'Childhood Itself Is Now in Crisis'


In what may be the ultimate "Think of the Children" op-ed piece, Joel Bakan, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, expresses his dismay at the kids today, with their cell phones, computers, video games, and social networking sites:

When I sit with my two teenagers, and they are a million miles away, absorbed by the titillating roil of online social life, the addictive pull of video games and virtual worlds, as they stare endlessly at video clips and digital pictures of themselves and their friends, it feels like something is wrong.

No doubt my parents felt similarly about the things I did as a kid, as did my grandparents about my parents' childhood activities. But the issues confronting parents today can't be dismissed as mere generational prejudices. There is reason to believe that childhood itself is now in crisis.

Childhood itself! And the threat is clear: "the for-profit corporation," which fattens kids with junk food, exposes them to toxic chemicals, medicates them with "potentially harmful psychotropic drugs," and, worst of all, hooks them on electronic diversions that teenagers find more interesting than talking to their poor old father. In Bakan's telling, neither kids nor their parents have a choice in any of this; evidently the corporations, motivated not by profit so much as a desire to do evil, are foisting all these products on people who do not really want them but are powerless to resist. Unfortunately, "Deregulation, privatization, weak enforcement of existing regulations and legal and political resistance to new regulations have eroded our ability, as a society, to protect children." You know something is terribly wrong when "attempts to curb excesses," such as "California's ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors," are "struck down by courts as free speech violations."

But don't let the First Amendment get you down! Bakan, author of Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children (Free Press), closes with some encouraging words about what we, as a society, can accomplish when we decide to put the welfare of our children above the interests of the corporations that prey upon them:

The challenge before us is to reignite the guiding ethos and practices of the century of the child. As Nelson Mandela has said, "there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." By that measure, our current failure to provide stronger protection of children in the face of corporate-caused harm reveals a sickness in our societal soul. The good news is that we can—and should—work as citizens, through democratic channels and institutions, to bring about change.

And then maybe, just maybe, Bakan's kids will put down their goddamned smart phones and pay attention to him.