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Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 1999 / 28 Kislev, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Don't be stupid about at-risk kids --
When my son was a boy, he loved the books about The Stupid Family. The Stupids did all sorts of stupid things, which the writer refreshingly described as, well, "stupid."

The stories elicited gales of laughter from my child, who found delight, as we all do, in declaring a stupid thing stupid. President Clinton got elected on the force of such bluntness: "It's the economy, stupid," he said.

I was reminded of the Stupids while watching a recent television talk show, CNN's Both Sides, about children at risk. The discussion was led by host Jesse Jackson and included comments from representatives of the National Association of Child Advocates and the Family Research Council.

None of these individuals is stupid. In fact, they're so smart you wonder why they don't get it. They talked, for instance, about all the risks facing today's children: drugs, violence, pregnancy, truancy, abuse, neglect, absentee parents, inadequate child care, lack of adult supervision.

Then they talked statistics: one in three children is born to an unwed mother; one in four children is born into poverty, and so on.

They talked about the need for more day care, more poverty programs, more help for unwed mothers -- the usual stash of Band-Aid remedies. Surely you see the problem. They were confusing the symptoms with the disease, as though teen pregnancy and absentee parents are equal risks when, in fact, one is a predictor of the other.

We can all understand the limitations of resolving broad societal problems in a half-hour of televised sound bites, not to mention a 600-word essay. But not once did anyone suggest that irresponsible, immoral adult behavior is the reason children are at such unprecedented risk. How can we expect to solve a problem if we refuse to identify it?

We refuse because to identify the problem is to judge morally. It is to say, you are to blame for your circumstances; you have to change your behavior. We dance around the truth as though it might bite us.

The truth is that out-of-wedlock "parenting" and paternal absence form the disease that leads to most of the symptoms. The greatest predictor for poverty, for instance, is no father in the home. Likewise for discipline problems, promiscuity, poor school performance, drug experimentation and crime.

Of juveniles in long-term correctional facilities, more than 70 percent are young men who grew up without fathers in their homes, according to David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values.

Any way you dice it, children need two attentive parents. Those children at greatest risk are in that situation largely because they don't have anyone at home. Government can't fix that problem except by supporting incentives that strengthen marriage and by eliminating those that don't.

Which is not the same as saying we shouldn't help the helpless. We should. Feed the hungry and house the homeless while we're at it. But we also have to begin to reverse the cycle of shamelessness that permits behaviors detrimental to society.

It is shameful to bring children randomly into the world when you have no means to support that child. It is shameful to abandon a child you have produced. It is shameful to treat children as one more possession rounding out the home decor.

Unless we address the disease -- divorce, illegitimacy, fatherlessness -- behind the symptoms, we can look forward to more at-risk children. And more stories about stupid families.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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11/30/99: Baby-killer's story has less-than-Precious ending
11/23/99: Pendulum swings back toward discipline, responsibility
11/18/99: Put the babies first in this mighty mess
11/11/99: Skip the applause for this baby news
11/09/99: Gore could benefit from a secret in Wolf's clothing
11/03/99: Who needs 'birds and bees' when we have MTV?
11/01/99: Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say
10/26/99: Children's needs must take priority in divorce system
10/19/99: The deadbeat dad is less a scoundrel than an object of pity
10/15/99: Bullying boys ... and girls
10/12/99: Divorced dads ready to wage a revolution
10/04/99: A father's best gift? His presence
09/30/99: Sorry, guys, Faludi is no friend of yours
09/28/99: Science's new findings: Scary future for families
09/23/99: The great blurring of need and want
09/21/99:Focus on more than baby's first 3 years
09/16/99: Commentary from kids sheds no light on day-care debate
09/14/99: Fathers' group seeks to right inequities
09/09/99: Son now has a license to grow up
09/07/99: A slap in the face of domestic violence
09/01/99: No, ma'am: Legislation on manners misses the mark
08/26/99: For better boys, try a little tenderness
08/24/99:The ABC's of campaign questions
08/19/99: Male 'sluts'
08/11/99: Language doesn't excuse bad behavior
08/09/99: When justice delayed is still justice
08/03/99: Unemployment? Not in this profession
07/30/99: It's not about race -- it's about crack babies
07/22/99: Tragedy tells us what's important
07/19/99: Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals
07/15/99:'Happy marriage' belongs in the Dictionary of Oxymorons next to 'deliciously low-fat.'
07/11/99: 'Brother Man': An American demagogue in Paris
07/08/99: Only parents can fix broken families
07/06/99: America is home, sweet home
07/01/99: Tales out of Yuppiedom
06/28/99: Men aren't the only abusers
06/23/99: Is the entire country guzzling LSD punch?
06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me 06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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