In early April, the Kaufman family set sail across the Pacific from Baja California. On their 36 foot sailboat were mom and dad – Charlotte and Eric – and their daughters: Cora, 3, and 1 year old Liza. Some 900 miles out to sea, Liza started to get very sick, including a rash all over her body, and didn’t respond to antibiotics. The Kaufman’s had to call for assistance and they were rescued off of their boat and flown to shore.
A huge hullabaloo followed, in which all sorts of people attacked the Kaufman parents for irresponsibility, for putting their kids at risk. Some even said the kids should be taken away from the parents. Even Charlotte’s brother, James Moriset, publicly attacked her. “I don’t understand what they were thinking to begin with,” he said. “I’m sorry, I don’t even like to take my kids in a car ride that would be too dangerous, and it’s like taking them out into the big ocean?”
A recent visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, watching kids playing in the ocean there, and reading a book on the environment (“Green Illusions”) while I was there, got me thinking more about this issue.
But first, as far as the relative dangers: Every year, hundreds – probably thousands – of families are cruising all around the globe with kids of all different ages. The reason we never hear about them is that nothing bad has happened. In fact, with modern GPS, satellite phones, etc., it’s probably safer going cruising with kids now than it was going backpacking or hiking in the back country before the days of cell phones. (Or today, for that matter, if you’re out of range of the cell phone.)
Why Risk It?
“Yes, but why put your children at risk?” some people ask. The sailing magazine “Latitude 38” asked that of readers. Many reported on meeting young kids who were cruisers. They reported on how well adjusted these kids seemed to be, on their sense of responsibility and independence, on how well they related to adults. Having sailed to distant lands and often spent months ashore, these kids didn’t just study different cultures; they lived them. Maybe more important than anything, considering the environmental crisis that is developing, one of the most important things for our children to develop is a sense that we are part of nature, that we don’t stand above and apart from it. What better way to develop that than on a sailboat?
Risks to Children in Capitalist Society
On the other hand, there are the extreme risks raising children in modern-day capitalism – risks to both the mental and the physical health. According to one report, the average child under eleven watches some 2.8 hours of TV per day, and from 12 – 17 years old they watch 3.4 hours per day. And what do they see when they are watching?
- One 2002 study estimated that the average 18-year-old has watched 200,000 acts of violence on TV. And that probably didn’t include watching football. Added to this is the increase since then of the popularity of video games, of which over 85% are violent according to “Psychology Today” (7/17/2006). All serious studies show that watching violence, and participating in it through video games, increases a tendency towards violent actions and decreases natural human empathy.
- One study, for instance (“Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media”, Bushman and Anderson) found that after watching violent episodes the viewer was less likely to help an injured person. “The findings from both studies suggest that violent media make people numb to the pain and suffering of others,” they concluded. Another study (“The Effect of Video Game Violence,” Carnagey, Anderson and Bushman) showed changed brain patterns in those who played violent video games. As one author concluded, “These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.” The part of the brain so affected “is involved in inhibition and emotional modulation.”
Then there are the effects of the thousands of hours of advertising, especially on young children, who find it difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality and also find it difficult to view advertising critically. According to another report, “The vast majority of youth-directed ads promote unhealthy foods and drinks, such as fast-food products, carbonated beverages, and cereals, candies, and other items that are high in sugar and/or fat. Compared with the foods and beverages marketed to adults, those marketed to children continue to be much less healthy overall.”
Study after study has linked TV watching with the view that material possessions equal happiness – consumerism, in other words, while at the same time being directly linked with feelings of isolation, with alcoholism, etc.
Even simply limiting TV watching – or preventing it altogether – won’t eliminate these influences since unless the parents want to raise their kids in an ivory tower they will be influenced by peer pressure.
Of course, it’s possible to raise children who are mentally and physically healthy in modern US capitalist society. But who is to say that the risks are any less than those kids who are off sailing the seven seas.
Oh, yes, and as far as Mexico: I spent nearly one entire day watching a group of little children playing in the surf. They jumped up and down, even dove into the little waves, they lay down and allowed the water to tumble them over, they ran around and laughed. For hour after hour they played, with not a fight or conflict the entire time.
It kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?