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What's the Matter with Kids Today?

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

There is very little in anyone's life today that teaches respect for authority.

One of the challenges of being a parent today is that there is no longer any respect for authority. Although this may be an age-old lament -- anyone else remember the song from Bye Bye Birdie, "What's the matter with kids today?" -- I think things have changed. There was a time when the rule of parents was stronger and held kids faster.

Now, as Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory, told us, "All you have is the personal relationship." I don't know when things changed. As the father bemoans, tongue-in-cheek, in that song, "Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?" Surely our parents would disagree.

But perhaps the real sea change occurred in the last 40 years. The sixties taught kids "not to trust anyone over 30" and Vietnam and Watergate confirmed it.

There is very little in anyone's life today that teaches respect for authority. While not condoning any of Bill Clinton's behavior, it seems to me that his real damage to the country was how he diminished the role of president, how he made himself and the United States a laughing stock.

The conclusion of today's kids: You can't respect the president. You can't respect royalty. The Wall Street Journal lists new corporate scandals daily. You can't trust CEO's; you can't trust the businessmen running our large corporations. You certainly can't respect movie "idols" or sports "heroes."

It's a tough challenge for today's society. Without respect for authority as a culturally-supported value, it's more difficult to create it in our homes. And it becomes more difficult to properly transfer Torah without it.

So we have to work harder to teach love -- and some adherence to rules and discipline. To do as the Talmud says, pull close with the right hand (the arm of compassion) and push slightly away with the left (the arm of judgment).

It also places a heavy burden on us to behave in a way that merits respect. And to apologize when we blow it. (Another element pointedly lacking today). No one (except very young children) thinks their parents are perfect. But acknowledgment of errors engenders respect.

It's a large responsibility to carry. But it seems we have no choice. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren? They may not perceive it as such (especially when we're saying no to something they really want) but teaching our children to respect authority -- ours and ultimately, the Almighty's -- is a gift that will last quite literally forever.

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