Parental finger pointing

How do you miss a shotgun barrel lying on your son's bedroom dresser?

If neighbors heard glass breaking and the sound of power tools as pipe bombs were built, why didn't the parents?

"The parents should have been aware of it," says Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone, speaking of the massacre preparations in Littleton, Colo.

So it appears.

But as a parent and a former teen with misdeeds carefully concealed from my parents, I hesitate to hurl a stone at those of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

We haven't heard from them yet. They buried their sons this week and are still in seclusion.

But every parent of a teenager with a Gothic black outfit, a swastika, or a Marilyn Manson poster peering from a bedroom wall wonders: What don't I know?

Perhaps the parents of Eric and Dylan saw the aberrant behavior and their efforts to curtail it were ineffective. We don't know. But we all do know wayward teens raised by "good and loving" parents.

Prosecutors are considering charging the parents of the two boys as accomplices to the murders or with negligence.

As a society we're hunting for someone or thing to blame: television, music, movies, guns, video games, the Internet, police, the school system, and, yes, parents.

President Clinton introduced a crime bill yesterday that would hold criminally liable adults who allow children access to guns. At least 15 states in the past two years have passed laws holding parents responsible for the criminal acts of their children. Hawaii and Louisiana can fine or imprison parents for failure to control their offspring. Many states impose fines of up to $5,000 for curfew violations or vandalism. So far, the laws aren't widely enforced. No one knows if they produce better kids or parents.

And no one would argue parenting is easy. Teens have an intense desire to be understood yet hunger for privacy and independence. They can live behind walls of music and communicate in monosyllables.

Who can predict a massacre waiting to happen? But as parents, we must try to stay in touch.

Talk to your children: in the car or at bedtime, say the experts. Buy a copy of a novel they're reading and use it as a basis for a conversation (not a lecture!). Do things together. Boys tend to communicate more easily indirectly, during a shared activity, like a hobby or game.

Check out the MTV and American Psychological Association Youth Anti-Violence Web site:

helping.apa.org/warningsigns

Mostly, listen. And pray.

*We're home. Let us know how we're doing. Write the Homefront, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail us at home@csps.com

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