youth-conscious. Parents spend more time with their kids than in years before. Advertising is aimed at the youngest demographic. Religious groups vie for the attention of children and government enacts laws to protect them. Yet in many ways, our kids are lost in all this attention. We are told it takes a village to raise a child, a family to raise a child, the church to raise a child and Disney to raise a child. While I can attest to the fact that children don't just raise themselves, I fear too many cooks are spoiling this batch.

Babies' needs are very few. Milk, diapers, love, that's about it. Designer bedrooms, Motzart, excess gizmos and gadgets are all lost on children under three. Healthcare is important, but somehow our government has been too busy to tackle that issue comprehensively.

From older toddler to older school-age, children's needs grow, but still not very much. Healthy food to eat, lots of love and attention, educational stimulus by way of school, church and social activity. Think apples and swing sets good, mini-motorcycles and cellphones bad. Vacation Bible School is fine, as is one dance class, soccer team or gameboy. But when did it become mandatory for kids under ten to have a TV in their room (with cable and DVD), access to the internet, a working motor vehicle and multiple afterschool activities? Children actually go to school these days to get a rest from their active social lives, to be taught that all important lessons are test scores. Healthcare and direct parental interaction are still the most important, but they seem to get lost in the shuffle.

Teen years are difficult. No matter how hard parents try, peers and advertising get the upperhand. Schools and churches try to reach out to kids at this age, but seldom with the right message. Schools reject students who do not fit into the mold and churches begin their fight for control of the next generation. Instead of teaching inclusiveness and the open exchange of information, teens are encouraged to hate that which is different. Parents continue to buy into the idea that teens need all America has to offer by buying and supplying more than any one child can handle, setting our youth with an expectation no culture can maintain.

We have raised a generation of dysfunctional children. They need more than is sustainable and are prepared to give very little. Our current government is enabling this behavior and we will all suffer its consequences. My next post will cover why I think this is happenening, and a final post will give a few meager suggestions for a cure. Stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tangled Web

This will be the most personal blog post I ever make. Not that I hide behind the keyboard completely, but it is wise to make some balance of anonymity and reality-based commentary. Tonight, I break that wall.

My parents are in their early middle sixties. They have both worked and paid into the government retirement system for forty years. For ten years they worked overseas, made a bit of money, which they proceeded to spend with abandon. They had a large retirement account they expected to carry them through the end of their lives, and lived accordingly.

Unfortunately, the stock market crashed, they did not react quickly enough, and most of their savings were lost. They looked for work, found some contract stuff, and made a bit more money. But by age 65 my father needed to take social security and Medicare. My mother, three years younger, qualified for social security, but not healthcare. The premiums on their private insurance were near $1000 a month ( 1/4 their income) so she dropped coverage, betting she would stay healthy for three years.

My mother has just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She had a check-up just before she dropped her insurance, which was clear, but did not go to the doctor afterward because she did not have insurance. By the time the cancer was found, it had invaded her lymph nodes and traveled throughout her body. There is no cure; she will die in the next few years from a disease that could have been corrected if caught earlier.

My brother and I would like to help our parents, but have been warned that if we guarantee anything, we will be held responsible for the lot, which would bankrupt us. And so my parents will declare bankruptcy in the next few days, to pay for her treatment.

This is a cautionary tale. There are many things my parents could have done better. They should have watched their savings and spending. My mom should have found better supplemental insurance, rather than betting on good health. But in the end of days, our government, the richest in the world, should have been there for my parents. Why is there a gap between when one can take social security and when one is eligible for Medicare? Why do my parents have to lose everything that they own to pay for the healthcare that she so desperately needs?

I'm left with these final thoughts: don't retire until you absolutely must; watch your money like a hawk; and the United States must have a healthcare system that protects its citizens from the devastation that will me my mother's final days.