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Maybe It’s a Childhood Issue, Too?

First published in the June 11 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

Back in the day, every backyard had a swing set. Now, kids barely come out of their bedrooms. And you want to talk about mental health?
Back in the day, every kid had a bicycle. Now, only the dads ride bikes. And you want to talk about mental health?
Back in the day, SAT prep meant sharpening your No. 2 pencil. Now it means three years of tutoring. And you want to talk about mental health?
Back in the day, if you heard a loud pop, it was a truck tire or maybe an M-80. Now it might be an AR-15. And you want to talk about mental health?
Back in the day, getting your driver’s license was your most life-changing moment. Now it’s when you get your first phone (full of naked sweaty strangers). And you want to talk about mental health?
Back in the day, school playgrounds looked like parks, and the only person you feared was the principal. Today, schools look like prisons and classes practice live-shooter drills. And you want to talk about mental health?
Back in the day, you played baseball in spring, football in fall and basketball in the winter. Now, pro youth coaches make you play your favorite sport till you’re ready to puke. And you want to talk about mental health?
Back in the day, teenagers had jobs for a few hours after school. Now teens stay up until 2 a.m. studying for multiple AP classes. And you want to talk about mental health?

There seems less and less time for simple pleasures.

Back in the day, you had a dog for security. Today, you have an alarm system and a Ring doorbell. Even the local priest might be a bogeyman.
Seriously, you want talk about mental health? You want to know why these kids are cooking out?
I’m what they call “old school.” I tried to be “new school,” but the new schools are wrapped in razor wire.
It’s not just a gun issue — though it is that as well, no doubt whatsoever. The only Americans who need assault rifles are the ones in the 14th Infantry. The only person who should “open carry” is Deputy Prager.
And our society also still faces equity issues, opportunity issues and housing issues. But it also faces personal responsibility issues.
There’s a concept: personal responsibility.
House rule No. 1: Don’t be a burden. Pick up your shoes. Take care of your stuff. You can’t count on other people if you can’t count on yourself.
At some point, we parents have to ask ourselves: What can I do to break the cycle of homelessness, school violence, environmental meltdown? How do I leave my kids a better world? What is in my control? If that madman on the street corner seems too far gone, refusing help from his family, friends and society, how do I help him?
House rule No. 2: Don’t hide in your bubble.
Critics like to say “society should support this, or society should do more on that.” Well, we’re society. Social progress begins at home. That’s what you can control. You raise children — not just to achieve — but to be content, happy, thoughtful individuals, with fierce and gentle hearts.
In short, so many of our issues are childhood issues.
You want better childhoods, start with better families. You want better schools, start with better families. You want better lives, start with better families.
House rule No. 3: If you can’t make it to back-to-school night, you shouldn’t be having kids.
Confession: No one likes back-to-school night — the teachers, the parents. Like brushing your teeth or buying low-fat milk, it’s just something you know you should do. If you love your kids, you do it.
Meanwhile, a dad is the best cop you’ll ever meet. A mom is the best professor. Two dads? Sure. Two moms? Absolutely. Some kids probably need three moms and four fathers. You know the type: Ornery. Difficult. Amazing. The ones who change the world.
Point is, a family doesn’t have to look like the one from 50 years ago. Far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t need to follow any traditional American ideal. It just needs to be a solid family run by adults who are prepared — emotionally and financially ­— to raise children, those clammy little ingrates who demand the moon.
And give so much back in return.
Because if they can’t have a happy childhood, can they ever have a happy life?

Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. For past columns or books, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com

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