After a quarter century of teaching mostly hard-core kids in hard-core
schools, I thought I'd heard it all. The mother of a former student
recently proved me wrong. "Things are better with Richard these
she said, referring to her abusive teenage son. When I asked her how
she'd accomplished this, she smiled confidently and patted her purse,
"I bought a stun gun, and he knows I'll use it."
This softspoken mother then took the 500,000 volt device (yes, the
number is correct) out of her shoulder bag and explained how it
Speaking with the same emotional detachment you'd use to describe how to operate a vacuum cleaner, she showed me the best places to zap
your victim (oops, I mean your unruly son or daughter). Just a 1-2
second touch, she noted, temporarily disables their nervous system and
leaves them helpless on the floor. Placing the weapon back in her
purse, she mused as to whether she should have spent the extra $30 it
would have cost to get 200,000 more volts of parental control.
I don't recommend this type of X-treme Parenting. But because I
this woman's son and countless others just like him - and what they're
capable of doing, I can't condemn this mother's concern for her
personal safety. Neither, I'm sure, do a growing number of America's
single mothers who are terrified prisoners in their own homes -
suffering increasing abuse at the hands of their juvenile sons and
Too many moms and dads in all types of family settings have lost
control of their teen-aged children, and don't have a clue how to
back the reins. But the epicenter of this dilemma is single moms.
Think of a worst episode you saw on tv's "Nanny-911". Recall how you
had to literally turn away from the agonizing spectacle of watching
weak helpless parents get slapped, toys thrown at them, and verbally
abused by the tiny monsters they'd raised. Now imagine kids like
these who are physically mature, capable of doing serious damage, and
drugged up,drunk enough (or bratty enough) to do it. The slaps have
turned to punching their mothers in the face and throwing them against walls. Instead of toys flying through the air, it's telephones and
chairs being thrown through windows; and the, "I hate you," of little
voices, has turned to, "Shut the fuck up, bitch, or I'll kill you."
We might assume (or hope?) this problem is totally linked with poverty,
racial minorities. But it's not. It's everywhere: in communities
rich and poor; among children white, black, and brown. The threat of
this ineffective-parenting pandemic to America's future is more
frightening than the Bird Flu scenarios.
The blame for this problem must be laid primarily at the feet of
parents, but also to some degree, our schools. The good news is that
this trend of abusive juvenile behavior can easily be reversed. We
reverse it every day at our school and help our parents do the same.
But the bad news is that it doesn't yield until a home or school
accepts as truth the problem's two causes.
1) We've stopped parenting and teaching children to have strong
moral/spiritual values and are providing them with no consistent
consequences for breaking them. Doing this, we've abandoned the
thing that has, historically, ever held families and civilization
2) The materialistic activities we give our children to substitute for
these genuine values have failed us. Obsessing over our children's
diets, appearance, or SAT scores; elevating their athletic
participation to an almost religious significance; and overindulging
them with our presents rather than our presence has given our children
no helpful direction - no foundation on which to build their lives.
And so our kids are angry at parents and schools because they won't
like parents and schools are supposed to act. You know...grown up.
Kids are angrily striking out at us, literally and figuratively,
because what we're feeding them isn't quelling the hunger we all have
for a life of purpose and worth. Our kids want to know where the
boundaries in life are - boundaries that keep us safe, healthy,
productive, and free. But we don't tell or show them, because we're
not real sure ourselves. We defend this non-parenting/non-teaching
style by euphemistically portraying ourselves as "sensitive to our
children's desires", or " non-judgmental" , or worst of all, "a cool
parent/teacher". What we're really being is weak, selfish, moral
cowards. We are sacrificing our children's futures because of our
unwillingness to step up, assume our required leadership role, and
teach our kids self-discipline, self-control, respect for authority,
and how to surmount life's countless, difficult challenges. "There's
no shortcut to anywhere worth going," someone once said. That
certainly holds true for proper parenting and teaching. It's hard,
long, often thankless work. But if we want to save our children's
future - and our own, there's no other alternative. Well, there is
one, actually, but you better have that extra 30 bucks for the
additional 200,000 volts. Because if things don't change real soon
with our kids...we're all going to need it.