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Jewish World Review July 14, 1999 /1 Av, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Econophone

The too busy parent

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
WHILE POLITICIANS AND MANY in the press attempted to make the availability of guns the "lesson" of the Littleton massacre, another theme just won't seem to go away. What more and more Americans are recognizing is that the Too Busy Parent is a cultural phenomenon with vast consequences for children.

One researcher estimates that 50 percent of parents do not know who their adolescent children's friends are. Another has found that the average teen-ager spends only six minutes a day talking to his mother, and even less conversing with his father. American advertising is full of time-saving devices for "families on the go." Usually they are assumed to be going in different directions. Presidential hopeful Dan Quayle says he's seen predictions that the next technological innovation will be microwave ovens in cars, so that people can eat while driving -- an idea both unappetizing and, one would guess, unsafe.

Still, it is a telling snapshot of the way we live now. Families pack briefcases, backpacks and cell phones before heading out the door. When they reunite in the evening, they pop dinner in the microwave or order takeout and then veg out in front of their multiple television sets.

Each and every time a kid shoots up the schoolyard, the parents are said to be shocked. Frequently, they will have had no idea that their children were going so catastrophically off track. More evidence of parental disengagement was recently reported in The Washington Post. It seems that among middle-school students in the Washington area, a new fad has taken hold -- oral sex.

Children as young as 11 are asking questions about it, talking about it and engaging in it. Michael Schaffer, supervisor for health education in Prince George's County, told the Post: "It is now the expected minimum behavior. The kids say if you're not going to have sex, at least do this." They gather at one another's homes, or in public parks, and "hook up" for oral sex. Some kids have been known to do it at school (in a crowded study hall), and there was one report about a couple of seventh-graders engaging in oral sex on the school bus.

Once confronted, the kids offer health-based justifications for their conduct. They know that sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy and disease, and many youngsters are keen to remain "technical virgins." Oral sex seems to them a "safe" alternative. "They think they are acting responsibly" a mom told the Post.

Such responses are unsurprising from kids who have been schooled in "safe sex" dogma and whose cultural milieu consists of rap music, sex-drenched television and movies, and check-out counter magazines that constantly exhort single women to "keep him coming back for more."

Apart from their misapprehension about the dangers of disease from oral sex (STDs can be transmitted orally), their rationale makes perfect sense. After all, if the only reason to refrain from sex is to avoid pregnancy and disease -- as the safe sex approach teaches -- oral sex with proper precautions ought to be OK, right?

When a principal at a Washington-area middle school phoned the parents of about 20 girls and asked them to attend a meeting about the problem, the parents were, you guessed it, stunned. At the meeting, a few parents spoke knowledgeably about their children's behavior, but most were dumbfounded, repeating a mantra, "But my daughter is in honors classes." One mother went home and confronted her daughter. "What's the big deal?" the daughter retorted. "President Clinton did it."

But a few of the more sensitive kids who started having oral sex in middle school and are now in high school understand very well what the big deal is. One girl, who did it because she imagined that the boy would become her boyfriend thereafter, is sadder but wiser. "I realized pretty soon that it didn't make him like me." Others are dismayed at their own degrading behavior. "It shocks me so much that I put myself at that level."

How very sad that these girls and millions like them around the nation have to learn such painful lessons the hard way. How very despicable of their parents to be so caught up in their own lives and concerns that they don't even know what is happening.


JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate