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Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 1999/ 20 Tishrei, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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The monsters of epidermal parenting -- IN ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA, three boys, ages, 10, 11 and 13 were arrested for the gang rape of a 9- year-old girl. Her brother, who allegedly set up the orgy, and three other boys also involved, will not be charged because they are under 10, Minnesota's age of criminal culpability.

While the world fretted about the guns in the May Atlanta high school shooting, it was the young shooter's motivation that was the head-turner: he was distraught over a split with his girlfriend. A 14-year-old shouldn't have a date, let alone a girlfriend. Fourteen-year-old boys cruise malls in search of Pokemon Charizard cards and belch for social interaction. They're not ready for moonlight, roses or heartbreak.

Two things I know to be true: the children of this era are largely a mess; and their doting parents are to blame. Doting parents study parenting more than they've studied phonics, find spanking to be an act of treason, and seat belt, helmet and kneepad their children until they look like Charizard. But, these are the motions of parenthood, not its heart. This is vicarious parenting of the body, not the soul, and it produces monsters.

Watching the erratic little spawn of these cautionary, sophisticated and detached parents brings The Lord of the Flies to mind. Tykes gallop and cavort merrily along their destructive ways as parents beam with pride.

Kiddies are pumped full of Prozac and Ritalin as a proxy for discipline.

That the inmates are running the asylum is nothing new. What is stunning is the dismissal of causation. The web site assures mothers that children are fine in day care. But, tied shoes and nutritious snacks don't nurture souls. Children commit bizarre, callous acts because the adults in their lives treat them callously, in warehouses with lots of perks and stringent government regulation. Parents who care enough to draft and lobby, just not change diapers.

There are two levels of parenting. Epidermal parents are what most children have today. Sold on the "quality, not quantity" time theory, epidermal parents are gone the majority of a child's waking hours, rush their children each morning to an institutional setting only to whisk them home at night for a fast dinner before tossing them in front of a TV or into bed.

Children are part of a frantic "To do" list. Epidermal parents provide for their children, have pictures of their children at work, kiss them good night and even prohibit sugary snacks. All the motions say, "I care," but they are encased in a, "Just don't cramp my style."

On the weekends, epidermals do fancy outings, lessons and sports. Nothing is too good for their children and no expense too great except time and career. Epidermal parents are cruise directors assuaging too-much-time-away guilt with cash and no chores. My sister related a doubting parent's comment about a car wash to raise money for their boys' basketball team, "Do you think these boys even know how to wash a car?"

Epidermal parents are hesitant to discipline because they don't want to spend limited parent time at odds with their children. You haven't reached the other level of parenting, subcutaneous, until you are sticking your tongue out at your child behind his back. Peace in the Middle East looks easy next to winning a dinner battle with children who want Oreos. Exhausted from work, you'll get them the plate, the Oreos and a glass of 2% milk for some redeeming nutritional value and your conscience.

Epidermal parenting never explores the child's fears, foes and feelings. Parents' reactions to the bizarre criminal conduct of their children is nearly always, "We had no idea." They're not lying. They truly are stunned because they don't know their children. A subcutaneous parent responds, "How could you not know?" Epidermal parents avoid the repetitive, demanding and maddening routine that can drive an adult like Betty Friedan to start a women's movement because she failed to realize that a child doesn't confide in a fleeting presence and that a fleeting presence can't check a teen's room enough.

Subcutaneous parenthood reaches a part of a child's psyche that emerges only when the world about him is still. Children's lives today are so hectic that their innocence is gone. Their childhoods are frittered away in schedules foisted upon them by overindulgent parents. Adult crimes beset these little bodies with feeble souls.

For far too many years I was an epidermal parent. Things have changed and one day, in those magical hours after school but before dinner that I have come to realize require my presence, my son explained that he and his friend Ben were too hot for soccer at recess so they sat and talked, concluding that they both hate drinking out of their mother's cups because of that "lipstick taste." Ah, the playground lore a subcutaneous parent enjoys.

In my epidermal days, I wouldn't have even have known of Ben.

Policy wonks want better child care so that parents can work. Why not lower taxes so that one income suffices? Women demand that employers provide areas for pumping breast milk so that their children are well-nourished. Why not work less so mom is home at feeding time? Children don't need government day care, more Ritalin, soccer, or an absent pumping mother.

They need their little souls nurtured by subcutaneous parents who listen, discipline, snoop, assign chores and stop the world for a little interaction.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Mr. Cantoni is a former HR executive and the president of Capstone Consulting in Scottsdale, AZ. Send your comments by clicking here.


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09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

©1999, Marianne M. Jennings