When I was a member of my high school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, a guest speaker was brought in to talk to our group about our plans for the future. The career advisor asked each of the students in the room what they wanted to do for a living. My classmates indicated that they were planning on becoming doctors and lawyers and such. Then it was my turn to answer.
“I want to be a DJ on the radio,” I proudly announced.
“So, you want to be a beach bum who lives in a van?” the speaker asked sarcastically as the room exploded with laughter. (Good thing I didn’t tell him my first choice; race car driver.) Mind you, this was years before comedian Chris Farley performed his hilarious motivational speaker skit on “Saturday Night Live” in which he warned wayward youngsters that if they didn’t straighten up, they would soon find themselves “living in a van down by the river.”
Was Matt Foley my high school career advisor?
Although I eventually landed my own time-slot on a college radio station, I didn’t pursue a career in radio. I didn’t live in a van adjacent to any beach or body of water, either. (I did spend some time with my family at a sandy, seaside campground in our RV, but I don’t think that counts.)
Why do grown-ups feel compelled to crush kids’ dreams? Instead of ridiculing me in front of my peers, why didn’t the career consultant suggest that I study Communications or Mass Media in college? Why didn’t he talk to me about seeking an internship at a local radio station? Perhaps I would be a station manager or even a nationally-syndicated radio personality today had the adult in the room decided to encourage, rather than embarrass, me.
These days, I’m the adult in the classroom, and I do everything I can to encourage my students to follow their dreams. It’s my job as their teacher to provide them with the tools and support they will need to become successful at whatever occupations they choose. It’s the same at home with my own kids. I contend that it is the job of every adult to, in whatever way they can, help every child achieve his or her goals.
Most Americans will readily concede that we are all born with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life and Liberty. But let us not forget about the pursuit of Happiness. While Happiness itself is not a right, being free to pursue Happiness is. Ridiculing children, discouraging them, and in many cases forbidding them from following their dreams is not only cruel, it is a crime.
We have words we use to describe crimes that deny people their rights to Life and Liberty. Murder, kidnapping, abduction, slavery, human trafficking, and discrimination are a few examples. Our laws also prescribe punishments for people who commit those crimes. But what about the crime of hindering a child’s right to pursue Happiness?
Feeding, clothing, and sheltering a child is enough to meet the minimum requirements for sustaining Life, and allowing a child to move freely about the house and have occasional visits from friends and cousins counts as Liberty, I suppose. Therefore, it follows that there must be a certain threshold that adults have to meet in order for a child to be considered free to pursue Happiness.
Yet I can’t think of any laws designed to specifically protect a child’s right to pursue Happiness. No statute that I’m aware of requires parents to provide their children with toys, board games, or books to stimulate their imaginations, nor are there any laws requiring parents to engage in conversation with, or show affection to, their offspring. Adults, to my knowledge, are not in any way legally obligated to model positive behavior or encourage children to follow their dreams.
Therefore I ask you, is it a crime to hinder a child’s pursuit of Happiness? Was it a crime for a career expert to publicly ridicule a kid for wanting to become the next Rick Dees, causing him to become so embarrassed and discouraged that he gave up on his childhood dream? Maybe. Maybe not. But what if that same adult had told a young girl that she couldn’t be a police officer or a scientist because those are “men’s jobs”?
What if a parent tells her white child that he isn’t allowed to play with his black friend? What if a pastor tells a young worshipper that she will be ex-communicated if she doesn’t break up with her girlfriend and agree to undergo “conversion therapy”?
We adults have an obligation to furnish for our children an environment in which they feel safe and secure as well as loved and supported. Adults must recognize and protect children’s fundamental rights to Life and Liberty—AND their right to pursue Happiness.
Willfully or recklessly crushing a child’s dreams and inhibiting his or her pursuit of Happiness is therefore a violation of his unalienable rights, and if that isn’t a crime, then I don’t know what is.