I was talking with a friend the other day trying to figure out what has happened to the American family. With cell phones, Facebook and Twitter providing the constant umbilical cords, we think we are in constant contact, but you know, that’s not parenting.
And as we embark on a new school year, it and family time gets scarce and just being there for your kids gets tough, especially if both parents work. It’s not about making sure your kids have all the stuff – that doesn’t make you a good parent.
My friend shared a column, written in March 2001 by the late Bob Rothstein, my mentor and then a professor emeritus of mass communication at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa. In it he hammered home those points after a school shooting incident that month in at Santana High School in Santee, Calif. Not much has changed since then – in fact it’s gotten worse. Heck, now law enforcement and emergency agencies have drills to prepare for school shootings. In recent years, there have been incidents involving guns in Alpine and other districts in Texas.
“I got a clue to the problem when I heard that the young people in California, while milling around the parking lot after the gunman was captured, were all talking to their parents on cell phones,” Rothstein wrote. “And I remembered that the young people who shot up Columbine in Colorado drove to the shootings in their BMW’s.
“In order to supply the family with ’things,’ both parents have to work. But they counter that by giving their children cell phones so that the parents can feel that they’re in touch,” he continued.
“There was always somebody home when I was a child,” Rothstein continued. “It meant that if I was out playing and got hurt, I knew that I could run home and there would be a warm, loving person there would put iodine on my cut, give me tomato soup and tell me that everything would be all right. That security meant a lot, especially the ample bosoms to cry on. But few children have that security blanket today. Nobody’s home. Nobody is there to check on whether the child is depressed, has access to a gun, is being harassed at school or is building a bomb in the basement.”
So true, Dr. R.
But there was a time when parents were able to balance work and home and they didn’t replace their feelings of guilt by buying stuff for the kids. Here’s an idea: eat dinner together and turn off the cell phones.
Back in the day, my family always ate dinner together. If you were not at the table at 6 p.m. you had to be sick or out of town. It did not matter if my parents had meetings or civic events to attend in the evening, dinner time was the most important time of day. At the table we discussed our day and sometimes the discussions were heated but we were communicating at the table, not via text.
It was at the dinner table my father found out I pierced my ears (not such a good day), discussed the intelligence of my suitors or critiqued my latest Cat Stevens album. It was a time when my mother would offer suggestions on school assignments and would sing the praises of her Spanish students at Nimitz Junioir High in Odessa – by the end of the semester, we always knew all of her star pupils.
But whether the conversations were calm or a little heated, my parents knew where their kids were – sitting around the dinner table.
But today, things are vastly different for many. And Dr. R made that observation 16 years ago. And while cell phones existed when he made these observations, they weren't the hand held computers they are today that have created great societal changes.
“We are beginning to see a vast societal change where the parents have children but don’t raise them. The school, the church, the day care center, grandma or the maid now raise the children – not the parents. And this is affecting children even if they don’t become shooters,” Rothstein wrote.
“Bringing a baby into the world is a small part of parenting. Raising a child is the hard part. Spending the next 20 years (or more) soothing the hurts, nursing the illnesses or being there to take pictures at the prom – that’s real parenting. “
Rothstein postulated that school shootings are evidence that kids want guidance.
“They want old fashioned parenting. They don’t want to be neglected latchkey waifs with cell phones and BMW’s,” he wrote.
Thanks Dr. R, you hit the nail on the head.
Celinda Hawkins is the managing editor of the Runnels County Register. Portions of this column were published in the Ballinger Ledger in August of 2015.