Disrespectful, rebellious, and a menace to themselves and others, the American teenager has become America's embarrassment before the world.
Perhaps we find it funny that many American teens are having more sex than their parents. And perhaps we have so given up on the idea of teenage boys respecting women that we don't bat an eyelash when we discover that 70 percent of all sexually active 14-year-old girls have had intercourse against their wills, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
But statistics aside, the best evidence of the how the American teenager has become a bewildered beast of the field is empirical. Go to any American public high school, look at how the teens dress and interact, and ask yourself if they were raised by parents in homes or by wolves in the woods?
The biggest factor in the decline of the American teen is abysmal parenting. Parents are at a loss as to how to even communicate with their teen sons and daughters. In their desperation they have taken an unexpected and radical step. They have now turned to the teens themselves for advice.
Welcome to a world turned upside down, with parents now looking to kids to find out how they ought to be parenting. When I first saw two young teen girls, Lara Fox and Hilary Frankel, on "Good Morning America" promoting their new book, "Breaking the Code: Two Teens Reveal The Secrets To Better Parent-Child Communication," I could scarcely believe my eyes. Was this for real? Are teenagers now writing parenting books? Are 16-year-olds the new Dr. Benjamin Spocks? Surely, I thought, this cannot be. Surely we understand that it is the younger generation that must follow the lead of the older, and not the reverse. Surely no one would take such books seriously.
So if you want talk to your 15-year-old daughter about her Neanderthal boyfriend, or your 14-year-old son about the strange odor of a Colombian origin lingering on his clothing, you don't just barge into their rooms. After all, they may be watching their favorite television show. And what gives you the right to interrupt something so important as "The O.C."? Rather, knock on the door, tell your teen that you'd like to speak with him or her. If it's not convenient, make an appointment to speak to them later. That's right. Give them a little respect.
Which is more unnerving? Parents asking advice from teens about how to raise their children, or the suggestion that rather than kids respecting their parents, parents ought to be respecting their kids?
Of all the books I thought I'd never see, this might have been at the top of the list. But there was the book again, on the cover of the Sunday New York Times "Style" section with a positive spin. The idea of kids giving parenting advice to parents was going mainstream.
Surely the American parent cannot fall any lower. Is it really possible that grown men and women who have gone to college, worked jobs, and lived life are less wise than their teenage children? Was this about to usher in an alarming genre of self-help books and TV programs with teenagers giving advice to their adult parents? Were we about to see books with titles like "Two Teenagers Advise Parents on How to Be Happily Married?"
This topsy-turvy world, where the very foundation of reason is turned on its head and the older generation is expected to learn from and show respect to the younger generation, subverts the very essence of the fifth commandment. G-d did not decree "Honor thy teenage daughter." He decreed that all children must "Honor thy father and mother."
The inclusion of a commandment to honor one's parents in the most important moral code ever delivered is curious. Is honoring your father really as important as not murdering? You mean that not becoming a rebellious, spoiled brat is as important as not becoming Charles Manson? What could G-d have been thinking?
But without the commandment to honor one's parents, without G-d establishing the precedence and primacy of earlier generations, the very idea of morality is undermined. It is the immutable authority of G-d's laws, and their eternal application at all times and at all places, that gives "Do not murder" its power.
Without a belief that children must honor their parents, we would be back to the erroneous belief that the wisdom of every generation is equal. That the truths contained in the Bible are no more valid than the truths contained in self-help books.