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Jewish World Review April 11, 2000/ 7 Nissan, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports



The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition -- A MEMBER of the dreaded Devil Dog gang in Phoenix, Arizona was convicted of pummeling another youth to permanent disfigurement. Following his sentencing (the little dear got 2 years in the state pen), the Devil Dog's parents expressed outrage at the case detective. Right. The problem is not gang activity or their lad's history of fighting --- it's an overzealous detective.

Following the death of six-year-old Kayla Rowlands at the hands of her classmate, Master Owens, who packed heat for treacherous first grade, the adults demanded gun safety locks. Right. Dedric Owens, father of the young gunslinger, has cocaine and burglary convictions and was jailed for the parole violation of operating a combination stolen weapons/drug boutique when his son gave "juvenile crime" new meaning. Such a man, who refers to his abode as a "crack house," won't be shaking in his Nikes when an incensed ATF agent comes clucking, to wit, "Never mind theft, THESE GUNS HAVE NO LOCKS!"

Mothers across the nation prepare for their MMM (Million Mom March) because they follow this nation's non-syllogistic ergo proposition on children. The ergo proposition kicks in when youth commit all manner of carnage and adults respond: Our children are heartless killers who use guns, ergo, banish the guns! Or ergo, let's have more after-school programs to curb Devil Dogs. Or ergo, let's reduce class size to give teachers time to frisk for guns and discuss their lethal and Republican nature. Or ergo, let's have more school counselors so that traumatized students have reliable support systems. The ergos go on: more day care regulation and subsidies; higher wages; Internet in every home; mass transit for good measure and voila!, problem solved. Right. Government programs won't stop violent children. They create worse monsters. Picture Lon Chaney mixed with Norman Bates or the Rainman done by Stephen King.

In its report on the current crop of monsters, the FBI finds but one pattern in the gun-wielding children: they all experienced depression, with some of them consigned to the younguns drug du jour: Ritalin. The ergo ignored in the rush to regulation is: eliminate the depression!

Parents may well be the primary cause of children's depression. There are three types of parents, two of which are depressing by definition. Type One parents do too little because they have never found a cause greater than themselves -- even their own progeny are not sufficient motivation to bring down dating, marriages and pregnancies to just adolescent level. Type Ones cross all economic groups -- the wealthy neglect by travel and socializing and the not-so-wealthy neglect by crime and socializing, sometimes in prison.

Type Two parents are those who do too much. Wealthy Type Two parents' children want for naught. They speak to their children as Sherry Lewis spoke to Lamb Chop, only this Lamb Chop brings Harleys and barb-wire tattoos to mind. The not-so-wealthy Type Twos' children look the same, not because they are spoiled, but because their parents fight teachers, principals, judges and investigators each time they try to reign in these spawn from heck.

Dedric Owens, Type One parent, has six children with three different women. The Flint shooter's mother, Tamarla Owens, does drugs and was convicted in 1992 of child abuse. During her son's recess show-down at the swings, Tamarla was wandering, having left her son with Dedric, the reliable, who was residing with her brother, the wanted.

Amidst all the ergo angst over gun safety locks, a hard look at family structure, parent skills and the instability of children's lives might help. Children with one parent live in economic stress. Single mothers are seven times more likely to be at poverty levels. Children of divorce flit between two households operating on the same income that wasn't sufficient for one.

Children of divorce experience higher levels of antisocial behavior and problems at school. Just think of children trying to manage the holidays with mom and dad divorced, their moms and dads divorced and perhaps remarried. The child has two homes, two sets of parents and eight sets of grandparents, half of whom are not related. Generational connections dissipate because the ties that bind aren't formed when a child's time is divvied up among so many. Children of even the wealthiest divorced parents enter adulthood, some 10-15 years following their parents' divorces, worried, underachieving, angry, unable to commit, ergo, depressed.

But what of those young shootists with parental units in tow? Type Two parents may be together and even financially secure, but wreak havoc on their children because they see spanking as primitive and discipline beyond time-out as abuse. They struggle mightily as their tots turn into teens but still behave as tots. This is the Ritalin crowd. Junior shows a little bit of snails and puppy dog tails and they moan "Get this child some drugs!"

Their child's ADD is a badge of honor -- they speak as helpless souls living with baby wolverines.

There is an antidote for the monsters we have created: Type Three parents. These parents devote the time and discipline necessary for raising decent human beings. They follow the principles that were once passed from generation-to-generation, until the generations got jumbled in the divorce shuffle:

1. Get married before you have children.

2. Stay married. Try the McCain moniker --- devote yourself to a cause greater than self: your spouse and your children.

3. Say "no" to children --- give them a little deprivation and some incentive for work.

4. Give your children the gift of consequences --- let them suffer for disobedience.

5. Stop blaming everyone and everything for your child's actions.

6. Sit down and read to that toddler, talk to that grade schooler. Spend some time at home understanding what's going on in those minds and lives.

Ergo parents --- two of them, Type Three. Right.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings