Professional athletes (Plaxico Burris, Adam Jones are recent examples, but there are more) often make bad choices. Although Michael Vick was dealt a bad hand (he was, I think, tried in the media) I question his judgment on the whole ‘dog electrocution thing.’ For all the bad behavior that startles me about young black athletes, I must say that on yesterday I learned something far worse about young white nursing assistants.
Two 18-year old female nursing assistants, volunteering at the Good Samaritan Home in Southern Minnesota, committed acts against vulnerable adults (Alzheimer’s patients, stroke victims) so vile and humiliating that I cannot recount them here. The actions of these young female nursing assistants —many of a sexual nature, were instances of humiliation that makes one turn away. In many ways, it is like reading the New Yorker magazine accounts of the Abu Gharib torture scenario against detainees. What appears in the indictment seems like a narrative recounting the Spanish Inquisition.
How does this happen? Two girls, looking more like homecoming queens than crack whores, construct and execute torture and humiliation against vulnerable adults…in small town America, no less…are you kidding me?
This incident, perhaps, bespeaks a larger evil at work in the our culture: The illusion of parenting. Many athletes—of both races—are reared in the dreaded ‘single-parent’ home (advanced as a convenient false myth—for why boys misbehave.) I coached basketball for 20 consecutive years and that journey enlightened me to America’s ‘parenting crisis.’ Over time, I saw parents presenting more and more latitude—in terms of decision-making-- to their young athletes. Yes, I mean parents asking kids of 9 or 10 what sports they wished to play and whether of not they wanted to continue in the sports and whether they were happy with the coach.
During my mid-twenties, I was away from coaching, still trying to play competitively. When I initially returned, I primarily worked with white kids. I looked at their insolent behavior and thought: “Ok, this is a racial thing.” The next season, I had black kids who, by and large, behaved similarly with their parents. I thought: “This is a generational thing.” After my third season, I concluded my bewildering observations were a microcosm of society.
There was nearly a ‘full-on’ abdication of decision-making from parents to children. I can’t tell you the number of parents of 15 year olds who stared at me and said, “I let little Mary make choices about where she wants to go to school.” There isn’t time in the post to present all the psychological reasons why this is more than just poor parenting—it’s eroding basic strands of society’s DNA which turn on ‘respect for adults and leaders.’ Thus, I’ll present a physiological truth: A PhD friends— former Associate director of a top Medical school -- opined that the area of the brain controlling decision-making and choice isn’t fully formed until one reaches 24 years.
So, I ask: What are parents doing?
My years in the basketball coaching world showed me that today’s parents offer kids FAR too much latitude in decision-making and choices. I’m still speechless at the kids who had expensive mobile phones, MP3 players and a HD Television (in their rooms, mind you) but their parents rarely came to watch them play.
Parents, it seemed, replaced ‘investments of time,’ with ‘bestowing gifts of technology.’ They mistakenly deduced that by giving little Mary or little Devin a ‘choice paradigm’ at a young age was akin to maturation development. Twenty years of being around teenagers left me with an alternative viewpoint. The kids I met CRAVED someone to tell them what to do. The soft veneer was, “I want to make my own decision.” The internal plea was, “Someone please help me by telling me what I should do because I'm a 14 year-old lost soul.”
It’s a rare kid who at 15 can make good choices. After coaching and training hundreds of kids I say this with certainty: 90% of them shouldn’t have been allowed a driver’s license until they were 18, let alone make real life choices.
I have many flight attendants friends—they are quirky and pragmatic observers of society. My friend Richetta—who flies out of New York’s Kennedy Airport-- says that the most ill-behaved, disrespectful, acrimonious children are U.S kids. Many of them, she says, speak to the parents in brutal , hostile language and are overtly rebellious. She further said: “…rarely, if ever, do kids from Latin American or Caribbean countries misbehave or show rudeness on flights or in the departure lounge. She told me one story—a Mom was traveling to Port-au-Prince with four kids under 10 years. The kids sat quietly, boarded orderly, took their seats and obeyed their Mom.
I don’t think the Mom of these Haitian kids will ever get a call saying her daughters have been charged with spitting into the mouth of 80 year old Alzheimer’s patient and recording the experiences for posterity on a new 2.0 mega pixel cell phone camera. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.