James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Killing youth

Posted by James McPherson on January 2, 2009

When does a kid stop being a kid? When he agrees to become a suicide bomber? When she kills her parents or grandparents? When he joins the military or she starts to drive?

Maybe when he has sex with his high school or junior high teacher, or she “marries” a much-older man? When he graduates from high school or she has her first baby–or agrees to sell the baby photos to the highest bidder?

Or maybe when he or she decides never to watch another “reality show” such as “The Bachelor” or any of its seemingly hundreds of even sleazier video offspring? Have the people who were so up in arms about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction ever seen “Double Shot of Love”?

I find it interesting that the more horrible the crime against youngsters, the more we want to protect them, but the more horrible the crime they commit (an indication of less maturity, not more), the more likely we are to want to see them charged as adults.

We also may have a double standard when it comes to gender (though Slate’s William Saleton has offered evidence to the contrary). Girls, who mature faster than boys, may be more likely to be treated as victims–as they should be–when they engage in sexual relationships with older men. For teenage boys seduced by older women, however, some laugh off the act as a “rite of passage” or the harmless fulfillment of fantasy (though perhaps unfortunate if she happens to turn out to be a Nazi war criminal).

Like other parents and teachers, I worry that our children are growing up too fast. Some people blame the media, though even Focus on the Family admits that with home schooling your children and keeping them away from television, “Still, there’s no way to protect them completely from the perversion of the world.”

Perversion aside (and my definition of the term often differs from that of Focus on the Family) maybe we ought to teach our kids–and ourselves–more about the world as it is: not a dark and scary place where everyone who steps outside is likely to be raped or murdered (the picture portrayed by much of local television news and entertainment), one where everyone ought to be having sex with everyone else (the apparent view of much of the rest entertainment television), or a Disneyfied version in which love always conquers all.

Let kids be kids, when we can. Let the rest of us be kids from time to time, too. But let’s grow up about it, shall we?

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5 Responses to “Killing youth”

  1. You clearly have your own conflicting feelings with regard to how we should treat our children, as is quite normal. On the one hand parents want to protect their children from the world and on the other they understand it is their responsibility to prepare them for it.

    Where are we to draw the line? And how do you check yourself that you don’t over-protect your children simply to ease your own worrying, as opposed to really helping them be safe.

    There is nothing fundamentally different about a child’s exploration of the world from an adult’s. They just have less to go on, more hole’s that need filling. Always remember that what a young one is most curious about is what they feel they need to know, and this may be the best indicator of what sort of guidance they need.

    ~The Twentyseomthing
    http://theworldat20.blogspot.com/

  2. Gabrielle said

    Anyone who has actually /witnessed/ how far some teen girls will go in regards to seducing older men – say, someone like me who had friends like this – will know how ridiculous the mentioned double standard is.

    Also, homeschooling needs to stop. It makes kids…weird. *can say this because she was homeschooled for a while back in the day*

  3. James McPherson said

    Many of my students were formerly homeschooled, and some are indeed a bit odd–especially those who have been most “protected.” Some are scholastically among my top students, though many are very uncomfortable with ambiguity (being used to “right” answers that they could memorize).

    Others are among my weakest students, depending largely on the parent (or sometimes other church member) doing the teaching, and state regulations. The best adjusted typically seem to be those who participated in other social activities beyond their own home and church–at times a bit of a sore point with me as the son of a school administrator. Some of the same parents who complain most loudly about public schools won’t do a thing to help fix those schools–but have no qualms about sending their kids there to play in the band or on the football team.

    About your first point, Gabrielle, I know there are girls who try to seduce older me, though I have to admit that I’ve never understood why. Thanks for the “been-there” perspective on both points.

  4. […] noted previously my aversion to certain forms of technology, and my concerns about uncertain definitions of what constitutes maturity. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the problems  resulting from the […]

  5. […] Killing youth […]

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