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I did a segment about bullying a few days ago. This conversation — like any conversation that centers around the youth of today — prompted a bunch of emails claiming that kids these days are pampered and “soft.” Kids “have it too easy,” they say. I’ve heard this claim a thousand times, and every time I’m disturbed by it.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit over the last couple of days. Do kids really “have it easy”? I’ve always thought this attitude is flawed and dangerous, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly. Everybody seems so confident that it’s ‘easy’ to be a kid in this country, so why aren’t I reassured when I look at my own children? Why do I fear for them so deeply if they are blessed to be born into these ‘easy’ times?

I mean, it seems fair on the surface. Sure, kids get to sit in air conditioned living rooms and watch TV. They eat sugary cereal and drink soda. But ‘easy’? Is it easy to be a child in modern America? No, I don’t think so. They might have a bunch of cool toys, but being a child today is a dangerous proposition. And it’s made ever harder because many adults fundamentally fail to understand kids and what they go through.

You might laugh at the idea, but children have it rough in our society. Like, really, really rough. Our culture is actively hostile to them — probably more so than at any other point in history. They are born, and immediately the world pounces, pulling them in a million directions, selling them a million lies, convincing them to be a million different things — none of them good or true. We vaccinate them against every disease, buckle them into their car seats, teach them not to run near the pool, and we think we are keeping them safe. But it’s their souls that we should be especially protecting, and that’s where we often fail.

Politicians mortgage their future to pay for the luxuries of today, and millions of Americans cheer them on while they do it. Do you know what “unfunded liability” means? It means, in economic terms, “hey junior, this bill is on you, sucker!” It means we’re ordering a feast, stuffing our fat faces, and leaving our kids to pay the tab. We think kids are selfish “me first” little brats, but that title belongs to us. Look at what we’ve done to this country; we barely even give these kids a chance. Where are the people stepping up to make sacrifices today so that future generations won’t be stuck with the debt and bankruptcy caused by our extravagance? Do you hear this voice? I don’t. All I hear is “spend money on ME! NOW!” Me. Now.

Me. Now.

Me. Now.

If there are two words that will define our culture, those are it. “Kids today,” I hear the adult mutter disapprovingly. But what about adults today? The Baby Boomers are the first generation in American history to leave the country poorer than it was when they inherited it. And we call KIDS spoiled and immature?

As our children emerge into this bankrupted civilization, advertisers circle them like vultures with market-tested messaging, brilliantly crafted to turn them into depressive, shallow, materialists; never satisfied, always wanting. They are besieged by a constant barrage of conflicting, confusing directives: “BUY THIS!” “EAT THIS!” “WANT THIS!” “BE THIS!” “BELIEVE THIS!” Some of us do our best to insulate our kids from this battery of consumerism and exploitation, but we’re fighting a losing battle.

At least children in times past had the benefit of family, if not modern technology and medicine. We might have all of the gadgets and pills that our kids’ hearts can desire, but our families are disintegrating. I say, take the iPhones and the painkillers, if only our children can have actual families again. That’s a trade I’d make in a second. Our kids may not have to worry about contracting Polio, but millions of them will never know what it’s like to sit at a dinner table with both parents. Millions and millions of them born into homes filled with turmoil, anger and selfishness. Easy? I can think of a lot of words for that, but easy isn’t one of them.

Maybe I shouldn’t even use the word “children” anymore. I’m not sure what to call this new sort of human we’ve created; not old enough or wise enough to be an adult, not innocent enough to be a child. Entire generations are sent hurtling into this Limbo, and many never escape it.

Think about it. Think about how it used to work. In the old days, children were children. But then they were introduced to some of the difficult facts of life, they were taught how to process and handle it all, and they became men and women. Before the Industrial Age, generations of families lived together on the same homestead. This meant that young kids had to witness their older family members die. They watched grandpa fall asleep slowly; they were there for the backyard burial. Sickness, death, mortality — kids had to confront all of these things. Fortunately, they were instilled with faith and reverence, so they were able to put these hard, brutal concepts into proper context. When little Susie asked “why,” the adults knew the answer and they dutifully explained it to her.

Children were also introduced to work. Hard work. Meaningful work. They had to sweat and exert themselves, and they had to do it for the sake of their family.

Death, work, and mortality aren’t fun or lighthearted, but they’re a natural part of life, and when we grasp them, we begin to mature. This is how kids used to grow from innocence and naivety into responsibility and adulthood.

