The Center for the Next Generation is promoting an effort on behalf of America’s children, Too Small to Fail. The group reports that Ann Romney’s horse got nine times as much attention in the last election than the needs of children did.
But while it is good to raise awareness of the plight of our children, often the victims of adults’ problems, the wrong kind of attention can make things worse.
The campaign calls on “businesses, policy makers, parents, and caregivers” to address difficulties today’s children face in “health, education, and social mobility.” Chronic health conditions such as asthma and obesity have doubled since 1991, now affecting a quarter of our children. Other countries far outpace American kids in math, science, and reading, leaving our youngsters not only uncompetitive in the global economy but also unprepared even for useful jobs in our domestic economy. Out-of-wedlock births have doubled in the last generation to 41 percent, and 16 million children are now said to be in poverty.
The Center would like us to make the same commitment to children that we have made to seniors. But seniors are self-governing adults, whereas children are naturally in the care of their parents. Our national “commitment” to seniors has produced a moral separation from their children whom we no longer view as responsible to care for them in their need. When seniors are in poverty, who blames their adult children? In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore told the story of a retired woman, Winifred Skinner, who had to collect cans and bottles to pay for her medications. He assumed that apart from government assistance she was helpless. (In fact, her comfortably well-off son repeatedly offered help that she consistently refused.)
I can imagine that a similar commitment to children would sever the moral link with their parents even more deeply than it is already. Are kids showing up at school without breakfast? No problem. The government school will supply that. The birds and the bees? That’s covered, too. Your daughter needs an abortion? It’s really none of your business. The government school will arrange it. The assumption is that where parents fail in raising their children, government must assume the role. But there could not be a larger, blunter instrument for a finer, more delicate task.
As a whole, our children are underserved. They suffer from our neglect, our pathologies, our commercial interests, and our policy blind spots. But every child is the consequence—biological, emotional, intellectual—of what parents do or fail to do. Any renewed societal commitment to helping them must focus on helping parents improve. No institution aside from the family is fit of their task. Governments should encourage parents to marry and stay married. Too Small to Fail encourages businesses to promote “workplace flexibility and predictability so parents have more time for their children.” The group could encourage parents to supervise their children’s cultural influences more wisely, whether television, gaming, or the internet.
Our children are who we will be in the following generations. So as the family goes, so goes the nation. The family is too fundamental to fail.