Though I recommend in "The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids" (Da Capo, 2009) to watch the news with our children, especially when they're adolescents, lately I've been feeling that all my children are learning there on the couch with me is how to think selfish thoughts.
Developmentally, our children are primed to understand moral dilemmas. But what they're seeing on the news these days is nothing more than propaganda for the greedy without much real debate. Last night in the span of five minutes we were told that politicians in Washington couldn't agree on how to prevent another economic meltdown like the one that pushed millions onto the unemployment lines, while awarding billions in bonuses to the hucksters who conned people into taking on too much debt. Then there was health care. I kept hearing criticism of any reform, but not a word from the opposition about solutions that would once and for all ensure that the medical needs of even the most vulnerable are given the same priority as those with the means to pay. And then there was a story about those car companies. I understand the need for government bailouts, but no one seems to be holding anyone accountable for real change in product design or mileage standards, much less thinking about alternatives like better public transit.
Even my 13-year-old can see what's happening. "If they don't put in some regulations on the banks, won't the same thing happen again?" she asked. My son, who's 16, was more concerned about health care: "Other countries have free health care for everyone? What's the problem in the US?"
These are teachable moments. No matter what our religion, spirituality, or even political stripes, we all preach to our children the need to give to others. Christians are encouraged to pay a tithe, Moslems are extolled in the Qur'an to give to the needy and ensure the well-being of others (it's one of the five pillars of Islam). Jews are reminded in the Old Testament that "They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever." Even Confucius preached benevolence towards those less fortunate, while Buddhism entreat devotees to "Give even from a scanty store to him who asks." The world over, "we-thinking" is what we're told makes for a peaceful and well-ordered society.
On the television news, that's not what my children are learning. Instead, they watch car company executives try and explain why they took huge bonuses even as their market share plummeted, and then hear rants from politicians who stall legislation without offering better solutions to the same old problems. What could I say to my children except, "These are complicated issues." I didn't want to discourage them, but in my mind I must admit all I could think was that the greediest among us are still in power and just waiting to bury us again.
I think our children might do better than us "me-thinking" adults. I'm proud to say my children, and many of their friends, think about the global economy, the environment, and even health care. They are a connected generation that thinks both locally and globally. My worry is that before we hand the reins over to them, we'll have put them through one, two, maybe ten more cycles of economic and social chaos, all in the name of selfishness.
Tonight, I'll turn on the television again, if only to hear from my kids what they think the solutions are. In the process, maybe I'll learn a little more about what it means to think "we" in "me-thinking" times.