By: Ashley Minner
In this microwave era of celebrity and voyeurism, with added technological advances that allows the world to be at our fingertips, one must pose the question: who’s paying attention to our children? We live in a time where we are inundated with external distractions from the time we awake until we lay our heads at night.
If adults, of any class level, are bombarded with these countless distractions around the clock, it goes without saying that our easily-persuaded youth seem to be more distracted than we are; and we cannot afford our future to pace through life in a zombie-like state because they are lacking positive influences in their lives.
Enter, role models. Being an early eighties baby, my most impressionable years were through the late 80s and my favorite decade, the 90s. There was tv, radio and film. I was raised in a town with a population of less than 4000 residents, needless to say, we were out of range for any radio stations, which only left television and movies to shape us.
However, I had the type of mother who was very strict about the length of time that my younger sister and I could be glued to the tv. She was there to help with homework, she taught us household chores, and she taught us to be responsible. We were raised, we did not simply grow up.
Being a product of a close-knit family, it was very easy to look to my mother and her siblings and close friends, as well as people in the community, for leadership. There was a sort of “it takes a village” mentality in my hometown at the time. In hindsight, I was very fortunate to have a host of role models in my life and could actually see the fruits of their labor with my own eyes.
From the black teachers at school, to my granny who raised 9 children; from my school bus drivers, to my late aunt, who is the first entrepreneur I’d known. As a kid, I remember being at my favorite big cousin’s high school graduation and how excited I was. I didn’t really understand what it was at the time, I just knew she was doing something good that I wanted to do as well.
Fast forward to 2016, and we can look around and see that the dynamics and overall purpose of role models has drastically changed. Today’s youth are at a great disadvantage when it comes to positive influences. On a familial scale, I believe there’s a breakdown of positive influences for our black children because of the overall breakdown of relationships within the home.
Many homes are headed by a single parent, usually mom, just as mine was until I was 14. But, even if mom is taking care of business as best she can, she is still unable to spend adequate time raising her children because she has to spend upwards of 40 hours a week working to provide for them financially. This is where the village should be leaned upon.
Another aspect on the breakdown of familial role models is the shortening of the gap between generations. You could very easily have 3 generations living under one roof and the eldest person in the home is a 45 year old grandmother, who could very well be in her “prime years,” but she’s been awarded elder status and may not exactly possess the knowledge that we expect our elders to pass to us.
So, in circumstances such as this, what can a 30 year old mother teach her 15 year old son about manhood? What can she teach her daughter about womanhood if for whatever reason she became a teenage mother herself? For this issue alone warrants a conversation about the importance of positive examples of black men and women and how vital they are to the development of our young boys and girls.
Due to the changing of the times and our unlimited and unnecessary access to the world of entertainment, it can appear that only those who are shown performing on a stage or playing a sport are deemed worthy of role model status. Don’t get me wrong, the Venus & Serenas and Steph Currys & Cam Newtons of the world are great examples of the work ethic it takes to achieve their respective levels of greatness; but our youths’ influences cannot be strictly limited to the entertainment sector.
However, at times, those of us in the audience are quite jaded by our favorite celebrity going-ons and subconsciously want to strive for what they have. But what we often times forget is that those people we love to watch and listen to are just entertainers; and they are here for entertainment purposes only.
Given the platform that celebrities have, it would be a prime opportunity to address the issues that affect us as a collective; but for reasons unbeknownst to me, this is not usually the case. Instead, our youth see the vanity and the lifestyles they may lead, and this is what attracts them to hit the follow button. The implementation of social media is socially programming our youth to believe that life is simply about the likes and follows vs. the character that one possesses.
Young boys strive to be the “boss” with the entourage, waving the cash; and our young girls want to be the scantily-clad vixens on their arm while everyone strikes a pose for the gram. Endless marathons of what I like to call rachet tv display displeasing images, mostly of black women; and young girls, sometimes accompanied by their mothers, tune in week after week.
While our children are absorbing these images like the sponges their young minds are, they are being negatively influenced by those who have the power to influence the masses; and not positively influenced enough by those around them. These images are replayed night after night on television, then discussed on morning radio shows the day after.
The cycle is never ending. From Empire to Love & Hip Hop, our children see black men and black women behave like children, and in some cases gives the impression that there is no love shared between the two. They internalize these images and become desensitized to the disrespect and violence that they’ve seen, and often act out these behaviors when amongst their peers.
I’m thankful to have grown up in an era without social media because we actually learned how to socialize and learn from one another in the flesh. I’m thankful for being able to watch programming such as the Cosby Show and Family Matters vs. being raised by Spongebob and Real Housewives of [insert city name here]. I’m thankful for the entertainers of my era actually having the talent to make music vs. being given such platform because of you think you’ve penned a catchy hook.
I’m genuinely afraid for our future because we are not giving our children what they need as a whole: values. If the children really are our future, as Whitney sang, the time is now for us to snatch them out of the hold that entertainment has on them and instill in them what you were taught as a child. If you didn’t have those kinds of influences in your upbringing, you should absolutely want to give a child all the great life lessons you never had. If it takes a village to raise a child, where is our village?