The Kiddy Shield

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
when we see old things in new ways

Adults who grew up during the Victorian Age found it very difficult to accept the loose "Flapper" morals that became so much a part of the Roaring 20's. Then along came the Depression, a disastrous social experiment called Prohibition, and World War II. The Flappers passed into history. A generation later, the staid parents of the 50's begat the wildly gyrating Vietnam War protesters of the 70's - who are themselves now altogether unsure of how their kids will handle exploding technology in a global economy.

The reason for this quick tour of the 20th Century was to make it clear that no two generations are alike. They're part of different eras, with different experiences and different priorities. Appreciating that fact, I'd like to suggest a couple of things that might make tomorrow's generation radically different from today's. But beware! These are not things you're likely to read anywhere else.

With that said, consider the following: Should kids still be considered an unquestioned blessing? I know you're getting bombarded with "Protect Children" messages on a daily basis, but just stop and think about it for a moment. Are kids today really such a precious commodity? Haven't children always been much like adults? There are a few terrific ones, and a few who are disasters waiting to happen, but the vast majority form a mass in the middle. Most won't find a cure for cancer or become President of the United States. In fact, they won't do much of any consequence during their lives except maybe add a few more to the mass in the middle.

Recently, the 6 billionth baby was born - and a population twice that size is predicted within that baby's lifetime! It may well be that kids are no longer the precious commodity this generation has been taught to believe they are. In fact, can you think of half a dozen problems facing us today that would not be made better if half the people didn't wake up tomorrow? Think about that for a moment.

So now I have to ask, why do we seem so bent on protecting children at all costs? You can think about this in terms of cash. A hospital that has to spend a million dollars on a moribund baby to keep it alive for a year is going to have that much less to spend on anyone coming into the emergency ward with a threatening but treatable disorder. The pie can feed only so many. The raft can hold only so many.

With 6 billion mouths already on board, I have to wonder why people who continue to have babies aren't seen in much the same light as people who pollute the air with second hand smoke, or drive drunk - as selfish enough to not really care about anyone else. Would you rather take your chances sitting next to a smoking drunk driving the freeway or a new mother changing diapers during dinner on a plane? And if you say you would prefer to avoid both, should not breeders be seen as selfish polluters?

At the beginning of the 21st Century, a few billion more babies will clearly offer far more in the way of possible problems than possible solutions. So who are all the people running around to protect children? Are they individuals who, unable to manage their own lives, try to hide behind those they say they want to save - using them as a kind of "Kiddy Shield?"

Take a sometimes gross and foul-mouthed guy like Howard Stern. Any adult who said "I don't like him so take him off the air" would be told simply to vote with their dollars (don't buy the sponsor's products), and/or tune to another station. No problem! Those who agree that Howard is indeed the talented King of All Media would then be free to vote with their dollars and not tune to another station.

But as soon as the Kiddy Shield is thrown up, otherwise sensible approaches are abandoned in the face of hysterical hyperbole. The person unable to hear certain words uttered without suffering neurotic stress is suddenly tolerated, and perhaps even supported, when he screams for censorship to "Protect Children." I used to be a kid and, believe me, certain words were much more of a threat to certain adults than they ever were to me.

Recently a TV network used the "S" word in one of its programs. It was a first. Some of the local affiliates blocked the word while others allowed it to go through saying that it was scheduled to air after children should be in bed. So there you have it. One group censoring the word to protect children and the other group allowing it to air on the assumption that protected children would already be asleep.

The fact that the "S" word is already known and freely used by the vast majority of kids never entered into the debate. Also, is there any legitimate evidence to show that kids who use the "S" word are in any way inferior to those who don't? I doubt it. And besides, since some words are clearly capable of unbalancing some already precariously balanced adults, wouldn't it be better to try and desensitize the next generation? It would seem to be the obvious course for anyone really interested in future adults who are less vulnerable to petty assaults on their senses. Remember "Sticks'n'Stones" and how words by themselves can never hurt?

Look At It This Way

Each generation is forced to face unique problems. The major problem for the next generation will be their own numbers. Keeping kids from real world experiences while instilling a sense of frailty is not protection. It's simply a means of allowing the current era's attitudes to persist beyond their time.

Growing up when the population was still manageable, adults today enjoy a sense of privilege. If you don't like a word you see in the dictionary, sue the publisher, write your congressman, have the book banned from the local library! In a world so crowded that stepping on toes will be commonplace, any misguided attempts at protection today will simply encourage walking barefoot tomorrow.

Dr. Mason is a psychologist & radio talk show host. He may be contacted directly at

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