Conservative Parents, Left-Wing Children

There is a phenomenon that is rarely commented on but which is as common as it is significant.

For at least two generations, countless conservative parents have seen their adult children reject their core values.

I have met these parents throughout America. I have spoken with them in person and on my radio show. Many have confided to me — usually with a resigned sadness — that one or more of their children has adopted left-wing social, moral and political beliefs.

A particularly dramatic recent example was a pastor who told me that he has three sons, all of whom have earned doctorates — from Stanford, Oxford and Fordham. What parent wouldn’t be proud of such achievements by his or her children?

But the tone of his voice suggested more irony than pride. They are all leftists, he added wistfully.

"How do you get along?" I asked.

"We still talk," he responded.

Needless to say, I was glad to hear that. But as the father of two sons, I readily admit that if they became leftists, while I would, of course, always love them, I would be deeply saddened. Parents, on the left or the right, religious or secular, want to pass on their core values to their children.

As a father, my purpose is not to pass on my seed, but to pass on my values. Just about anyone can biologically produce a child. That ability we share with the animals. What renders us distinct from animals is that we can pass on values. As the Latin puts it, animals only have "genitors;" humans have "paters." Or as the Hebrew has it, parent (horeh) comes from the same root as teacher (moreh). That is why Judaism puts teachers (of religious/moral values) on the same plane as parents.

So it is sad when a parent who believes, for example, in the American trinity of liberty, "In God We Trust" and "E Pluribus Unum" has a child who believes that equality trumps liberty, that a secular America is preferable to a God-centered one, and that multiculturalism should replace the unifying American identity.

It is sad when a pastor, or any other parent, who believes that the only gender-based definition of marriage that has ever existed — husband and wife — has a child who regards the parent as a bigot for holding on to that definition.

It is sad when a parent who believes that America has always been, in Lincoln’s famous words, "the last best hope of earth," has a child who believes that America has always been little more than an imperialist, racist and xenophobic nation.

That this happens so often raises the obvious question: Why?

There are two reasons.

One is that most parents with traditional American and Judeo-Christian values have not thought it necessary to articulate these values to their children on a regular basis. They assumed that there was no need to because that was true for much of American history, when the society at large held those values. Villages do indeed raise children. And when the village shares parents’ values, the parents don’t have to do the difficult work of inculcating these values.

But the village — i.e., American society — has radically changed.

Which brings us to the second reason.

Virtually every institution outside the home has been captured by people with left-wing values: specifically the media (television and movies) and the schools (first the universities and now high schools).

In the 1960s and 1970s, American parents were blindsided. Their children came home from college with values that thoroughly opposed those of their parents.

And the parents had no idea how to counteract this. Moreover, even if they did, after just one year at the left-wing seminaries we still call universities, it was often too late. As one of the founders of progressivism in America, Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University before becoming president of the United States, said in a speech in 1914, "I have often said that the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible." Eighty-eight years later, the president of Dartmouth College, James O. Freedman, echoed Wilson: "The purpose of a college education is to question your father’s values," he told the graduating seniors of Dartmouth College.

Even now, too few conservative parents realize how radical — and effective — the university agenda is. They are proud that their child has been accepted to whatever college he or she attends, not realizing that, values-wise, they are actually playing Russian roulette — except that only one chamber in the gun is not loaded with a bullet.

And then they come home, often after only year at college, a different person, values-wise, from the one the naive parent so proudly said goodbye.

What to do? I will answer that in a future column. But the first thing to do is to realize what is happening.

There are too many sad conservative parents.

Dennis Prager’s latest book, "Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph," was published April 24 by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of PragerUniversity.Com.


  • brickman

    I attended a conservative Catholic university. It helped me to understand conservatism and to counter it’s arguments. My parents were conservative but here is where Prager’s story falls apart. My grand and great grand parents were more liberal. I was falling back into the family pattern. My parents were the outliers. There seems to be a tendency in people these days that history started with their them.

  • Josh

    A big part of the problem here is that a lot of children who were raised in conservative households were basically intellectually oppressed. This isn’t always the case, but often is the case that a right-wing conservative holds quite more to heart than the basic values of God and country.

    Many–I’d say many millions–also hold as a “value” that science is a scam if it goes against holy word; abstinence and waiting for marriage trumps teaching sexual responsibility and fostering healthy sexual attitudes; and, perhaps the most “traditional” value taught that will make a young person revolt, some teach that same-sex relationships are somehow unholy, unnatural and children feel like they must ostracize their peers if they don’t fit a certain mold.

    Think of it through a young person’s eyes coming up in this modern age, where information and the real world surrounds them. Children are learning more about sciences like geology, cosmology, chemistry, etc, yet are often in conflict with parents whose attitudes are basically, “If it’s not in the good book, it’s not right.”

    Children are coming up knowing more about sex now and can, despite the thinking of the fogies, develop healthy sexual attitudes and relationships and do not have to be repressed or under the belief that experimentation is shameful.

    Children also see their friends and others their age who are homosexual, transgendered, etc. They see the way these children are treated so differently and are made to feel so ashamed.

    The intolerance of many right-wingers drives their children away once they learn there are people who are accepting.

    What’s waiting on the other side isn’t any better, but at least the totalitarian left has figured out how to appeal to these outcast children.

    The left embraces science (even bad science, too, unfortunately), and the left embraces the progress made my mankind rather than attributing it to the grace of a deity. The left also embraces a broader range of people for who they are without making them feel ashamed.

    There is a lot under the left’s tent, most of which I wouldn’t want my children to grow up to be a part of. But conservatives often have trouble understanding that their values do not all play well in a modern nation with children who actually go out and participate in the world in a social melting pot. The home can be a commune; once they break away, though, they find out about life.

    I know these liberal youngsters who grew up with traditional parents. My skeptic community is loaded with them. I’d say over 90% are people who, as children, were made to feel small and burdened unnecessarily with shame by their parents’ values. So they went over to the left. There they also soaked in big-government nonsense, became speech police, and began to believe that religion was the bane of existence.

    But how do conservatives think children end up that impressionable to begin with?

    Sorry, but the fact of the matter is that “traditional” values in America need to be drastically updated. For people who came up in the 50s, 60s and 70s, even the 80s, your children are coming up in a much different world. Much of what the parents believe and hold close to their hearts, the children are finding out that the world doesn’t have to operate that way, nor should it.

    In many instances, it’s the parents who need to be taught, not do the teaching. These parents should not allow things to get to the point where their children are fleeing.

  • Wheels55

    When I was 18, I told my parents that I had registered to vote. My Dad asked what party and I told him Republican. Both my parents expressed their unhappiness as they have always been Democrats. But they were very conservative Democrats.
    I am now 58 and recently changed to Libertarian – even further away from my parents’ party.
    Would I have been Democrat if my parents had talked to me about it all? Perhaps initially. But I would have evolved to where I am now because they taught me how to think and be personally responsible.
    Cheer up conservative parents. The simple minds of youth will mature. Just hope you taught them how to think for themselves.

  • gold7406

    Dennis is spot on. Parents need to find “teaching moments” whenever possible. There are too many outside influences bombards kids and most of them are detrimental.
    I will related personal story from years ago, from the “That 70’s Show.” Eric and Red had gotten into an argument and Red told him, “Eric, you didn’t have bad luck, you’re a dumb ass.” I spent the next 90 days in my home explaining the difference between bad luck and being a dumb ass. [being hit by lightning is bad luck, getting a dui is being a dumb ass]