"I'm eighteen! I can do what I like!"
As a parent, I know I am not alone in being confronted with this statement. And I do acknowledge that the push toward 'freedom' from parental boundaries is a natural part of maturing. However, it is far from clear which boundaries should be relaxed and when this is appropriate, not to mention the fact that there are parents who feel powerless to stop their eighteen year old doing what they like.
The push to break free of society’s inhibitions and expectations has grown since the 60's and 70's. However, rather than finding freedom from a few constraints, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, where anything goes. The rights of the individual are paramount and 'it is my right to do what I feel like' is voiced more and more stridently.
In all the fight for the freedom to be who I want to be, to do what I want to do, though, I can't help but wonder if we haven't lost something vital. I start to question what the true cost of our 'freedom' may be.
An example of this issue was raised recently on a program titled "Australia on Drugs". The topic of the legalisation of drugs was front and centre again. While such a plan may indeed remove some of the criminal elements, does one person's 'right' to be free to use whatever substances they choose not come with the total responsibility of the cost this may incur to society?
However, this is only one aspect of the issue as I see it. We live in a society generally satiated with every 'good' thing. Lack is mostly a perception rather than a reality, and I believe that this also brings its own problems.
You don't have to read or watch much news to get the impression that our society seems less and less safe, either physically or emotionally. When I read about some of the sexual activity that is being promoted as normal, including the pervasive use of pornography, when I hear the responses of hate toward any who would try to curb or rein in certain behaviours, it seems that the boundaries have not only been broken through, but are in the process of being dismantled and destroyed as permanently as possible.
On the flip side, though, the rate of suicide, self-harm, depression and anxiety are increasing at alarming rates among our young. If what is on offer in terms of 'freedom' is so liberating and wonderful, and they have every 'good thing' at their fingertips, why are they so unhappy?
An insight presented by Walter Brueggemann in The Prophetic Imagination suggests that
a society that is satiated with all that is good actually becomes numb.
I read this as the lack of struggles and difficulties resulting in an inability to actually feel the enjoyment of all that is good. When we are no longer grateful for the good in our lives, and we simply take it as our entitlement, that good ceases to provide any positive impact. We then live from a place where everything is simply “meh”.
This makes sense to me in terms of depression and self-harm. Being depressed is often associated with feeling numb, and those involved in self-harm perhaps just want to feel something, anything.
With no boundaries and no direction because anything (and subsequently, nothing) will do, many of our children are left with too many options. They lack the maturity, self-awareness, self-discipline and foresight to make decisions, so end up making none. From this point, they can easily be led by either the dominant voices around them, or their need for acceptance and belonging.
For me, an illustration of our dogs is helpful. Although I love to see them running free, where they can revel in the freedom to roam and smell and explore, it is only within the boundaries created with them (like staying near me, or responding to my call) that they are secure in that space.
However, there is also a great difference between how they respond to me and how they respond to my daughter.
Because she plays with them, rolls around on the floor with them, and allows them to do things not generally tolerated, they are far less responsive to her discipline. Part of this is because they are confused about what is acceptable and what is not.
They don’t know what the boundaries are because the boundaries keep changing.
The confusion of our dogs is replicated in much of our society. Because there are less and less generally accepted boundaries, there is confusion and loss of direction. There is also an absence of any clear reference point. While we continue to embrace this “freedom” as a society, we will continue to reap more of the same results for our kids.