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13 June 2001, 01:00

Good god, I love the PBS program FRONTLINE.

The stories they do are so eye opening, so compelling.

Rockdale county in Georgia looked like to me a wondrous community. When, at a time, most teens, and most communities portrayed on TV look as if there should be ominous music swelling in the background as the words COPS flash on the screen, Conyers, Georgia, looked like the neighborhood I grew up in as a kid. It had the upscale driveways and the homecoming mums in the fall. It also had an outbreak of syphilis amongst its teens. Teens that came from good homes, well-to-do families, well-bred backgrounds were having sex. A lot of sex. No, not a lot of sex for a teenager. A lot of sex for a longshoreman. And it ran the gammut of sex, from the regular kind practiced by quakers to the stuff they do when KY jelly is a requirement. And it involved alcohol (big surprise).

If you haven’t seen this program that dissects this situation back in 1996, I encourage you to do so. I can’t begin to do it justice here. But, the thing I took away from it was that, even though these teens received everything materially, the parents, who weren’t abusive, who weren’t even particular strict, were, however absent. Absent in the literal and figurative sense. Working 60, 70, 80 hours to provide every privilege for the children, but yet, when home, not seemingly even talking to their kids.

There was even a teenage boy, who at age 17, lives in the flippin’ POOL HOUSE in back of the main house. He described his family as one where you could do what you wanted and no one would stop you. They did one of his interview in the little pool house, and this boy had TWO TVs in the same room. Lordy. He wasn’t particularly evil, or bad. Just, it seem to me directionless, and bored. A whole community of these kids, bored, running around, pretty much taking it over. I was pretty shocked when one man articulated his parental philosophy: “Give’em a long leash, let them sow their oats now and git it out of there system.” He even admitted to being really lenient. To remind you, this is a community that suffered from a teenage syphilis epidemic and a high school shooting.

I don’t pretend to know what its like to be a parent, and I hope to god I never do. But isn’t one of the things a parent should do is guide their children, instill some sense of responsibility, and help them find a direction? How can you do any of this when you don’t talk to them? The long leash guy said that he probably could have communicated better with his kid, and matter-of-factly stated that he probably didn’t because they all did their own thing in his house. “There is a TV in every room, and we watch our own programs…” (or something like that.) I am not a big fan of strict, strict households or over emphasizing punishment, but, good god, some of these kids just had the community by the balls. One boy had actually stabbed someone when he was 14 and never got in trouble for it.

I don’t know what turns a child down the wrong path, what decisions they make or series of events that happen, which becomes that crossroads, or that pivotal point in the road for so many kids. If you statistically judged my family and my upbringing, by all rights, I should have done more drugs, or spent more time in jail. If you looked at those kids in Georgia, for all the privilege and traditionalism provided them, they should have had all the searchlights emblazoning the way to the right path. I know that for a child to see the good path, they must be guided, and guided from birth, not just when you find out your 14 year old has syphilis and about 30 sex partners in the last year. These parents, who were finally confronted with the facts of their teenagers activities, looked for all the external reasons they could to explain their kids behavior – the media, the music, the internet (heh heh). Not one considered that it might be them, that the crux of a reason and maybe the blame lay at their feet.

I’m beginning to think, as I see more and more “bad” kids that it all starts at home. I don’t think its Marilyn Manson or Tupak Shakur, or the playboy channel or the lack of basic cable in the home that causes many childhood trains to derail. I think its the parents. I almost think that parents should be taught that a good home is not necessarily one filled with material richness and that every want is not a need and every need is not a right. Substituting material possessions, providing instant gratification for kids maybe easier than giving the time and emotional support. That’s only one opinion, and its also a very scant and simplified one. Raising children very often is not so cut and dry, and its never really easy. If it is, then I’ll bet that something is really wrong.

You know, if I, childless and mostly clueless, realized this, you would think most parents would to.