Goodbye Mayberry Changes in the American Family Dynamic

I was recently sent a clip via internet from the Andy Griffith Show. This clip came from an episode where a young boy had been warned by Barney the Deputy about riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. On the third offense he had been brought in to the jailhouse and his bike was impounded. The boy was unrepentant and eventually basically said he wanted his father to go to jail instead of his bike being impounded. The father realized that the son cared more for a bike than the father’s freedom and announced he would sell the bike. Andy Taylor, the sheriff, then advised the father of the miscreant that there is a woodshed out back of the jail and the viewer is left to assume that the boy is taken out there to receive a spanking.

Boy, have times changed. Now I have a feeling the parent might tell the Sheriff that he felt like his son was being unfairly punished. I am almost positive the child would not have to worry about receiving corporal punishment. In fact the parent might even threaten the law enforcement officer with a lawsuit or at least a complaint.

Teachers are also not getting the respect by children or the backing by parents that they used to. I know of one incident where a substitute teacher was threatened by a student’s parent after the teacher had taken the child to the principal’s office due to a behavior issue. In another case a child manufactured a story wherein the child was pushed by a substitute teacher. This after the teacher had verbally told him to cease some continuing disruptive behavior. The child apparently felt embarrassed by being upbraided and went home claiming he had been pushed by the substitute. A parent complained to the school administration. Although the teacher vehemently denied the allegation the powers that be decided that it would be better if that teacher did not teach at that school anymore. Thus to me the little juvenile delinquent learned how to get his way at a very young age. If you ever watched “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Leave It to Beaver” things were portrayed way different back then. Usually the family had a father and mother with two or three children – basically the nuclear family of the day. Shows with one parent made for drama like “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” and “Family Affair”. If a TV family did not have a father and mother it was usually because of a death of the spouse. Single parents due to divorce or, God forbid, an unwed mother, were not approved for television. People had an expectation of what the nuclear family was and generally it was the two parents with children unit. As I was growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s divorces seemed to be rare. I cannot recall any of my grade school classmates coming from a “broken home”. In high school I knew of no unwed (now termed “single” mothers. If the children committed some social infraction it was dealt with by their parents usually as a moral or ethical lesson.

Then for several reasons the family unit seemed to be changing. Parents got divorced. Girls had babies without the infant being secretly adopted out. Single moms kept their babies and raised them.

Too often the father was not in the picture. Frequently the child lacked a male figure in their life.

Due to many divorces the children were moved back and forth between parents. Sometimes the parents did not want to lose the favor of their child or children so they did not parent as they should have. I began my career in law enforcement in the early 80s and in my patrol days I frequently answered custody dispute calls or child transfer calls. I would see behavior issues in many children and in many of those cases it appeared that the parent wanted to be more of a “cool parent” than a real parent to the child or children. They were no enforcing rules or imposing discipline that they should have been. I had several parents tell me “I don’t want to be the bad guy” when it appeared that discipline was needed and warranted. This lack of parental assertion of discipline seems to be rampant often due to “broken families” .

Technology is another factor that I believe is definitely affecting the interaction of families. Now instead of voice contact parents and children often make contact via text or other electronic means.

As babies children are given “devices” to amuse themselves. On even short car trips now the child is usually put in the back seat in a car seat. There is no face to face front seat communication. On a trip back in the 90’s I had to keep a two-year-old occupied as we drove back from out West. She was in a car seat but looking forward. We could point out things and somehow we stumbled on a game where I held up my hand and she would go “pow” while I dropped a finger or thumb with each imaginary shot. This game kept her amused for hours. Her Dad was a policeman, crack shot and avid gun collector so that may have influenced how that game came up.

I proposed my theory to a friend that now children will no longer be exposed to the right arm of their mother suddenly springing in front of them if she has to suddenly hit the brakes. This is a phenomenon that most every 50’s, 60’s and 70’s era child has experienced when riding in a vehicle with their mother. I think the placement of car seats in the backseat due to airbags is increasing the divide between parent and child. Technology while helping to protect the child is causing a disassociation. I believe this as look at the rising number of child injuries and deaths due to heat by being left in the back of the car. This is exacerbated by parents being distracted by their phone. Whether its text, tweet, Snap Cheat (that’s what I call it) or some other form of electronic form of communication, its occupying the parent so they are not communicating with the child/children. I recently had a car pass me as we were leaving a red light. The child was in the car seat in the back with some type of “e” device in front of them while the father was driving and texting (illegal now by the way). I wager there will be little to no interaction between parent and child on that trip. Sadly that will be a normal status for that and many other families. In another incident my girlfriend was incensed that a mother in a restaurant was busy looking at her phone while her baby was in a high chair with an electronic toy. There was no interaction between the two. Again a norm for many “families”? I fear so.

I don’t have any scientific facts or studies to support my theories about some of the reasons for the disconnect between parents and their children being caused by electronics. I think some of it is obvious. Just look around and observe people’s behavior. The proof is right there in front of you. Society’s mores and entertainment are greatly influencing the family also causing some “disconnect”. Perhaps the changing structure of the American family (single parent, grandparent as parent, same sex parents, etc.) is causing some lack of interaction

Oh, that families could be together for dinner engaging in conversation without everybody having their face in an electronic device. Then after dinner everybody could watch family programming with a moral or positive message and no profanity or hidden political or social agenda. The days of Mayberry and the Cleavers are long over. I’m glad I got to experience them.

– Mark Haskins