Unit 3 Social Problems
Latchkey Children—Knock, Knock, Is Anybody Home?
In the United States the cost of living has been steadily rising for the past few decades. Food prices, clothing costs, housing expenses, and tuition fees are constantly getting higher and higher. Partly because of financial need, and partly because of career choices for personal fulfillment, mothers have been leaving the traditional role of full-time homemaker. Increasingly they have been taking salaried jobs outside the home.
Making such a significant role change affects the entire family, especially the children. Some consequences are obvious. For example, dinnertime is at a later hour. The emotional impact, on the other hand, can be more subtle. Mothers leave home in the morning, feeling guilty because they will not be home when their children return from school. They suppress their guilt since they believe that their work will benefit everyone in the long run. The income will enable the family to save for college tuition, take an extended vacation, buy a new car, and so on.
The emotional impact on the children can be significant. It is quite common for children to feel hurt and resentful. After all, they are alone several hours, and they feel that their mothers should "be there" for them. They might need assistance with their homework or want to share the day's activities. All too often, however, the mothers arrive home exhausted and face the immediate task of preparing dinner. Their priority is making the evening meal for the family, not engaging in relaxed conversation.
Latchkey children range in age from six to thirteen. On a daily basis they return from school and unlock the door to their home with the key hanging around their necks. They are now on their own, alone, in quiet, empty rooms. For some youngsters, it is a productive period of private time, while for others it is a frightening, lonely void. For reasons of safety, many parents forbid their children to go out to play or to have visitors at home. The youngsters, therefore, feel isolated.
Latchkey children who were interviewed reported diverse reactions. Some latchkey children said that being on their own for a few hours each day fostered, or stimulated, a sense of independence and responsibility. They felt loved and trusted, and this feeling encouraged them to be self-confident. Latchkey girls, by observing how their mothers coped with the demands of a family and a job, learned the role model of a working mother. Some children stated that they used their unsupervised free time to perfect their athletic skills, such as playing basketball. Others read books or practiced a musical instrument. These children looked upon their free time after school as an opportunity for
personal development. It led to positive, productive, and valuable experiences.
Conversely, many latchkey children expressed much bitterness, resentment, and anger for being made to live in this fashion. Many claimed that too much responsibility was placed on them at an early age; it was an overwhelming burden. They were little people who really wanted to be protected, encouraged, and cared for through attention from their mothers. Coming home to an empty house was disappointing, lonely, and often frightening. They felt abandoned by their mothers. After all, it seemed to them that most other children had "normal" families whose mothers were "around," whereas their own mothers were never home. Many children turned on the television for the whole afternoon day after day, in order to diminish feelings of isolation; furthermore, the voices were comforting. Frequently, they would doze off.
Because of either economic necessity or strong determination for personal fulfillment, or both, the phenomenon of latchkey children is widespread in our society. Whatever the reason, it is a compelling situation with which families must cope. The question to ask is not whether or not mothers should work full-time. Given the reality of the situation, the question to ask is: how can an optimum plan be worked out to deal effectively with the situation.
It is advisable for all members of the family to express their feelings and concerns about the inevitable change candidly. These remarks should be discussed fully. Many factors must be taken into consideration: the children's personality and maturity, the amount of time the children will be alone, the safety of the neighborhood, accessibility of help in case of an emergency. Of supreme importance is the quality of the relationship between parents and children. It is most important that the children be secure in the knowledge that they are loved. Feeling loved provides invaluable emotional strength to cope successfully with almost any difficulty that arises in life.
It's a Mugger's Game in Manhattan
Martin had lived in New York for forty years and never been mugged once. This did not make him confident—on the contrary, it terrified him. The way he saw it, he was now the most likely person in Manhattan to get mugged next.
"What are the odds of my getting mugged?" he asked his friend Lenny.
"How much are you willing to bet?" said Lenny, who was a compulsive gambler.
"Oh come on, this is too important to bet on!"
"Nothing is too important to bet on," said Lenny, shocked. That was the end of their friendship.
"How do you think I can avoid getting mugged?" Martin asked his friend Grace. Grace had not been outside her apartment in five years, as a sure-fire way of avoiding being mugged. It had failed; someone had broken in and mugged her.
"I've no idea, Martin," she said. "Most of these guys are on drugs anyway, and they need the money for their addiction."
This gave Martin an idea. If the muggers only needed the money for drugs, why didn't he offer them drugs instead? Then possibly they would be so grateful they wouldn't harm him. Through some rich friends he knew he bought small quantities of heroin and cocaine. He had never touched the stuff himself, so he had to label them carefully to make sure he didn't get them mixed up.
One day he was walking in a part of Central Park he shouldn't have been in (the part where there is grass and trees) when three men leapt out at him. One was black, one was Puerto Rican and one was Caucasian. Well, at least mugging is being integrated he thought.
"You want drugs?" he cried. "I've got drugs! Anything you want you can have. Just name it. But don't touch me!"
The three men let go of him respectfully.
"We almost made a big mistake there," said one of them. "This guy's a pusher. Hurt him, and we could have the Mafia down on us. Let's see what you got, mister."
Somewhat to his surprise Martin found himself displaying his wares to his clientele. Even more to his surprise, he found himself accepting money for the drugs, much more than he'd paid for them.
"How come you guys have all this money?" He said. "Why are you out mugging if you have money?"
"Well, we're not real muggers," said the Caucasian embarrassed. "We're out-of-work actors."