It often works differently nowadays. We shield kids from the difficult things. We run from anything that might carry with it the slightest suggestion of death or finitude. We don’t even let kids watch war movies or play with toy guns. We feel squeamish about bringing them to grandma’s funeral. We certainly don’t make them work or sweat or earn anything — in fact, the law forbids it. They aren’t given any real responsibilities; no weight is put on their shoulders, figuratively or literally. They are protected from the challenges of Real Life, and sometimes they stay in that protective cocoon well into their 30’s.

Yet, we haven’t succeeded in protecting their innocence. More than 50 percent of all children are exposed to hardcore pornography before the age of eleven. Eleven. By thirteen, the vast majority have seen it; many of them are full-on addicts. Meanwhile, schools are giving kids condom demonstrations, and the FDA is making sure your 15 year old daughter can get her hands on the Morning After Pill without your consent. Everywhere your child turns, he is assaulted with sex, perversion and nihilism. Your 12 year old son can sit at a computer, open a browser, punch in a few key words, and plunge right into a world of depravity, debauchery and darkness. Not only can he do this, but, statistically, he probably is. If you let him have a computer in his room and unlimited internet access on his phone, you’ve increased the odds exponentially. That’s a tragedy, because he’ll never be the same after he takes that first trip into the pornographic bowels of the internet. He’s been molested — maybe not physically, but mentally and spiritually.

So our kids are shielded from the good but hard lessons of life, while being exposed to a constant stream of sex, deviance and insanity. They have their innocence and purity ripped out of their souls, but it isn’t replaced with maturity and wisdom. Instead, toxic waste fills the void; all of these weird images — and the confusing feelings they bring to the surface — have nowhere to go, so they just bounce around in your son’s skull all day. He doesn’t know what to do with it or how to process it. Ten years later, he’s sitting across the kitchen table from Chris Hanson, trying to explain why he’s only 22 but already “bored” with healthy sexuality, so he’s moved on to violent fetishes and pedophilia.

You think I’m overstating the problem? Then you aren’t paying attention.

And what about the conversation that prompted this post? Bullying. Our kids are wrecked by bullying, and we don’t understand why. Even worse, our kids ARE bullies, and we chalk it up to a “phase,” or just “kids being kids.” Schools make rules against it, states pass laws criminalizing it, but bullying persists. According to a recent study, it actually gets worse the more we try to outlaw it. Maybe that isn’t so shocking. If laws can’t keep crack and guns out of the hands of violent felons, how could laws be expected to keep unfriendly thoughts out of the heads of pubescent middler schoolers?

We send children off to government education facilities for the majority of their formative years, and the psychological abuse they endure will leave marks on the psyche that will never wash away. We don’t understand kids, or what it means to be a kid in modern America, so we are powerless to help them. We either overreact by pushing for legislation, or we turn to psychotropic drugs, or, in some cases, we join in the mockery and tell them to just “get over it.” The answer, usually, is both simpler and more complicated: the problem isn’t the bullying itself, it’s the psychological and spiritual phenomenon that has left kids so susceptible to it.

Our children are torn from our grasp by a combination of the school system, the media, advertising, the internet, government interference, and pop culture. They begin to look to their peers, rather than their parents, for guidance and direction. They plant their roots in shallow, rocky soil, and it doesn’t take much more than a stiff wind to blow them over. They become desperate. They search for validation in the chaotic mass of confused, broken adolescents, and they never find it. “Bullying” usually doesn’t manifest itself by wedgies and spitballs, like in corny 80’s movies. Bullying — the worst and most effective kind — can be a simple glance, a rejection, a whisper. It’s your daughter reaching out to her peer for affirmation, and getting a snide look and a vicious insult in its place. It’s not the snide look and the vicious insult that’s a new phenomenon; it’s the fact that our kids are so helplessly vulnerable to it. Kids spend all day at school searching for meaning through peer approval, and now it doesn’t even end when the bell rings. They go home and paste themselves to their phones and laptops, rejecting the unconditional love from their parents in favor of “likes” and Retweets.

It’s not their fault. This is the society we built for them. We are to blame.

I know I’ve just spent several paragraphs painting a bleak picture, but it’s a picture we can’t ignore any longer. I wish I could wrap this up with a quick and easy solution. I can’t. All I can say is that we need to hold our children close. We have to give them love and point them towards God. People say you shouldn’t be too “protective.” I disagree. Be protective. Use your body as a human shield against the lies and evil that surround them. We have to show them that nothing is more important than faith and family. Nothing. Everything in the universe comes as a distant second. But we can’t really demonstrate this unless we keep our families together in the first place.

And that’s probably a good place to start.

Just don’t say that kids have it easy. Kids have never had it harder, and the least we can do is acknowledge that fact.

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