When the dream confronts reality — and children

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | 12:59 p.m. CDT; updated 9:09 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 7, 2012

SEDALIA — Have fun in high school. Go to college. Fall in love. Live happily ever after.

That's what Jon Parkhurst, 33, sees as the message delivered to children today – a message that he finds problematic.  "(That) might be an ideal life, but it's not a guaranteed life," Parkhurst told me when I met him during a recent visit to Sedalia.

Parkhurst, a single father of three, owns a Web development business in Sedalia and is the director of the local young professionals group.

Describing Nickelodeon TV as "Satan’s tongue," Parkhurst said popular media is a huge influence on his children. The problem, Parkhurst described, is that the programs marketed toward children are unrealistic, showing rich kids running around without any parental guidence. And social media — well, it just reinforces bad behavior.

"I don't know that there's a fix. I can tell you I think what some of the symptoms are. I think for a long time people have just gotten this sense of entitlement. I don't see any accountability in America. … That was reinforced for me a hundred times over with the (corporate) buyouts."

The question of whether he has achieved his own dreams was a tough one for Parkhurst. Sure, he owns his own business, bought a house in cash and makes enough money to support himself and three children, but being a single father was never part of the plan.

"The American Dream is meant for single people who are very focused on their careers," Parkhurst said. "It doesn't even touch on family life. It expects for you to have a white picket fence and two and a half kids, but it doesn't say what you do with those kids."

Parkhurst said the nation's expectations need to adjust to the fact that there are now many single-parent families. And while financial success is important, children should be taught to find what they’re good at and then excel in that skill.

Parkhurst’s advice: "Make your own dream. Make your own world."

This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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