Grand Theft Values – Political Sleight of Hand

In my memory, the corruption of children has been attributed to everything from books, music, television, movies and the latest scapegoat, video games. At every turn there’s some podium-thumping authority figure crying out for the salvation of our youth and the banning of the entertainment source du jour that, they assure us, is turning our children into drug abusing, amoral, Satan worshipers.

With all too frequent regularity, people buy the sell. Books are removed from schools, ratings are slapped on movies and games are banned from stores (and entire countries). End result? Nothing changes.

Perhaps the problem isn’t that our kids are mindless zombies prone to acting out everything they’re exposed to in video games and movies. Perhaps the issue isn’t that they’re all one bad lyric away from joining a cult. Perhaps the real lemmings in all of this are the parents.

I say this because if you stop looking out at the influences in the world and start looking UP at those podium-thumping leaders, you begin to see where the real problem likely resides. Our children aren’t being led astray by rap culture or Grand Theft Auto. Our children are learning very real lessons from very real people who are setting a very bad example.

Not long ago I was reading the news about yet another politician caught up in yet another scandal (Vito Fossella) and I found myself thinking, “must be a slow news day.” I wasn’t being witty, that’s just the thought that passed, unbidden, through my little brain. But it sort of stuck there and tumbled around and I eventually realized what was bothering me was just how desensitized I’d become to scandal in politics. That got me asking some questions.

1) How can we convince our children that adultery is bad when the people we’ve chosen to lead our nation are adulterers?
2) How can we convince our children that prostitution is wrong when our political leaders frequent prostitutes?
3) How can we tell our children to watch out for pedophiles when people we’ve elected for office prey on children?
4) How can we convince our children that oral sex really is sex and not just a social ice-breaker when a president of the United States didn’t think so?
5) How can we convince our children that lying is wrong when truth in politics is, at best, antiquated – if not extinct?
6) How can we tell a child that bullying and torturing others in the schoolyard is wrong when torture is condoned by our government?
7) How can we instill respect for the law when the people running our country have little or no regard (or accountability) for those very same laws?
8) How can we teach values when the people we put in office have none?
9) How can our children learn ethics when those who should be role models and who should most embody ethical behavior cast it aside whenever it becomes inconvenient?
10) How can biblical values be passed on to children when they only serve as convenient sound-bites to lure the Right to the voting booth?
11) How can we profess to be a good and virtuous nation when we’ll allow millions to die in foreign countries because they offer no strategic or economic benefit to us?
12) How can we teach our children the value of truth and integrity when lies and hypocrisy plague every branch of US government?
13) How can we tell our children not to drink and drive when our politicians are doing so?

Our children and teens are a little bit naive, a little bit impulsive, a little immature and a little prone to making the occasional bad decision from which they will hopefully learn valuable life lessons. But they do have a higher brain they’re willing to tap into and, with the exception of those already chemically or psychologically prone to problems, they are perfectly capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality.

The problem isn’t a game full of pixilated heroes shooting up pixilated villains. The problem is that the very real people who should be heroes are setting consistently bad examples.

We, as parents, need to stop trying to find the hidden answer to our children’s corruption and need to start looking at the very real causes we’ve been turning a blind eye to; the top-down moral decay so prevalent and unaccountable in American politics.

The next time a podium-thumping “leader” starts waving his right hand in the direction of entertainment media and casting blame their way, try not to fall for that old magician’s trick. Instead, take a close look at their left hand. You’ll likely find it secreting away a bottle, a woman, an intern or a vault full of lies.

Point the finger of blame where it belongs and hold the right people accountable. Our votes put them in office. It is our obligation to insist they set the right example for our youth and to send a potent message. The wholesale disregard for truth, justice, values and integrity in US politics is no longer acceptable.

David manages, a blog devoted to encouraging honesty, kindness and ethical behavior in business, politics, entertainment and personal life.