First published in the June 16 print edition Pasadena view.
Every backyard used to have a swing. Now children hardly come out of their bedrooms. And you want to talk about mental health?
Every child used to have a bicycle. Now only the fathers ride bikes. And you want to talk about mental health?
SAT prep used to mean sharpening your #2 pencil. Now it means three years of tutoring. And you want to talk about mental health?
Earlier if you heard a loud pop, it was a truck tire or maybe an M-80. Now it could be an AR-15. And you want to talk about mental health?
Getting your driver’s license used to be your most life-changing moment. Now you’re getting your first phone (full of naked sweaty strangers). And you want to talk about mental health?
School yards used to look like parks and the only person you feared was the principal. Today schools look like prisons and classes practice target practice. And you want to talk about mental health?
You used to play baseball in the spring, soccer in the fall, and basketball in the winter. Now professional youth coaches will make you play your favorite sport until you’re ready to puke. And you want to talk about mental health?
Teenagers used to have jobs for a few hours after school. Now teenagers stay up until 2am studying for multiple AP classes. And you want to talk about mental health?
You used to have a dog for safety. Today you have an alarm system and a ring doorbell. Even the local priest could be a bogeyman.
Seriously, do you want to talk about mental health? You want to know why these kids cook out?
I’m what they call “old school”. I tried to be “new school” but the new schools are wrapped in barbed wire.
It’s not just a gun problem – although it undoubtedly is. The only Americans who need assault rifles are those in the 14th Infantry. The only person who should “openly carry” is Deputy Prager.
And our society still faces problems of justice, problems of opportunity and problems of housing. But there are also questions of personal responsibility.
There is a concept: personal responsibility.
House Rule #1: Don’t be a burden. Pick up your shoes. Watch your stuff. You cannot rely on others if you cannot rely on yourself.
At some point we parents have to ask ourselves: What can I do to break the cycle of homelessness, school violence, and environmental destruction? How do I leave my children a better world? What’s in my control? When that madman on the street corner seems too far away and refuses the help of his family, friends and community, how can I help him?
House Rule #2: Don’t hide in your bubble.
Critics like to say, “Society should support this, or society should do more about it.” Well, we are the society. Social progress begins at home. You can control that. They raise children not just to achieve, but to be content, happy, thoughtful individuals with wild and gentle hearts.
In short, so many of our problems are child problems.
You want a better childhood, start with better families. You want better schools, start with better families. You want a better life, start with better families.
House Rule #3: If you don’t make it to the start of school, don’t have kids.
Confession: Nobody likes back to school – the teachers, the parents. Like brushing your teeth or buying skim milk, it’s just something you know you should be doing. If you love your children, you do it.
Meanwhile, a father is the best cop you will ever meet. A mother is the best professor. two fathers? Secure. two mothers? Absolutely. Some children probably need three mothers and four fathers. You know the guy: Ornery. Difficult. Great. The ones who change the world.
The point is, a family doesn’t have to look like it did 50 years ago. For me, it doesn’t have to follow any traditional American ideal. It just has to be a solid family led by adults who are ready — emotionally and financially — to raise kids, those cash-strapped little ungrateful ones who claim the moon.
And give back so much.
Because if they can’t have a happy childhood, can they ever have a happy life?
Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. For previous columns or books, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com