Home-Alone America: Mary Eberstadt Speaks Up for Kids
- Wednesday, December 15, 2004
According to Eberstadt, taking a child-level look at daycare reveals epidemics of ear infections and other illnesses, due to the undeniable fact that daycare centers function as "germ factories." Additionally, institutionalized childcare is also associated with children becoming more belligerent and aggressive. While the advocates of childcare defend all this in terms of "early socialization," the fact is that no child would willingly choose daycare over care by Mom in the home.
In a helpful move likely to change the terms of our debate over daycare and divorce, Eberstadt coins a new word for the ideology that suggests children can be raised in institutionalized settings just as productively, wholesomely, and healthfully as in the home with parents. She identifies those making such arguments as "separationists," some of whom go on to argue that it is actually better for children to be "socialized" in institutional settings and removed from the influence of parents--especially the mother. Eberstadt cites family scholar Allan Carlson, who has traced this anti-motherhood ideology all the way back to Plato and his utopian vision of children being taken away from their mothers and raised by the community. The result is hardly utopian.
Eberstadt goes on to look at the phenomenon of "feral behavior" in children, with the most extreme forms of violence now becoming routine in some settings. Many bureaucrats and experts choose to redefine the problem in ways that ignore the obvious, Eberstadt claims. Producing reports that indicate periodic downturns in the most extreme forms of violence--such as the Columbine massacre in Colorado--these "experts" try to argue that the situation of America's children is improving. As Eberstadt notes, "When Columbine is your moral yardstick, there is a lot you won't be getting to measure."
Childhood obesity is a problem now receiving a fair amount of attention in the nation's press and is thus now a concern for those making public policy. Eberstadt traces this to the fact that, without a parent in the home, children are more likely to eat without restriction, to be rewarded with food rather than with parental presence, and to sit in front of the television, eating the worst kind of foods in the worst way possible.
As she explains, "People generally eat more when sitting in front of the television than they do when sitting at a table, and if they have no one to talk to, they also eat faster. Moreover, because metabolism slows to almost sleeplike levels after enough time in front of the tube, the food taken in is metabolized more slowly--hence, in a more fat-friendly way--than it would be otherwise."
Childhood obesity is also tied to a lack of exercise, the fact that children--especially latch-key children--tend to play inside the home rather than going outdoors, and to the fact that fewer children are breast-fed for at least the first year of life.
In a fascinating chapter, Eberstadt turns to "the mental health catastrophe" that has produced, not only worrying social indicators, but an entire industry of psychotrophic drugs, psychological and psychiatric professionals, and a myriad of new illnesses and syndromes.
By any measure, children and teenagers are now diagnosed with mental health problems at rates unprecedented in human history. Much of this is due to the pervasive influence of the therapeutic worldview throughout the society, but the impact of this worldview on children is especially pernicious. At the same time, Eberstadt argues that many children are, in fact, more troubled, depressed, and anxious than ever before. She traces the rise and imperialistic march of newly-identified disorders such as ADD and ADHD, noting that the diagnosis for these problems remains extremely subjective. She moves on to consider the tremendous increase in children diagnosed with forms of autism, explaining that autism is no longer a specific disease identified by unmistakable criteria, but is now just one disorder identified in a continuum known as "PDDs" or "pervasive developmental disorders." While many of these children exhibit undeniable symptoms, and some children are unquestionably troubled by severe mental illness, others are simply lumped into a category of one disorder or another and prescribed psychotrophic drugs.
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