"I thought out-of-work showbiz people always became waiters or barmen," said Martin.
"Right. But there are so many showbiz people in catering now that you can't get work as waiters. So we had to get work as muggers.
When Martin got home, he bought some more drugs from his friend. Pretty soon he sold them to some more muggers. Pretty soon after that he found he was spending more and more time pushing drugs, and making more and more money at it. Being afraid of muggings had turned him into a professional drug-pusher.
One day a man leapt out at him and grabbed him. "You want drugs?" said Martin. "I got drugs.
"I want money," said a familiar voice.
"Lenny!" cried Martin. "How're you doing?"
"Badly," said Lenny. "I lost everything gambling."
He hit Martin over the head and took his money, wallet and all his credit cards, leaving the little packets of white powder behind.
He is waiting at the airline ticket counter when he first notices the young woman. She has glossy black hair pulled tightly into a knot at the back of her head—the man imagines it loosened and falling to the small of her back—and carries over the shoulder of her leather coat a heavy black purse. She wears black boots of soft leather. He struggles to see her face—she is ahead of him in line—but it is not until she has bought her ticket and turns to walk away that he realizes her beauty, which is pale and dark-eyed and full-mouthed, and which quickens his heartbeat. She seems aware that he is staring at her and lowers her gaze abruptly.
The airline clerk interrupts. The man gives up looking at the woman—he thinks she may be about twenty-five—and buys a round-trip, coach class ticket to an eastern city.
His flight leaves in an hour. To kill time, the man steps into one of the airport cocktail bars and orders a Scotch and water. While he sips it he watches the flow of travelers through the terminal—including a remarkable number, he thinks, of unmarried pretty women dressed in fashion magazine clothes—until he catches sight of the black-haired girl in the leather coat. She is standing near a Travelers Aid counter, deep in conversation with a second girl, a blonde in a cloth coat trimmed with gray fur. He wants somehow to attract the brunette's attention, to invite her to have a drink with him before her own flight leaves for wherever she is traveling, but even though he believes for a moment she is looking his way he cannot catch her eye from out of the shadows of the bar. In another instant the two women separate; neither of their directions is toward him. He orders a second Scotch and water.
When next he sees her, he is buying a magazine to read during the flight and he becomes aware that someone is pushing him. At first he is startled that anyone would be so close as to touch him, but when he sees who it is he musters a smile.
"Busy place," he says.
She looks up at him—Is she blushing?—and an odd grimace crosses her mouth and vanishes. She moves away from him and joins the crowds in the terminal.
The man is at the counter with his magazine, but when he reaches into his back pocket for his wallet the pocket is empty. Where could I have lost it? He thinks. His mind begins enumerating the credit cards, the currency, the membership and identification cards; his stomach churns with something very like fear. The girl who was so near to me, he thinks—and all at once he understands that she has picked his pocket. 8 What is he to do? He still has his ticket, safely tucked inside his coat—he reaches into the jacket to feel the envelope, to make sure. He can take the flight, call someone to pick him up at his destination—since he cannot even afford bus fare—conduct his business and fly home. But in the meantime he will have to do something about the lost credit cards—call home, have his wife get the numbers out of the top desk drawer, phone the card companies—so difficult a process, the whole thing suffocating. What shall he do?
First: Find a policeman, tell what has happened, describe the young woman; damn her, he thinks, for seeming to be attentive to him, to let herself stand so close to him, to blush prettily when he spoke—and all the time she wanted only to steal from him. And her blush was not shyness but the anxiety of being caught; that was most disturbing of all. Damned deceitful creatures. He will spare the policeman the details—just tell what she has done, what is in the wallet. He grits his teeth. He will probably never see his wallet again.
He is trying to decide if he should save time by talking to a guard near the X-ray machines when he is appalled—and extremely happy—to see the black-haired girl. She is seated against a front window of the terminal, taxis and private cars moving slowly beyond her in the gathering darkness she seems interested in a book. A seat beside her is empty, and the man occupies it.
"I've been looking for you," he said.
She glances at him with no sort of recognition. "I don't know you," she says.
"Sure you do."
She sighs and puts the book aside. "Is this all you characters think about—picking up girls like we were stray animals? What do you think I am?"
"You lifted my wallet," he says. He is pleased to have said "lifted," thinking it sounds
more worldly than stole or took or even ripped off.
"I beg your pardon?" the girl says.
"I know you did—at the magazine counter. If you'll just give it back, we can forget the whole thing. If you don't, then I'll hand you over to the police."
She studies him, her face serious, "All right," she says. She pulls the black bag onto her lap, reaches into it and draws out a wallet.
He takes it from her. "Wait a minute," he says. "This isn't mine."
The girl runs; he runs after her. It is like a scene in a movie—bystanders scattering, the girl zigzagging to avoid collisions, the sound of his own breathing reminding him how old he is—until he hears a woman's voice behind him:
"Stop, thief! Stop that man!"
Ahead of him the brunette disappears around a corner and in the same moment a young man in a marine uniform puts out a foot to trip him up. He falls hard, banging knee and elbow on the tile floor of the terminal, but manages to hang on to the wallet which is not his.
The wallet is a woman's, fat with money and credit cards from different stores, and it belongs to the blonde in the fur-trimmed coat—the blonde he has earlier seen in conversation with the criminal brunette. She, too, is breathless, as is the policeman with her.
"That's him," the blonde girl says. "He lifted my wallet."