When one of our daughters was eighteen months or so, a fellow parishioner referred to her as ‘the one with attitude’. This was mildly amusing (especially since it must have been fairly impressive to have been that obvious from about fifteen pews back!) but lately I have been thinking that it shouldn’t have been. There is nothing to admire in strident wilfulness, and whilst it might be temporarily permissible in a child of that age, the temporary should be stressed. The bumper stickers one sees so commonly which emphasise vulgarity, discourtesy and self-importance, or the slogans on t-shirts, of which I need not give examples but with which most will be familiar, quote the twenty-first century description of ‘attitude’ (i.e. bad attitude) as if it were a virtue.
Bad attitudes are responsible for a great deal of the troubles with which we are forced to contend in our present social set-up, especially bad attitudes to authority, honesty, gentleness and modesty. Yet these bad attitudes are exactly what is held up as worthy of striving for! Examine almost any magazine available in the newsagent, almost any television show (including the news), almost any literary curriculum in schools, indeed almost any recent example of any art, and the underlying thrust is the same: defiance of authority and glorification of self. It is often subtle enough that we don’t even realise how greatly we are ourselves influenced by it. It is connected with the modern idea that anything novel is of necessity good, and that individual self-expression is essential to the flowering of the personality.
How peculiarly this is opposed to the traditional Catholic ideal that self-denial is essential to the flowering of the personality – that true maturity, the uncomplaining carrying of one’s own little crosses, brings wisdom!
I am frustrated and saddened that so many people assume there is necessarily a conflict between young people and older people. Of course youth must learn, and of course wisdom must not oppress – parents, do not drive your children to resentment – but why is it assumed that our young people must become these monsters called ‘teenagers’? What is special about the teenage years other than inexperience, enthusiasm and idealism? These are ripe to develop into good attitudes. The conflict is not necessary. Sometimes we can inadvertently make it so by expecting our youngsters to be ‘teenagers’; but why not expect them to be worthy, charming, reliable and pleasant people instead? I do not speak here of youngsters in school, because the pressures upon them are so extensive and difficult to combat; I am treating specifically of home-schooled young people. Most youngsters allowed to develop normally in a secure family, that is without being crippled by having thrust upon them the attitudes and expectations of secular society, will develop attitudes of decency, even without the rigorous teaching of the Church.
Haven’t you observed even young women dressed in short tight skirts and ‘crop tops’, unconsciously constantly tugging at the hemlines to try and cover their exposure?
Despite the persistent message pushed at them from all directions, despite their anxious efforts to fulfil what they have been taught to yearn for, they are somehow subconsciously aware that they are immodestly dressed. The instinct for good has been subverted.
These youngsters have been betrayed into believing that liberty lies in doing what one pleases. Of course true liberty lies is doing what Christ pleases, and the Catholic Church is the custodian of that Truth. So of course our disciplining of our children’s attitudes, as of our own, must be the disciplining of the self to Christ. We must accept the authority of the Church. Humility is a necessity; obeying someone else means subduing our own pride. Our children will not accept our authority if they do not see that we accept higher authority. If they are to be co-operative and self-disciplined it will only because they observe the same qualities, or at least a striving for the same qualities, in ourselves. What a daunting challenge! But we could not face it alone. We will only succeed through Christ. A striking example of that self-discipline which we can provide is for our children to see us go to regular Confession.
I love the companionship and joy of my older children as they grow up. I love the easy expectation among our homeschooling families that our young people are simply that; our youngsters, growing from childhood to adulthood. I love the happy relationships that our little ones have with the older children, their trustful expectation of love and tolerance. I earnestly pray that it will not be riven by bad attitudes, but rather strengthened and reinforced by good ones.